Microsoft's Chief Product Officer Panos Panay holds a Surface Duo, left, and Surface Neo at an event in New York on Wednesday. Photo: AP
tech

Microsoft returns with smartphone after high-profile flops

12 Comments
By ANICK JESDANUN

After high-profile flops, Microsoft is getting back into smartphones with a dual-screen Android device that won’t be out for another year.

Microsoft unveiled the Surface Duo as part of a new lineup of Surface computers. It marks a reversal for a company that abandoned smartphones following lackluster demand for its own operating system and an ill-fated purchase of smartphone maker Nokia.

“I believe the third time's a charm for Microsoft and smartphones,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with moor Insights & Strategy.

He said Microsoft has had a good track record with Surface devices, while the Duo’s novel design offers something new at a time when phone innovation has been slowing down.

Microsoft says the Duo makes phone calls, though it stopped short of calling it a phone. Though it runs Android, the back of the prototype has a Surface logo that resembles Windows. The company prefers calling the Duo just another Surface device.

Microsoft also announced a dual-screen Surface Neo tablet, which also won’t be out until late next year. In a blog post, Microsoft said other manufacturers including Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo will also make dual-screen and foldable devices using a variant of Windows called 10X.

Both Surface devices feature two screens connected with a hinge and can fold like laptops. They can display separate apps side by side or a single app stretched across both screens. They are technologically less ambitious than foldable phones from Samsung and others, whose screens actually bend as the devices close. Some of those folding phones have experienced technical difficulties.

The Duo is about the size of a large smartphone when folded, with two 5.6-inch displays, while the folded Neo is similar in size to a small tablet such as the iPad Mini or an Amazon Fire.

The devices will initially be available only for developers who create and test apps. Microsoft plans to start selling them during the 2020 holiday season. The company offered no details on price.

Available sooner are $249 Surface Earbuds, as Microsoft joins Apple, Amazon, Google and others in making wireless listening devices.

At a product event Wednesday in New York, Microsoft also unveiled two new Surface Pro tablets. The Surface Pro X will have a 13-inch screen, rather than the 12-inch ones on the new Pro 7 and older models. But the X will be about the same size overall, thanks to a smaller bezel.

The company also unveiled a refreshed laptop.

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©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

12 Comments
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$249 Surface Earbuds? No thanks.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have a Surface Pro and it's awful.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Another High profile flop.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

those earbuds look terrible

3 ( +3 / -0 )

they should just keep making windows Microsoft a better program than having to put themselves in a market where they can't even compete with other brands, i don't understand why they keep making those awful devices ???

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They look sleek, like all of Surface devices, but with Windows 10 running under the hood... No thanks. Windows was never known to be bug-free or working perfectly out of the box, but they took it to another level with 10. Thing is atrocious. Inconsistent aesthetically, most of the apps are barely half baked, lags all the damn time, etc etc.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Tawkeeo,

I agree. I commented above that my Surface is awful, but actually I think it's the combination of the Surface with Windows 10. Every time they force an update it takes me days to get everything working the way it was again.

(Full disclosure, I don't know much about computers)

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I have an iPad 3 used it everyday since Jan 2012. Probably buy a new one soon, the iPad for ¥35,000.

Can't afford earbuds, Apple or otherwise.

My only Windows PC is a Kangaroo PC which I bought a few years ago for a gray import about ¥25,000. Little bigger than a smartphone and fits in my bag or pocket. Running Windows 10 on it mostly for typing Word doc's.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why can't they make a smartphone the size of a tablet - a phablet- nowadays? I use mine for reading, movies, and googling all the time. Rather just have one device. Same reason I don't have a separate mp3 player anymore.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Nobnaga

It's funny you said that you're not too knowledgeable on computers, because Windows 10 is supposed to be "the easiest version of Windows".

That's, of course, until your computer decides to download an update by itself, slow the computer down to a crawl (not being able to do even the most basic of things), then forcefully install it in shutdown/start.

Then you'll have to fix everything the update broke (phones not being recognized when connected through USB, music sounding like it's from a cheap Chinese speaker, even the start button not working, these are very few of the problems I've had to deal with).

I've been using Windows computers since WinXP. Vista, despite the bad rep, basically only needed a powerful PC to run, and it'd run great. Even 8 and 8.1 run great, despite the weird Start UI.

Needless to say, for the first time in damn near 20 years, I think I'll be getting a tablet this time. An iPad or an Android based one. At least it'll work.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You can connect your smartphone to an external monitor like GeChic. Better than using a tablet for a phone. I also have an external keyboard for typing longer texts. About ¥30,000 for a GeChic

https://www.gechic.com/-p-1305h-smartphone-.html

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Surface line has been very successful for Microsoft - thanks to it, MS is now Top-5 PC manufacturer in the US. The pace of change in MS seems to be accelerating to Warp 9. If someone had told me a couple years ago that we will see Microsoft overcoming Apple as the most valued company, I would have never believed it.

Btw, here's one of the very first easy tweaks I do with Win10 devices:

"How To Postpone Windows 10 Feature Updates (but not affect Security Updates)"

https://winaero.com/blog/delay-windows-10-october-2018-1809/

Essentially in simple terms, you're turning your Win10 device from the Consumer Branch into the Business Branch (business devices tend to get updated last because they can't afford to go down due to early bugs)

These new foldable Surface are the result of the long-rumored MS Andromeda project, with patent leaks stretching for many years:

https://www.thurrott.com/windows/142653/microsofts-andromeda-folio-future

But the Surface Duo smartphone won't be running Win10 though - it'll be running Android. Android has basically become Microsoft's mobile OS - they even have a Launcher that makes Android look like the old Windows Mobile:

"How Microsoft is turning Android into the mobile OS for Windows users"

https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-turning-android-phone-windows

Meanwhile, a decade after the MS Courier project, the Surface Neo dual-screen PC will be running Win10X (can we call it "Ten-Ten" lol) - basically Windows Lite that's only for dual-screen devices:

https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/2/20887395/microsoft-surface-neo-dual-screen-concept-design-windows-10x

With the optional magnetic Bluetooth keyboard that can work either on top of one of the 2 screens, or like a regular separate wireless keyboard

This is less of a cart-before-horse and more of a chicken-and-egg scenario. In order to have great hardware, you need great software. But without a stable supply of great hardware, developers have no incentive to build software for it.

I would hazard to suggest this is why Microsoft made a couple of key decisions:

They announced it a year before launch so developers had time to create software for it.

Surface Neo runs on Intel, so developers won’t have to pull double duty figuring out both their apps overall design and how to port to ARM in the same year.

Surface Duo is built for Android, so its already compatible with Android apps and benefits from the foundations laid by Google’s (and Samsung’s) work on Android support for Foldables

Most of the focus was on simply having two apps open at the same time, which is something Windows already excels at.

The primary example of a single app spanned across both displays was Outlook, which already has a relatively clean divide in its UI – a paradigm other programs could probably use as well.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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