How and why Microsoft should bring a (telephony-enabled) Windows 10X device to our pockets

(Image credit: Windows Central)

In January 2015, I presented an analysis claiming Microsoft would bring an inking focused, telephony-powered pocketable PC to market. I even suggested Microsoft-branded earpieces would be a practical accessory for this device. In 2016 leaks regarding Project Andromeda, a Windows Core OS-powered (or Windows 10X) pocket PC, confirmed this analysis. As information continued to surface, I incorporated those details into my ongoing analysis of Microsoft's Pocket PC mobile strategy.

Microsoft has sought to converge the power of Windows and the broader Microsoft cloud, apps, hardware, and services ecosystem on a pocketable telephony-enabled mobile device for years. Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, and Windows 10 Mobile were all mobile OSes that flirted with Microsoft's mobile vision but failed to bring the "power" of Windows and the synergy of Microsoft's ecosystem to a touch-focused mobile experience. Thus, Microsoft designed the modular, lighter and context-conforming Windows 10X, for duo screen PCS like Surface Neo (a versatile tablet) and partner devices from Dell, HP, and Lenovo coming next year. It was even planned to power the now Android-based Surface Duo (a pocketable device), formerly known as Project Andromeda.

The surprise introduction of the Android-powered Surface Duo at this year's Surface event is a manifestation of Microsoft's work toward a telephony-enabled, Windows 10X-powered pocket PC. After all, Surface Duo was being developed for years - like the Surface Neo, which shares its design - with Windows 10X in mind until a relatively recent shift resulted with Android as the OS of choice. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is meeting users and developers where they are with this "miniature Surface Neo" that runs Android and makes phone calls. And meeting them where they are is key to leading them to the Windows 10X-powered telephony-enabled pocket PC I believe Microsoft also wants them to eventually embrace. And it may coexist with the Android-powered Duo.

Satya Nadella's empathy-driven Microsoft is relationship-focused

Like many of the tough decisions Nadella has made (at a cost), an Android-powered Surface Duo is about forging relationships. Through these relationships, I believe, Microsoft hopes to bring a Windows 10X telephony-enabled PC to our pockets.

Microsoft was once notoriously Microsoft- and Windows-centric internally conflicted, and routinely leveraged its market dominance to force developers, partners, and consumers to accept the Microsoft way. Driven by empathy Nadella "hit refresh" and embraced his predecessors Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" vision to heal internal divides. He also reached beyond Microsoft to build relationships that have helped Microsoft expand its ecosystem across a multiplatform world.

Driven by empathy, Nadella is expanding the Microsoft ecosystem across a multiplatform world.

Nadella open-sourced .NET, embraced Linux, made Azure and its cross-platform goals the "new Windows or the world's operating system," prioritized cross-platform apps, focused on tying Windows, Android and iOS together through Microsoft Graph and much more. Now the company has partnered with Google and is soliciting the support of android developers to create unique experiences for a first-party dual-screened android device. Nadella's empathy-driven, people-focused leadership style is attributed to his experiences raising his son Zane, who has severe disabilities; and this cannot be overlooked as a factor in Microsoft's mobile strategy.

Nadella who admitted to initially perceiving Zane's disabilities as something that happened to him rather than to his son, through empathy learned to see and meet his son's needs, by first meeting him where he is. This is not unlike Nadella's evolving strategy to push developers, consumers, and partners further into Microsoft's ecosystem by first meeting them where they are. The android-powered Surface Duo is an example of Microsoft meeting developers and users where they are with the hope of expanding support across the broader ecosystem (i.e., Window 10X on a pocketable device). This "human" approach to leading technological innovation places how users, developers, and partners feel as a priority. Nadella's more "open" Microsoft arguably makes users and developers feel better about Microsoft's ecosystem than the less accommodating Microsoft of old.

The Surface Duo feel-good path to Microsoft's ecosystem

Surface Duo unfolded on display

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Apple's iPhone didn't succeed because of the number of apps in the App Store. The relationships Apple built with developers, users, and others (along with other factors), which made them feel good about being a part of Apple's ecosystem, led to a populated App Store, which in turn contributed to the iPhone's success.

Surface Duo is an expression of Microsoft's ecosystem of hardware, software, cloud, and other services. The device is meant to make Android developers and those who want to use an Android-powered, telephony-enabled pocketable device feel good about Microsoft's ecosystem.

Surface Duo will meet developers and users where they are and draw them into Microsoft's ecosystem.

