The Microsoft Surface Duo is in trouble
Lack of resources and recent layoffs aren't helping.
Microsoft’s dual-screen foldable smartphone has seemingly been abandoned. At least, that’s how it looks on the outside. The last major software update the Surface Duo received was in October 2022, when the company delivered Android 12L. Since then, movement on new features and bug fixes has pretty much ground to a halt.
A major OS update often comes with a couple of months of bug fixing afterward to iron out any new issues that may have popped up with all the new changes that a major OS release brings. That’s not the case with Android 12L on the Surface Duo. Microsoft pushed out this update and has fixed just one bug since.
Android 12L for Surface Duo was not a perfect release, and it did introduce new issues users assumed would be fixed in due course, but that hasn’t happened. The company has continued to release Android security updates, but the changelogs for these monthly updates make no mention of general OS fixes or improvements, which implies Microsoft is doing the bare minimum for these releases.
Even then, the bare minimum clearly wasn’t enough in April, as the Surface Duo failed to receive the April 2023 security update, marking the first time since the device launched that Microsoft has failed to issue an up-to-date security patch for the device.
And it’s not just the OS that’s being neglected, Microsoft’s own Android app teams seem to have abandoned the Surface Duo too. SwiftKey just recently got updated with Bing AI capabilities, which is awesome and it works across a wide range of Android smartphones, including the latest Samsung devices. But the feature is not available on Surface Duo.
I asked Microsoft if Bing AI would be coming to SwiftKey on Surface Duo, and got a “nothing to share” comment back from a spokesperson. That’s frankly shocking. I also asked Microsoft if it could say whether Android 13 was in the works for Surface Duo devices, to which I received the same “nothing to share” response. Unbelievable.
So what's happening?
I reported in January that Microsoft had scrapped plans to ship a dual-screen Surface Duo 3 in 2023, and instead refocused its efforts on a single-screen foldable design that would target a late 2024 release window. Throughout 2022, the Surface Duo OS team were tasked with modifying the experience for a single-screen foldable, laying the groundwork for this next-generation Surface foldable.
Alongside this effort, many of the Surface Duo OS team were moved over to a new Android project, which was just recently announced as Teams Rooms on Android.
Teams Rooms on Android is Microsoft’s attempt at becoming an AOSP vendor for device makers building Teams-powered conferencing devices like desk phones. Previously, OEMs built their own software for these devices and licensed the Teams integration, but now, Microsoft has full control of the OS from the ground up.
For whatever reason, Microsoft considers this effort more important than supporting the Surface Duo with new features and bug fixes, so work on Android for Surface Duo has slowed while the team focused on Teams Rooms on Android. That’s why Android 12L launched in October and has received pretty much no fixes or improvements since.
What’s worse is I’m told that as of late 2022, Microsoft had no plans to ship Android 13 for Surface Duo, with the thinking being that the company would wait for Android 14 first. That might have changed since, but I’ve not been able to confirm it.
Microsoft + Google partnership isn't helping
I have heard from many sources now that Microsoft’s highly touted “partnership” with Google on the Surface Duo extends no further than a standard OEM partnership that Google holds with all Android manufacturers. In fact, I hear that the partnership has turned a bit sour, with Google refusing to offer Microsoft access to Android source-code ahead of general availability like it does with other OEMs such as Samsung.
This is why Android 12L for Surface Duo took so long, because unlike Samsung and other OEMs, Microsoft had to wait until Android 12L was finished in March 2022 before it could start working on porting the OS to Surface Duo. Samsung was able to begin that work for the Galaxy Fold 3 and Galaxy Fold 4 a few months earlier.
My sources don’t know why the partnership between Microsoft and Google isn’t working. Perhaps it has something to do with Microsoft’s rumored mobile app store?
Surface Duo 3 has an uphill battle ahead of it
Designing hardware is all well and good, but unless you can get the software teams to fully invest in the hardware, there's really no point. That's the Surface Duo and Surface Duo 2's ultimate downfall. Google, heck, not even Microsoft wants to properly support a dual-screen foldable, which is why the company is pivoting to a traditional foldable design instead.
But that means Microsoft needs to fully invest in the Android OS side of things to differentiate a foldable Surface Duo from the competition. Why buy a foldable Surface Duo 3 over a Pixel Fold or Galaxy Fold? That's a question Microsoft is aware it needs to answer.
As it currently stands, it doesn't look like Microsoft has the resources to fully invest in this vision. Recent layoffs haven't helped, and I hear many orgs have been asked to focus on projects that are more likely to make a profit, which means devices like the Surface Duo 3 are being temporarily placed on the back burner.
I think it's fair to say that the Surface Duo is in trouble, and it's going to need all the important Android software teams at Microsoft to get behind any future vision if it really wants to ship a Surface Duo 3 next fall.
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Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.
Though I don't think I can trust Microsoft/Surface again.
I guess I'll use my D2 until something gives out...probably the battery before the hinge is my best guess.
This feels like the ghost of Windows Phone. Microsoft start down a path, can't find a foothold, start to lose a grip on OS and hardware development, scale back and silently start to wrap things up, and eventually we hear weeks later that they turned the proverbial lights off.
I honestly cannot see a compelling reason for an Android based folding screen Duo, especially if they're going to wait until 2024 to launch. By then, the Pixel Fold (and others) will be fairly well established with their own devices, all of which look strikingly similar to the Duo.
The only USP Microsoft have available to them is the OS. I get this ain't happening and we've all been here before etc etc but Microsoft need to find a way to make their OS work in a mobile world. Piggybacking on Android is not the solution.
I bought my Duo 2 nearly 18 months ago and it's a rock solid device.
The one difference we do have to our advantage this time is that we have android on board. It's not the ideal solution, and I'll never stop wishing we had an official windows version of the Duo, but at least now if Microsoft step away from Duo, the OS will continue to be supported by Google.
so you think surface is a failure (all brands of it), and xbox too.
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MS Accounting, Money, Outlook Small Business Contact Manager, Zune, Xbox Music, Groove Music, Windows Phone, Windows Mobile. Office 365 Access on Web (Used this in my business and they burned me). Think I just read they are doing away with Hardware such as keyboards and mice. Wont be long for the next thing.
As for Google being sour with Microsoft, Microsoft is creating alternative Android stores on Windows and there is the rumour of having also another one coming, except Microsoft isn't Samsung or any of Android heavyweigths OEMs.
This is yet another example of how things go every time Microsoft is doing something that isn't Windows as target platform.
Thought I do have to say, as a Windows mobile fan, none of this is shocking. For those who feel screwed over I can totally sympathize.