Microsoft wants to sell a dual-screen device, which it does not want to call a phone but one that certainly looks like a crossover between a phone and a tablet. The Surface Duo has two 5.6-inch displays that are integrated together with a 360-degree hinge, but runs Android and not Windows. Is the Surface Duo a phone? No. It’s a Surface. That’s what Microsoft Surface hardware chief Panos Panay said at an event in New York.
“You are going to talk about it as a phone and I get that,” he said. “You are going to talk about it as a communication device, and it does both of those things well. But make no mistake, this product is a “Surface”.
Panay doesn’t like to call the Surface Duo a phone. Instead, he likes to call the device a “Surface”. The device can make calls and it’s so portable that the Surface fits inside the pocket.
Panay has a logic. The Surface Duo is not a phone, as many had thought it would eventually be. It can be used as a single screen, but it is designed to bring dual-screen multitasking to the forefront. The whole idea behind the Surface Duo is to create a new category of device that merges a phone and tablet together. That’s the main purpose of the device.
The Surface Duo might find it tough to take on iPhone 11 or Galaxy S10
The Surface Duo is a mobile device and can be used to take calls like a regular smartphone. The device runs Android and is powered by a Snapdragon 855 processor. But those similarities alone are not enough to qualify the Surface Duo as a smartphone.
The narrative that the Surface Duo is a “normal” smartphone is in itself flawed. Since the Surface Duo doesn’t have an outer screen, it would be really cumbersome for users to take calls on the device. To attend calls on the Duo, you need to fold it the other way with screens on the front and back, which is awkward and that is putting it mildly.
Another problem with the Surface Duo is that it is not designed for one-handed use. The device seems to have a 4:3 display and not a 16:9 like most smartphones do. This would mean the device will be extra-wide in nature. Honestly, it will be a nightmare to type a message on this device while driving or on the go. To me, the Surface Duo reminds of a BlackBerry Passport, the extra-wide smartphone shaped like a passport.
The Surface Duo is not innovative
Microsoft is making a big deal about the Surface Duo, but the device isn’t as innovative as it has been presented. Dual-screen devices aren’t new, but the extra screen never caught on. The first device that had a dual-screen was the Kyocera Echo launched in 2011. After that, we saw the Sony Tablet P, followed by ZTE Axon M in 2017 and the LG V50. Not a single device succeed in convincing users to buy a dual-screen device.
The key to Duo’s success depends on how Microsoft optimises the software on a dual-screen device. The apps need to work seamlessly across the two displays, which might be a challenge. Some Microsoft apps will get support for the dual-screen interface, but what will happen to those millions of apps available in the Google Play store. Right now, none of the apps are designed to work on a dual-screen device. Both Microsoft and Google have a mammoth task to get the software implementation right on dual-screen devices.
It remains to be seen how well the Surface Duo is appreciated when it hits the market late next year. There is no doubt the Surface Duo is a new type of device, but calling it a smartphone is far too stretched.