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Microsoft Surface Duo: Yeah, I think I need one

Back in 2009, I wrote a post called, “Stop everything and have a look at Microsoft’s Courier Tablet.”

It was a brief post linking to a Gizmodo article showing the Courier concept tablet device that Microsoft had been playing with. Here is the photo I used for the post:

The 2009 photo from Gizmodo’s Microsoft Courier coverage

I was so disappointed that nothing happened. I always kept it in the back of my mind though, especially when Apple was nailing it with the iPad.

11 years later, though and here’s what’s coming from Microsoft next month:

The Surface Duo

It’s called the Duo – for obvious reasons I imagine.

I am really, really interested in this one. The Telegraph reports the Duo will be available from the 10th of September this year and, keeping in mind the rather obsessive post I wrote about the Huawei Mate XS earlier in the week, it’s due to cost about GBP 1,059. That’s the approximate conversion from USD 1,399 for the 128GB model as specified on the Microsoft website… (Side note: I won’t be surprised if the currency conversion is upped for the Brits as usual. It’s somewhat annoying when these devices are then priced at GBP 1,399.)

So. It’s got two screens. It fits in your pocket. It’s exceptionally light and each screen is only 4.8mm thin. It folds back on itself with a 360 degree hinge. It’s running on Android – so you have the whole app ecosystem to play with too. It offers seamless integration with all the Microsoft tools. It feels like Microsoft really thought about the Duo, in-depth.

I sat and watched the awesome video featuring Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay, introduce the Duo in a 30 minute private press briefing. It’s surprisingly intimate and highly informative – Panos is just brilliant: He gives a great introduction to the device and the concepts behind it. Have a look:

If you’ve got a coffee, I strongly recommend you sit and watch to get more of an inkling about what they’re cooking at Microsoft.

I think the Duo could be massive. Absolutely hugely popular. I love the ingenuity and the deep thinking they’ve clearly done to put together such a device. Just watching Panos and his colleague Shilpa handle the device effortlessly, putting it in and out of pockets, folding it, making it stand, swiping around, showing off the apps… I want one.

“The Microsoft you love and the Android you know”

Panos routinely used this phrase: “The Microsoft you love and the Android you know.” Don’t underestimate the power of this.

We are, all or most of us, even the die-hard Apple fans, having to live and work in the Microsoft ecosystem at some point during the business day. Kudos to the Microsoft team for embracing Android and the Apple ecosystem – especially the iPad. I routinely use my Apple devices with Teams, Word, Excel and PowerPoint throughout the day.

Watching how Panos and Shilpa are using their Duos really brought home the potential of this new category. It’s not a phone. It’s not a tablet. It’s… a … it’s something new.

And when it comes to Android, the familiarity – the ability to be able to pick-up immediately with your standard go-to Android apps – is tremendously powerful.

The Surface Duo with the pen and earbuds

Are you buying one then?

Well, yes. I think I might be. I am living in Oman here in the Middle East so I’ll need to figure out the best way of getting one. Probably via the US, I imagine. It appears to be selling first only in the US… Although I think my preference will be to order one locally when that’s possible – I’m hopeful that either the local mobile networks or the big electrical retailers will soon start to carry the Duo.

Or maybe Microsoft will test the waters in the US first before releasing internationally. We shall see.

You know how I was basically sold on the Huawei Mate XS? Well… I just re-watched their video. I do really like the XS. I love what they’ve done. That’s a mobile phone, though.

It’s interesting how my mind works. The XS is a hot rocking cool looking mobile phone. The Duo? Something else. I’m not quite sure what it will do or how I will use it. Watching Panos describe his daily usage I felt myself nodding away thinking, ‘yeah… that could… yeah that could be me.’

I have a reservation about the Duo camera. I simply love having the best possible camera I can buy in my pocket with – for example – the iPhone XS Pro Max Ghia Sport XL. Simply because I like to make sure if I’m taking a photo of the children, the quality is good enough. So that’s one minor reservation. It doesn’t appear to be waterproof. Yeah. That’s not a deal-breaker. Not yet, anyway.

I was right there at the front of the line for the other category defining updates across the mobile industry years gone by. I bought the first N95 I could find. The first BlackBerry Bold. The first… the first… I had the very first iPhone in my hands – shipped from the US – before the executives of major mobile networks in the UK. Same again for the iPad. I wanted to explore and discover what might be possible with them.

And I think that’s the primary reason why I will get a Duo as soon as I can.