Over the next year, Microsoft is expected to nurture relationships with Android developers and Google to create tailored dual-screen experiences and apps for Surface Duo leading up to its holiday 2020 launch. Microsoft will simultaneously be cultivating relationships with Windows developers who are tasked with creating tailored experiences and apps for the larger dual-screened Windows 10X-powered Surface Neo, which shares the same form factor and launch time as the Surface Duo.

Surface Duo's and Surface Neo's shared form factor and Microsoft's goal to optimize dual-screen experiences for their respective platforms over the next year is telling of its mobile strategy:

  • Windows 10X provides the powerful, context-conforming, mobility-focused OS Microsoft has always envisioned for a pocket PC with telephony.
  • The android-powered, telephony-enabled Surface Duo offers mobile developers a device in Microsoft's ecosystem for which they will potentially be excited about developing apps - unlike Windows 10 Mobile. This strategically creates an opportunity to secure the long sought after but never achieved favorable relationship between mobile developers and Microsoft.
  • The Surface Neo, which shares the same form factor as the Duo, will potentially be used by Microsoft to demonstrate to its Android developers that Windows 10X can achieve the same dual-screen experiences developers produce on Android and the Duo.
  • Microsoft can highlight the advantages its integrated services bring to dual-screen experiences using Windows 10X within Microsoft's ecosystem.

Microsoft has never been better positioned to accomplish its pocket PC goal.

Shrinking the Surface Neo

As the Surface Go is a miniature Surface Pro, the Surface Duo is a small Surface Neo. Though the Duo was initially meant to run Windows 10X, in the short term, Android makes sense to get developer and consumer support for Microsoft's ecosystem on all Surface form factors including a pocketable device.

If these devices hit the market on schedule next year, that won't be a culmination of a plan – it'll be a beginning. I've highlighted in the past that iOS and Android are mobile OSes that Apple and Google are trying to evolve into more capable OSes to support more complex computing demands and desktop scenarios.

Conversely, Microsoft has been coming from the opposite direction, trying to make Windows lighter, more versatile, and mobile-friendly while retaining its desktop strengths. This seems to have significantly been achieved with Windows 10X on the Surface Neo. Consequently, Android on the Surface Duo is not the full realization of Microsoft's pocket PC vision.

Surface Duo is so much more than a phone

Microsoft asserts that Windows 10X is designed to power dual-screened PCs. Thus, I believe Surface creator Panos Panay's effort to distance Surface Duo from a traditional smartphone is important. It is, I believe, in part to ensure that when Windows 10X finally comes to a Surface Duo-like device, that that device will be viewed as what Panay said Surface Duo is during its introduction – a Surface, albeit one with a new form factor occupying a new product category.

I want to be super clear about this, you're going to talk about this as a phone and I get that. And you're going to talk about it as a communication device and it does both of those things incredibly well, for sure. For sure, you can text, you can write, you can do what you want. But make no mistake this product is a Surface. - Panos Panay.

Panay knew that many writers would dilute this narrative by categorizing the personal and productivity-focused Surface Duo as a phone – as he gave subtle guidance on how (not) to classify it. If (because there are no guarantees Microsoft's strategy will succeed or that developers will respond) Windows 10X does come to a Surface Duo-like device, Panay's assertion that the Duo is not a phone will be more apparent as that Windows 10X powered device will be more aligned with the Surface Neo PC category with which it shares a design.

Sadly, the "phone" narrative that has already begun for the Surface Duo category will make it more challenging for Microsoft to assert its messaging that that potential telephony-enabled Windows 10X-powered pocketable PC is more than a phone.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

