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3 reasons why Microsoft needs a 'Surface Watch' for the Surface Duo

(Image credit: Microsoft)

On October 2nd, Microsoft surprised the world by teasing its first phone since the demise of its Windows Phone platform. The Surface Duo is a dual-screen Android OS device (not a Windows 10X trojan horse) that looks to disrupt how we think about smartphones.

But what could Microsoft's next big surprise be? While no firm reporting has suggested a wearable is on the horizon, there are many compelling reasons to believe it makes sense. Here are a few.

Surface Duo needs the third screen

A dual-screen foldable device goes beyond current trends. Surface head Panos Panay reminded the audience last week when he said it is "not a phone; it's a Surface." It's an important distinction that I talked about way back in 2018 and still holds now.

But the most apparent trade-off between Surface Duo and a regular smartphone is the closed displays when not in use. Sure, if a call comes in or notification arrives, Surface Duo rings and presumably vibrates. But are you expected to open it up and check each time an alert arrives?

Panay spoke a lot about "being in your flow" at the Microsoft event. Having to open your Surface Duo to check for updates constantly is the exact opposite of that mantra.

So, why not make a wearable display that handles all of that for you? When you need to do real work, you then pull out the Surface Duo. Anyone who wears a Fitbit or smartwatch gets this basic concept.

Trifecta: Surface Duo, Surface Earbuds, and...?

From Microsoft's "Productivity Future Vision" video from 2015.

From Microsoft's "Productivity Future Vision" video from 2015.

While not garnering as much attention as Surface PCs and a phone the Surface Earbuds are an essential piece of this new ecosystem. For one, it and the Surface Headphones already demonstrate that Microsoft is not afraid of more traditional wearable "smart" technology.

But when you combine a dual-screen phone with those new earbuds, well, you already have two-thirds of the mobile trifecta. Apple knows this with its iPhone, Watch, and AirPods combo that has proven to be quite popular for the "hip" mobile native. Samsung, too, figured it out with its Galaxy phones, watch, and new earbuds.

Why not Microsoft? It already has a history with the Microsoft Band (which failed mostly due to quality control issues and the demise of Windows Phone). That technology and know-how, including fitness and sleep tracking, Cortana, alerts, weather, and even typing on a teeny screen, is still owned by Microsoft.

Envision more than just a wearable

The critical thing about a Surface wearable would be it has to be different than a smartwatch. Microsoft could push Surface Duo owners to a Galaxy Watch or any of the other Google Wear OS options already available. But even the most charitable reviews of Wear OS leave a lot of room for improvement when compared to Apple, and Google hasn't shown any serious interest in improving it.

Turning to Microsoft's own "Productivity Future Vision" video from 2015 (seen above), it's not difficult to see hints at Surface Dial, Surface Hub, Surface Studio, Surface Earbuds, and a wearable for your wrist. In the clip, you can see an all-display wearable that brings up productivity notifications.

Such a grandiose vision of a wearable display is likely hard to accomplish. But looking at the new Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha with a wraparound display shows it may not be entirely crazy either.

While "Future Vision" doesn't ensure Microsoft is even considering such technology, it seems hard to imagine the Surface team has not entertained the idea.

A Surface Watch makes sense

From Microsoft's "Productivity Future Vision" video from 2015.

From Microsoft's "Productivity Future Vision" video from 2015.

Before Microsoft announced that it had an Android phone, a wearable display seemed nice, but unlikely. Without a corresponding mobile story to tell due to lack of a mobile vision, it just did not make a lot of sense. That observation is only more critical when you consider how competitive the market is with only Apple, Garmin, Fossil, (and a now struggling) Fitbit garnering most of the attention.

But with its phone coming out in late 2020, Microsoft has a chance to build up a more thoughtful package around the Surface Duo. Surface Earbuds with their touch controls are a part of that story. Having a wearable Surface display is not only intriguing but almost necessary due to how the Surface Duo operates.

As of now, no reliable rumors or leads have suggested that Microsoft is developing a Surface Watch. Considering how Microsoft can keep magnificent secrets, that doesn't mean too much either. Microsoft also has a history in this space, and its own Productivity Future Vision (2015) video suggests the team is actively thinking about it. The Microsoft Band, while a market failure, shows the company can bring new ideas to market.

