Microsoft announced its reentry into the mobile device market earlier today at its Surface hardware event with the announcement of its Surface Duo.
The new smartphone will be a foldable device, featuring two separate 5.6 inch screens on either side of a hinge, and it will run a customized version of Google’s Android OS. Microsoft noted that the phone will come out in late 2020 but has not disclosed pricing yet.
The company is still tinkering with the hardware design with the ultimate goal of making it easy for developers to optimize their apps for the two-screen form factor. The Surface Duo will be Microsoft’s reentry to the smartphone market after the demise of Windows Phone, though this time as a hardware provider and Android developer rather than an OS developer in its own right.
Here are the three reasons why I think the Surface Duo could finally be a winning smartphone model for Microsoft.
- Microsoft’s foldable phone appears to be a simple, reliable form of the buzzed-about form-factor, compared with rival devices. Smartphone makers have been trying to nail the foldable form-factor, as its additional screen space would make it easier for consumers to use their phones for certain tasks. Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon echoed that in conversation with Business Insider Intelligence, saying he’s “optimistic on foldable phones, because today the screen is the limiting factor” and that foldable devices can make it easier to consume media, play games, and do work. But it’s proven challenging to perfect the technology: For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was delayed due to high susceptibility to failure, which required major changes to the device. Microsoft’s Surface Duo isn’t as ambitious as Samsung’s seamless 7.3 inch display, and that might be an advantage — it will be a simpler device to manufacture, making it easier to scale and likely less expensive than competing options like the Galaxy Fold, which sells for $1980.
- The dual-screen, hinged form-factor is more versatile than other foldable phones that have been announced. The Surface Duo’s two screens are designed primarily to enable multitasking rather than providing users with a single large display. That means the device can fold around fully so that only one display is used, or it can be opened partially so that, in landscape mode, it’s essentially a miniature laptop. The dual displays also make it simpler for users to split up tasks and use two apps at once — using one screen to review a document, for example, while keeping a messaging app up on the other. Although the Surface Duo might be the best option on the market for multitasking, it still has clear drawbacks, such as the lack of an external screen to see information at a glance and uncertainty around a rear-facing camera. Microsoft would do well to address such concerns, but for those looking for a device focused on multitasking, the benefits already outweigh the phone’s potential downsides.
- It will run a customized version of Android that offers users a Windows-esque experience while still allowing them to access the vast Android app ecosystem. Microsoft has been a purveyor of OSs since the mid-1980’s, and has made multiple attempts — all unsuccessful — to get Windows to stick on the smartphone. The Surface Duo is a change in course, with Microsoft seemingly acknowledging that it’s not going to break the Apple-Google OS duopoly. Instead, its presenting consumers and enterprises with a customized version of Android that will offer an experience similar to that of Windows devices that’s also optimized for popular Microsoft products like Office and the forthcoming xCloud cloud gaming service. And at the same time, Android users will be able to use the apps they use today, so users don’t miss out on anything.
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