65 Comments
  • I think microsoft has not managed to convey the value of the surface duo and neo. The promise of developer enticement is thin ice to tread upon as windows phone has shown, despite the device falling under the surface umbrella. Microsoft has shown little future roadmap of what's to come after version one. I think the expectation android developers will come to the duo/neo is highly hyped false promise. If ture we would have seen a great ecosystem of apps on windows phone and surface. Microsoft briefly showed support of android apps for windows 10 within the UWP context, but that never came to fruition. Creating something from virtually nothing is a big leap of faith, and the past hasn't really shown continuous faith in that. It's all shaky and I'm truly curious what microsoft's motives are how much I would like to see the neo come as close to the courier device with touch and pen input first UI. Windows 10X in my view is showing Microsoft is not daring enough and the UI still looks like an identity crisis and trauma from the windows 8 days.
  • These devices are more than a year away, so it's a bit premature to judge how they're being presented to developers.
  • Honest question. If developers generally showed little interest in W8 and W10 along with UWP, WM and Windows RT why do people believe they will embrace W10X or the Neo?
  • The only answer to this question is that: some people are delusional.
  • Maybe they won't, but the alternative is to not try at all. Would you recommend that strategy instead? We are constantly hearing how Windows is becoming less and less relevant and plenty of people criticising Microsoft for being the next IBM, yet many of those same people also criticise Microsoft when they try to break out of that cycle. Microsoft have improved the software and the hardware this time around, as well as UWP itself. It may never become what they want it to be but it definitely won't if they don't try. To my mind, both Duo- and Neo-style devices that can run both Windows and Android apps is the best combination that I can think of. There are obviously challenges with making that happen but I would not be surprised if that is what Microsoft is working towards. If they can get UWP and their development tools to the point where you can create the app once for both Windows and Android, they may eventually be able to drop the Android support in the devices altogether. Even if they can never get to that point, they can still reinvigorate interest in Microsoft and Windows. That they are continually trying to improve their approach should be encouraging. They hamstrung themselves long ago by not taking mobile seriously enough soon enough but they are now doing what they can within that reality.
  • Easy answer but needs to be broken into two parts:
    W8 and W10: They run Win32. Why mess with what one knows? Just roll your apps out as Win32 apps. There is, in the eyes of many developers, no benefit to building UWP. It didn't bring anything new to the table. At least nothing of value. WM and WinRT: Low install base so why develop? W10X and Neo bridge a gap here. Because it runs Win32 apps, there isn't the chicken/egg issue W10M ran into (why develop when so few users? Why buy when so few apps?). However, Win32 apps, as far as I know, may not be able to leverage the dual screen features of W10X. So if developers want to wow users with those capabilities, they have to build UWP apps for W10X. And if the install base is there (which it may be since Win32 apps run on it), they have incentive. This may also be the bridge that brings W10X to a future Duo. Build the app ecosystem on Neo and the apps will be there for a Duo running W10X. Additionally, if they get Android developers to build unique 2 screen experiences for Duo and build a simple bridge to help them bring their apps over to W10X (and therefore a future W10X Duo), now the road is even smoother.
  • Personally , I don't have much interest in a Duo running Android. Win10X would be a different story. Not because I think it would be a Windows phone, but because it would meld more seamlessly into the rest of the Surface lineup. It would be a small Neo, in form and function. Seems marketing speak to try and position this as something other than a phone and then use a phone OS because that's where the customers are. The Windows customers are only on Android (and iOS) because MS has been incapable of providing (or marketing) a MS (Windows) alternative. With Win10X the challenge of developing a continuum experience disappears. Windows already has the capacity to run a second, or two, external monitors, and all the applications already work. Mouse, Keyboard and other peripherals are already supported. You just need to ensure the experience is good on the small screen, the big screen already works. I saw this years ago with a 7" HP Slate 500. Docked I had a Windows desktop running Windows 7. Undocked I had Windows 7 running on a 7" display, a very unpleasant experience. MS just needs to get the portable experience right, running on some flavor of actual Windows, not try to put a MS skin on Android.
  • The issue is apps. If you look at android and ios compared to wm10 you will see alot of issues. 1 is the popular apps and it would be the same with win10x. Then we have payment apps Google pay ect again Microsoft don't have this. Accessories is also an issue with watches fitness trackers ect again they won't support win10x. We also have the AI side yes Microsoft have cortana but again what connects to this and not many home hubs ect to. Microsoft using android is a smart move for the surface for people who want a mobile. Yes Windows 10x will be better for a small computer but as a pure mobile os I think Microsoft have made the right move even though I want to see a new Windows mobile as such. But that shop has sailed and I see this as a good new partnership to help bridge the gaps between different company's in terms of AI, watches, payment and apps. We all see things different though and have our own view on how the market is shifting. What I see though is a note killer. I have a note 8 and Dont see anything on the market that can come close to it as the spen adds that extra for me. Microsoft surface running android for me will be my next go to device and I see alot doing this to.