My fingers are crossed that we'll see Microsoft complete the Surface Duo story with a new Surface "band" in October 2020.

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • At Daniel Rubino & Windows Central Staff: do you think that if the UWP app ecosystem grows thru Surface Neo and Windows 10X that Microsoft will switch from Android to Windows 10X for Surface Duo?
  • I see a tiny possibility in the future depending on the support that 10X gets. It won't be this iteration, but possibly future successors. However, the mobile space is ridiculously competitive. Android dominates, iOS is thoroughly entrenched in their corner, and anyone who dares to innovates usually gets snuffed out. Microsoft is already going to have a hard enough time convincing people they need Duo, without also having to convince them that Windows 10X is somehow a better mobile platform than the mature and trusted Android/iOS combo.
  • "At Daniel Rubino & Windows Central Staff: do you think that if the UWP app ecosystem grows thru Surface Neo and Windows 10X that Microsoft will switch from Android to Windows 10X for Surface Duo?"
    I don't believe that will ever happen. If it did, at the most, I could see a "Surface Duo Pro" happening. But we're pretty far from that right now, so not bothering to think on it too much.
  • Not WC staff obviously, but I have heard some interesting info about that... Worth noting that the original plan was for a 8" foldable tablet in 2020 (which is now announced as Surface Neo) followed by a near identical 6" version in 2021 (now announced as Surface Duo, and coming in 2020 instead). IIRC, WC did report on this (back when Centaurus was first mentioned), and MS partners were aware of this roadmap months ago. A new version of Windows for small screens, for both devices, was mentioned to partners, but there haven't been any indications on whether or not this is still happening - the announcement of Windows 10X (which is not the small-screen OS, AFAIK) and Android were a total surprise. Certainly possible that a 6" Windows device is still coming in 2021 (or later), but it's looking more like MS changed up their plans again, so I wouldn't expect any mention of it for quite a while. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if it is the eventual plan, if these devices are successful. I really doubt the success of UWP will decide anything. There has been a push to move all inbox apps (including system utilities) to UWP, as well as move all updates, including firmware, to MS Store or Windows Update, but these are more technical changes than anything else. UWP is the future of Windows-only apps, but won't be the only apps running on these devices. I see an Android layer as being more likely, as opposed to a large push to get developers onto UWP.
  • I would humbly predict any sub 10 inch form factor with Microsoft branding and makes calls, will be running Android henceforth. Gotta get with the times people!
  • What does IIRC mean?
  • If I Remember Correctly
  • It'd be soooo boring if every OEM on the planet releases the same 9" dual screen form factor... so I bet, some OEM will try to stuff a Win10X into some smaller screen devices.
  • I really hope so.
  • With Duo being announced so far before its actual release, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility for there to be a wearable when it's released. It may not need the same level of dev support Duo would need so no need to let that cat out of the bag quite yet. A watch-type device makes sense for Duo for reasons stated. A tailored made wearable is taking it a step further. While something like a Fitbit would be helpful, a custom made wearable could be done in a way where it's designed for the Duo's use case. As mentioned, the Duo display is shut unless it's being used. Any super quick task could be handled via a wearable (ex. deleting a piece of junk mail that just hit your inbox, sending a quick "OK" text replay, looking at info on the song currently playing on a music app). These are things that general wearables don't think about because if one wants to know, it's easy enough to just tap the power button on the phone. Duo requires a little more effort. This "Surface Band" could help alleviate this whole thing.
  • I agree with what your saying but for the neo we already have android Wear watches so they are out there. I have a tic watch Pro so this will work with the neo. Love a Microsoft watch though but I think they will use android on it as it will have things like Google pay ect out of the box used all over the world.
  • From what I understand is Fitbit is for sale ?????? I would love to have windows running on the ionic 🤪🤪
  • This is a great article that reminds me of the Good old days of the few years ago here at Windows Central.
    Thanks for taking me back to why I love this place.
  • Well said.. We'll said. It's refreshing!
  • It just really needs a smaller screen on the outside, which is still possible on later versions.
  • In seeing how thin this is in person I'm not sure how you do that and have great battery life (which is already in question).
