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...?
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
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.