Microsoft gets into the Android smartphone game, or does it?

At an event devoted to its Surface device range Microsoft teased a new, dual-screen Android smartphone called the Surface Duo.

This is Microsoft’s first attempt at an Android phone and it gets its name from the fact that it has two screens, joined by a 360-degree hinge, i.e. not a foldy screen. Microsoft has yet to issue a formal press release on the launch, but there is a sparsely-populated product site and a video, which you can see below.

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer, did manage to have a chat with Wired, however, and he insisted it’s not a smartphone at all, despite it using the Android OS and enabling phone calls. Instead, Panos insists, it’s a ‘device’. The reason for this gadget semantics seems to be Microsoft’s hope that people will view the Duo as a completely new category.

There is some justification to this. In many respects the Duo is a miniature version of the Neo, which was also launched at the event. Microsoft is attempting to define and own the dual-screen device category, regardless of the size of those screens. As you can see from the second video below, the Neo does seem to introduce some novel features, but it runs on Windows with an Intel chip. Those options weren’t available for a smaller device, hence the ‘not quite a phone’ thing.

The reason we don’t know more is that neither the Duo nor the Neo are commercial devices yet, and won’t be for another year. As you would expect of Microsoft, they are positioned as mobile devices with an emphasis on productivity and the Neo certainly seems to offer some new ways of working on the road. Whether or not people will be willing to swap their existing smartphones for a smaller version of it is another matter entirely.


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