  • I don't care how thin it is for 2019. Time has always shown that technology will continue to advance, and that paper thin screens are possible. How possible are they? Well, they are so possible that you can fold them in half. That's working technology now. So, it's totally possible for MS to implement a static section of very thin screen on the outside. Anything would be nice, even if it's only 2x2.. It would keep us from having to open the device in every scenario.
  • I don't think an outer screen is a good thing (just like galaxy Fold). Better stick to this design. Looks premium enough.
  • Why not a small third outer screen for quick glancing, replying to messages, and things like changing tracks? How would that hurt?
  • Small bar like screen would have been great help in displaying caller id , to pick up or reject calls , minimal notification like glance screen.
  • Or have it permanently folded in reverse, with the displays out just like a regular phone. Supposedly the glass is Gorilla 6 or better...
  • Yeah that's the most logical way. Microsoft must have thought about this. I think they didn't want to ruin the beautiful aesthetics seeing galaxy fold's ugly front design.
  • I think it's more of a technology constraint.. Seeing as they've been working on this device for years, at the time screens weren't as thin as they are now... It's a little too late to change the internals of the device now, but I would bet that version 2, which is definitely already in development, and sure to be shown in October of 2021, will have three screens.. Think about it. And, the screen has to be sizable enough to be able to type on. 🤔🤔🤔
  • A small multi-coloured LED strip on the side would also work. People are using their mobile devices for actual phone calls less and less these days.
  • The problem with Microsoft is that they are not afraid to ditch users and close whole platforms. A lot of users burnt when MS Band was canceled and MS Health disappeared. When people use Fitbit they collect all their health and fitness data through their watches/trackers/scales and so on. And you can always access this trove of information whenever you want it and from whatever OS you want. Microsoft had a potential there but they blew it. After wasting 2 years or so of stats with MS Health and Band I, for one, would not risk moving there again until I am sure they're there to stay. And with them you're never sure. I think they might have a chance if they buy a platform that already exists and is establish like Fitbit but then again, they might buy it and after a few months decide that it was a mistake and close it.
  • The way MS sees your comment: 20k WP fans got burned, and will not come back... Oh well, we have to focus on getting the attention of the other 200,000,000 consumers out there... 🙄🙄🙄🙄
  • People will not understand your comment. I was WP fan, I got burned, but I have decided to move on long ago.
  • I guarantee I was a bigger WP fan than anyone here... Trust me, I understand.
  • I was wishing Microsoft would make a watch when I was looking at the event. I'm not nearly smart enough to see where the next curve in the road is going to be; I just think it'd be cool if they made a watch with a "Surface" styling to it. I use a Note 10+, and I would like to have a smart watch/fitness tracker. I'm not too sure about Samsung watches, though.
  • Windows 10X trojan horse. Lel
  • "As of now, no reliable rumors or leads have suggested that Microsoft is developing a Surface Watch." And that's probably a good thing.
  • This would be a boondoggle... Even Samsung have trouble competing in the smartwatch market... And i find it very hard to believe that a surface watch would match the hardware quality of a galaxy watch. They'd also have the same old app problem if it ran their own os. I honestly think the main reason the iWatch has done so well is because Apple fans buy what they're sold... Damn thing didn't even work as a watch until the most recent iteration.
  • Of cause it would not match the quality of Galaxy Watch. It would - like all of the Surface and Lumia Lineup - wipe the floor with it.
  • Even Fitbit isn't doing well with wearables. Unless Microsoft has a breakthrough, it is a very tough market.
  • The problem is they already let MS Health wither away and die with the Band. Without a decent health platform any watch isn't going to do well. What they need to do is try to partner with Samsung. I'm starting to see several of their watches "in the wild", which is more than could say for the Band back in the day. I can already approve MS Authenticator requests from the watch. Notifications tell me whether or not it's worth pulling out my phone. Samsung Health is ok, their watches are starting to keep up with Apple with the ECGs and such. I'd imagine a partnership (they've already partnered on some other things) could give MS a better third screen option than anything they'd come up with right now.
  • In my humble opinion, what we need is a Surface watch for the Neo.