More than anything, though, I’m excited to see what comes next. I am really, really enjoying the Microsoft ecosystem of late. I like what they’re doing in gaming, I like what they’re doing on the desktop, I really do enjoy the 365 suite. I use Teams daily. And if you can give me a device that unifies this… hmmmm. I have to say, it is seriously compelling.

And you know what? I’d like to see some serious competition for Apple.

What say you?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

2 replies on “Microsoft Surface Duo: Yeah, I think I need one”

Interesting.

Brave doing this live.

A bit of a QVC and Apple Retail Store demo mix. Not sure about the QVC approach – felt a little, well, QVC; if that’s your thing, then it might hit your mark, but personally, I felt that approach cheapened the product a little; not Panos himself, he came across well.

There wasn’t much in the way of technical details, but that married to what Panos was selling as the emotional connection; seeking to capture an emotional response, rather than a technical / geek one, and that worked; you could feel his passion.

Shilpa section felt a little strained, almost like someone said “hey we must show how it interacts with the studio” because that would reinforce the value, where actually I think the value is absolutely the opposite – being untethered, portable, pocket-friendly.

Moreover, I would just “expect” the Duo to work with any other Windows surface device. Just like how Apple divides do using Handoff on iOS + MacOS.

“Dragging & dropping” (copy & paste) a list of ingredients from a recipe web page into a To Do list is not a killer feature; it’s not a feature at all. No innovation there.

What would have been more valuable is Microsoft + Google partnering with the top ten foodie web sites and major supermarkets to enable the seamless integration between the recipe and the shopping basket within the respective Android App running on the Duo – tap on the ingredient (on the web page) and have it populate into your online shopping basket – all within your Duo.

The Surface Labs section with Pavin and Jasmine kind of feels like this is steeling – with pride – from how Apple present and make products. No issue there, as Apple has the masterclass in marketing products – but perhaps some stats on how effective the hinge will be in 5 years’ time?

I like the blend of Droid + Windows. Smart.

Glad they didn’t try to make it a solely Windows affair; but they’ve been there done that, and then some with Nokia and Windows Phone; so hopefully those scars prevented that.

Couple of things I think will hopefully be resolved in future versions:

Bezel – the fact it has black bars – akin to cinemascope – are present, feels a little non-progressive, especially given the advances away from this that Apple iPhone 11 and iPad Pro have achieved.

Is split / full screen that unique? iPadOS does this already with Side Over and Split View.

As mentioned, – that hinge – that would worry me. How many folds has been it stress-tested to withstand?

And the Android + Windows pairing – whist smart, they are still separate OSes that would need keeping in-sync with each other, and we all know how challenging that can be. By contrast, Apple is in control of the entire ecosystem, with all the dedicated benefits that brings.

Timing – is now the right time to lunch what could be argued as a “commute” device? Even Panos mentioned, “when we fly again”.

Panos’ tailing question “What other company could do this?” begs an immediate response of “Apple”. So why haven’t they? Probably because it would break with the design principals that Apple has.

Your question was, would I buy one?

No.

But not because I don’t like it. It’s a neat device.

I like the ergonomics of it, especially in book reading (kindle) mode – that seems very intuitive, natural, evolved, but I couldn’t justify the price for a kindle-reading device. I also expect Amazon to copy the idea and come out with a hinged electronic-paper version.

I like the simplicity it’s promising around interoperability between Apps, and the intersection between Windows productivity applications and Android Apps – that could prove interesting to see what wins out as the top combos.

Ultimately, it’s an ecosystem question for me. I am heavily (and I mean serious capital) invested into the Apple ways of life, owning two MacBooks, four Apple TVs, the whole family on iPhones + iPads each, with only my work machine being a Surface Pro, and my wife’s work computer being a Windows Dell laptop.

Not one Android device (with a touchscreen) in the house. Plenty of Android devices without touchscreens.

So, it would make no sense to “invest” the time and effort to “double-up” on Apps, licenses, learning, frustration.

That all said, it’s really nice to see genuine innovation from Microsoft – especially in the hardware domain – and to refine the product so well that it works in a live demo like it’s been around for years already. Well done.

Will it be a success?

The pocket-ability of the Duo is its killer feature – it’s USP if you like…

…but anyone remember the XDA Exec O2?

You win Commenter-of-the-Month Melville! What a superb comment.

I do remember the XDA Exec from O2 and I really, really liked it. The technology just wasn’t at the level where I wanted it. I think that’s what I feel I see in the Duo…

Let’s see what kind of reception it gets in the US… I’m disappointed it’s not getting an international roll out immediately but I can see the sense in this.

Although I am still wondering whether to try importing one….!

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