Surface Duo

I have a feeling that lots of people are going to be confused by the Surface Duo once it gets out into the market:

I am confused. Microsoft did a press blitz for their Surface Duo device this week and… I don’t understand anything. About the product. The strategy. The goal.

Look, I think the foldable tablets on Westworld look cool too. But if this is that, it sure seems like the prehistoric version of it. Granted, I think it looks and sounds better than Samsung’s gimmicky foldable phones, but only just. At least with a phone you can make the argument that folding a big screen to be pocketable makes some conceptual sense. This is decidedly not a phone. Because Microsoft insists it’s not. Even though it runs Android and can make phone calls. Listening to Microsoft, it’s not a tablet either. It’s something new. […]

Siegler notes that "it feels like you’re paying a ton of money to beta test something", which is as true of the Surface Duo as it was of the Apple Lisa back in the day. This is what happens when you’re trying to establish a new form factor and a new user interface paradigm: someone gets to pay handsomely for the privilege of figuring out what works for them. It’s unclear whether the price in this case is a product of the need to avoid a Samsung-style fiasco when you launch a foldable device and it turns out to be a bit too fragile to survive the real world or just a case of Microsoft hoping to reap the benefits of selling this new form factor at a professional price for a bit1 before moving the design downmarket a bit if the concept has legs.

Judging by the demos of how Microsoft’s apps work in the demo it looks as if Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making their apps reasonably lever about how they display their content across one or two screens at a time. It may well be that if other app makers follow Microsoft’s lead then the adapted version of Android the Surface Duo uses will be looked back on one day as a standard-setter for the foldable twin-screen tablet format or whatever we’re destined to call it. Or it could be that users will decide that software windowing on a single screen, iPad Mini-style is what they want if they have to use something bigger than a phone.

Perhaps a year from now the Surface Duo will be a roaring success, or perhaps iPadOS will have improved the mess that is Split Screen versus Slide Over and the Surface Duo will be history. Me, I have no money for new hardware any time soon and no great desire to jump to the Android ecosystem unless I get a strong push in that direction, but I will admit to being fascinated to see someone trying to give us a Westworld-style device to play with. I hope the Surface Duo is a success and puts some pressure on Apple’s dominance of the tablet space so that Apple have to apply themselves for the next generation of iPad hardware.

Failing that, everyone will decide to give up on folding devices for a few years until someone comes up with radically more capable display hardware. We live in interesting times.


  1. The introductory video from Panos Panay is very big on this, even as he fails to note that the main reason the Surface Duo can’t display content in a two- or three-pane window is that the screen just doesn’t have the room for it.