    Imagine a Surface watch with full phone capabilities, connected to a Neo like the Phone app connects an Android phone to windows, but with a screen large enough to do basis stuff on the watch (like a simple, one word text reply) and exceptional battery life.
    Pair that up with the ear pods and you have the perfect trifecta for the "prosumer". The Duo would then be for the "I really want all the apps" consumer market.
  • That would mean carrying the Neo around all the time, which isn't happening for the vast majority of people. Are people lugging around the Surface Go everywhere...?
  • Pretty much, I carry my Go on in a backpack on the school run, in case I need to sort something out at work. It's got to the point weight and size are quite insignificant, you can consider doing this. Perhaps more importantly I carried for one specific reason a few weeks ago and ended up forgetting it was there and carried it for several days without thinking, hence why I know carry it intentionally.
  • But most people (well, men at least) don't bring a bag everywhere. Do you bring your backpack when you go to the supermarket? Or for a run?
  • 'Panay reminded the audience last week when he said it is "not a phone; it's a Surface." It's an important distinction that I talked about way back in 2018 and still holds now' You talked about a Windows device in '18. Running Android, it's most certainly a phone, no matter how hard Panos tries to convince himself otherwise. They even present it as one; we hear a ring tone, and she pulls it out, opens it and answers the call. It's literally the first thing they show us...
  • Just finished your podcast, where you guys spent half an hour calling the Duo 'a phone'. Just saying...
  • Because it's easier to call it that than "dual-screen foldable android device" each time. The reason why it's not just a phone? I outlined this already. MAKING CALLS IS NOT THE PRIMARY FUNCTION, computing is, that is apps, data, inking, input, etc. It just happens that it can make calls. But the very design choice I describe here makes it NOT ideal as a phone. Just saying...
  • Making calls is not the primary function of smartphones (it's actually a very minor, although critical function), so your argument is invalid. In fact, your description of the Duo's functionality is precisely the description of a smartphones ditto. If you need an fitting name, call it a foldable. You can't insist on it NOT being a phone, and then constantly referring to it as one. Or worse, discussing it as if it was one.
  • WHAT! I couldn't remember my old account info so i had to create a new one. I just came on to rub it in everyone's face(looking at you Rubino) who said that a surface android phone wouldn't makes sense for this and that reason. I love it! Expected it! & Can't wait to get it! i wont bother looking for links to all the fourms and articles of people who argued against, you know who you are(shame on you). I see lots of the same people who now all of a sudden can't wait to get it themselves lol. Some still hold out hate towards it(on principal only) lol, but most will be won over by it.(if not rub it in my face 2 years from now). I have one caveat to my expectation of success and that is if microsoft doesn't deliver a premium quality camera/s the device will fail. Mark my words.
  • It lives or dies based on the dual screen. If it proves to be useful and well worth the extra cost, then it will be successful. If it is like other dual screen phones and has no reason to exist, it will fail. The camera won't matter.
  • "said that a surface android phone wouldn't makes sense for this and that reason"
    Cool, can we rub it in your face that since late 2016 we've been talking about this device? Anyway, childish antics aside, we talked about this on the podcast. Android on a single-screen phone did not make sense, which is how everyone was talking about it and what I was against - no differentiation. But we did not see, nor did ANYONE predict a dual-screen Android tablet.
  • lmao! yes you can, if you mean that since 2016 you had a change of heart and expected an android windows phone. perhaps i just wasn't caught up on your stance. i stopped reading WC religiously with the death of my lumia 950xl :( but i recall not too long ago( was it really 2016?), to much of my disappointment, one of your articles specifically making the case why android windows phonne wouldn't make sense. dont remember the single screen phone cop-out part(i joke) just a disinclination toward android. anyways youre right they are childish antics and im glad we're here now excitedly anticipating a "windows" phone.
  • hey rubino not to pick on you too much, but whats the deal for jumping to the conclusion of a watch now? did you look at apple's line up and realize thats what microsoft is missing? Look im not trying to argue against the fact they're working on a watch, but the reason you give just bugs me.
    that is, "Panay spoke a lot about "being in your flow" at the Microsoft event. Having to open your Surface Duo to check for updates constantly is the exact opposite of that mantra."
    If thats your reasoning then you make me wonder does the phone not open 360 degrees? can you not put it in your pocket that way? if, you can't is it because youll damage the screens? to which i wonder can't you use a screen protector/s because then it wont close all the way? if you can use a screen protector then why would that be any different from any other smartphone now. thoughts you provoked. sorry. I understand no one knows very much about the devices atm, but i felt you were taking a leap of faith on that reasoning. im more inclined to believe that this phone is a segway towards a future where windows is so integrated with android that you'll essentially end up with both in one device. the thought of microsoft releasing a watch any time soon is, in my opinion, unlikely. Which direction would they go windows watch, android wear? i would hope that they would let the tech develop further before jumping in the fray late in the game yet again. however, if they let it develop, see where its going to settle, there's nothing stopping them from making a huge splash like i know this phone is going to be. i too can picture a windows watch, but it will be something unlike we have seen yet. edit: sorry, but lmao i stopped reading after that quote to write the comment after which i went back to finish and read your part about apple's trifecta.
  • @JimmyymmiJ, are you drunk? If not then get drunk. You would make more sense than that gibberish.
  • lol not drunk, but good guess. If you read it slow it does make sense. i'll admit i just typed it out as fast as could without pause to get down thoughts in my head and it could def be much clearer.
  • Looks promising. Nice to see that video showing surface earbuds. MS do try to follow through with their vision.
  • They always have a vision but either they are not supported but the current technology (hardware) OR other manufactures did not have real innovation to push technology foreword. While others were doing crap products for consumers, at this time, when i look for a smartphone i really can't tell the brand, they all look the same, the first thing you do when you hold a phone is trying to figure out the brand 🤣
  • I have tried smart watches for a while, included the Microsoft band 2, and honestly, besides the particular cases, i don't see them rising the technology usefulness so high as they were meant to. Maybe, they can help in sports, when you decide to put them on for a specific purpose. The need to be "connected" and monitored every second of our lives will be soon rejected as an annoying artificial construct. I understand the company's interest to fill every single instant of ours but, in the long term, I think the market will be led more and more by the unification, i.e. less devices that do more and possibly don't require accessories. By the way, it's such a bummer that they ditched the idea of Windows in everything. Thus, I don't see in the future any "surface watch" saving those people who want instant messages from a closed duo. Some rgb led would be appreciated though.
  • well put. While I agree, some of the features apple has put out on their phone have peaked my interest in the catagory. specifically for older people, falling, calling for help, health monitoring or even for kids to track their little butts. if only they could make the watch work completely independently from the phone.
  • Hey guys, a random question on the Surface Duo, how will the Update be received on the Duo? will they be fast like on the pixel or just like it used to be where it all depended on the carrier? I know its a bit too early to know but just throwing it out there.
  • I did not read any info about such thing anywhere, but reading articles here and there and watch the pictures of Duo, it looks like stock Android, maybe MS launcher or such will be there as well. At some point the launcher will be modified and updated to looks like something close to Windows, so if you are moving to Windows, you will have the same experience and won't feel like using a different system. ""MAYBE""
  • We simply don't know yet how that will work.
  • Another Android Wear trash? No thanks! Btw what happened to the Windows 10 IoT? Oh yes - the linux-based Azure Sphere happened?
  • It doesn't have to be WearOS based. It arguably makes more sense to roll your own silicone and firmware, like Samsung, Fitbit, or Garmin, than to jump into the morass that is that is the Android WearOS/Qualcomm mobile chasm.
  • "Another Android Wear trash?"
    I quite literally argue against Wear OS. I guess you didn't get beyond the headline.
    "Oh yes - the linux-based Azure Sphere happened?"
    You have a misunderstanding what Sphere is, it's a security layer/hardware for IoT, not an OS for a watch.
  • So watch doesn't count as an IoT? Also, Sphere is literally stripped down Linux packed with Azure connections by default. What the hell is "security layer"? So what happened to Windows 10 IoT, the initiator of which was Microsoft Band - a watch-like device?
  • I like much the idea and if the design and functionality are great enough to beat other wearable devices, the consumers will be interested for sure, one more thing, they can do wearable for their devices and OS as well, not only to Duo. About Duo running Android, i though that Windows 10X runs Android apps, the same idea as the new Windows Edge Dev (it has the ability to run chrome extensions), I was so amazed that i would finally have a device (Windows) this size and can use on the go or just plug it to dockstation and start using it as a PC with alittle extra of power (running Android Apps if needed), but opps, i was wrong. Anyway, i believe they will surprise us more in the future and hopefully Windows 10X will be able to run other apps either from Windows Store directly or other platforms.
  • "i though that Windows 10X runs Android apps"
    Windows 10X runs Windows apps (Win32, UWP, PWA, etc.) not Android.
  • You heard it hear first - "Surface Watch" coming 2020
  • Yes, agree they need this, they will also do this as its a natural progression. They will also have glasses with hololens tech inside.
  • "They will also have glasses with hololens tech inside."
    Definitely down the road that will be the next step. Combine that with earbuds, watch/band, and a foldable-tablet and you have a wearable computer.
  • Microsoft has set a precedent with their partnership with Google. They can go into another partnership with Fitbit to produce a wearable. Microsoft provide the hardware, UI, Microsoft Graph and other features. Fitbit provide the tacking stuff.
  • That would be interesting. Fitbit finally gets its Apple Watch competitor without having to burden all the risks. Microsoft gets a fantastic ecosystem. I like it.
  • I agree that it would compliment the Duo. The Microsoft Band was a great device that suffered from quality issues, but a great device for tracking exercise that had the best software for exercise I have ever used. I would customize my routine and the stats after exercise were great without having to pay to read your stats like Strava, Fitbit and all other vendors out there. Now would be a great time to do a smart watch as a compliment to the duo and wireless buds. Great call Dan.
  • I hope you are right. Microsoft has real opportunity and expertise to make a "band" as a Neo/Duo companion. They may even revive Cortana to take a unifying stage for Neo/Duo/[Band] interactivity.
  • Hi Daniel. The third screen is one of the things I thought were absolutely necessary for quickly glancing at who is calling and for notification. The other thing I thought was necessary is the rear camera. I have since changed my mind because of the following: 1. I can always keep the Duo opened in phone mode i.e. fold it the entire 360 degrees. Since the screens are normal, there won't be any damages when the other screen is placed on a table, etc. Anyways, I am a fan of putting my phone upside down so I know the screen does not get damaged. I hope it can go to sleep while opened to be phone size in order to save battery etc. 2. With regard to the camera, the one camera act as both the rear and the front camera depending on how you fold it. If a person you are taking a picture of is close enough they can even see themselves from the screen with a camera on it while you see them from the other screen. The camera should just be good enough for rear pictures As a result of the two, I can't understand why the first version has to wait for the last quarter of 2020. I need a phone now!
  • I was thinking about this when they announced it. I would be awesome to have a Surface watch. I would really like to see what Panos Panay can come up with on that one!
  • I dont think panos would do a watch just for the sake of it, to fill a gap as you mention aaaand… you can simply close the Duo with the screens out.. it wont scratch any worse than any other phone today if he ever shows a surface watch, it will probably unroll into a phone or something
  • " you can simply close the Duo with the screens out.. it wont scratch any worse than any other phone today"
    You now literally doubled the chances of scratching the display in your pocket like that. At least with a traditional phone you have the back which can take the brunt of damage. This thing is going to cost at least $1,500. I don't see a lot of people shrugging their shoulders and thinking "eh, I'll risk it" vs. desiring the approach I layout here. One of the top reasons people wear smartwatches is smartphone support/extension. It's also not filling the gap for the sake of filling the gap. If it were, then you have to explain Surface Headphones, Surface Earbuds and even Surface Laptop. You can very well argue those are "filling the gap" too, after all.
  • I would like to see a better stylus and more accurate handwriting-to-text recognition conversion software for the Surface Duo. That would make the device golden in my view. Be able to more easily translate many types of chicken handwriting to text. Killer feature.