  • The apps issue is valid if you think this is a Surface Phone. Lots of time to change, but at this point it would make a pretty lousy phone. If it is a very portable computer, one I could stick in one pocket while having my 'phone' in another, then there isn't an app issue...it runs Windows and the applications I want to run on a PC. Running Android, it is yet another Android device, in a potentially unique form factor. I say potentially because we are talking a year away and there are already other foldable phones out there now. I don't imagine what MS creates to run on Duo wouldn't also run on Samsung's, or Huawei's or whoever's Android foldable. It is built on Android just like Launcher, Your Phone, Office, Teams, etc, is today. Surface Mini was cancelled because it brought nothing new. By the time this is supposed to release, it too will bring nothing new. As I said, to me this is only interesting if I can potentially dock it and run Windows, not DEX. That means Windows, not Android.
  • "It would be a small Neo, in form and function." And market.
  • Not in market; the Duo would be truly portable, while the Neo is just a small, odd laptop, that you still need a bag to transport.
  • The first step is to eliminate the conventional concept of a "phone" as in "a device that can make carrier talk and text" paired with "smartphone" as in "a device that can run apps from Google Play if Android is the OS". We need something new: Enter the Pocket PC - a device with an eSIM for data (plans purchased from Microsoft like the Surface Pro 5 LTE) running Windows 10X with dual experiences (tablet UI when undocked, desktop UI when docked/connected to an external monitor). It should be marketed as the "everywhere computer" and calls are made using Skype - the user get Skype Out included and can select a new number or port in one when the device is being setup for the first time. The words "phone" and "smartphone" are to be avoided at all cost. It's a COMPUTER that can be used in three different modes - pocket (folded), tablet (unfolded) and desktop (docked). A folding version of the Type Cover could bridge the modes on the go. An appropriate size would be something like a Surface Go folded in half (i.e. the unfolded size would be a 10" display). "Telephony" as in "carrier calling" should be avoided and Skype Out be provided instead. It make perfect sense that a Surface promote MICROSOFT and that talk/text are made using THEIR service. It's an Internet device that can connect using WiFi and/or LTE/5G. A good docking experience is an important factor since the key objective here is to have a device that can be used as a desktop computer when at the desk and then unplug it and put it in a pocket when going out. It would be appropriate to offer "performance docks" too - i.e. the ability to hook up external CPU/GPU and run the operating system on the internal one but route applications to the external ditto for more demanding tasks. Such a dock could be a NUC like box with a slot for the device - i.e. just slide it in and it instantly turns into a powerful desktop computer.
  • This all the way! Although this was also what the HP Elite x3 was marketed as. A 3 in 1 PC. If you watch the ads Skype is the focus for calls and the docking solutions are the other selling point. I really wish the would have updated it to use Windows 10 arm as it's still a capable device. I have both the desk dock and lap dock as well as various wireless docks. It's the only "PC" that I own other than my hacked 950xl which is running Windows 10 Pro. Sadly I could never get continuum to work on my 950xl unless I was casting to another Windows 10 PC, so I couldn't use it the way I need to. While I do understand Jason's analysis with regards to them forging relationships to help drum up support for Windows, they could still compile a rom and allow us to install it. I can't see a reason for them not to. I doubt it would cost them any resources to allow this to run as a mini lte pc. Updating Skype would be all they need for calling and sms.
  • Maybe in year 2022
  • Yeah... never gonna happen until Nadella is out in some way. He simply wants out of this consumer business that simply generates bad P.R. for his P.R.-driven rule
  • Except that he has been saying for years that Microsoft wouldn't make a "me too" device and it would be with something special if and when they did re-enter the mobile market... and that's exactly what happened. Also, despite all the whining, the fact that they're using Android on the Duo is evidence that they do care about consumers. It's the fans themselves who don't care about consumers if they expect Microsoft to release a device targeting them that no one else would buy. If Microsoft were OK with that then we'd still be buying Lumias.
  • But they HAVE made another me-too product... An Android phone.
  • Yep, not only that but Android developers working with the Duo will be pressuring MS to make Neo version 2 Android as well A lot of MS fans are viewing this as a way for MS to build a phone, gain a market and then change to the MS UI.
    I see it differently. We know most developers have little interest in developing for any form of Windows. That's just a proven fact. By bringing Android into the MS and Surface family MS have literally opened the front door for the Android trojan horse. Developers will totally abandon Windows.
    The Surface Duo is the beginning of the end for Microsoft Windows.
  • If the neo proves to be a successful product, I wonder if version 2 will provide us with a Pro Duo
    Running 10X... Or I wonder if there is a business case for a fully emulated cloud running full Windows 10
  • bleached not on here trolling yet? Grandma didn't let him out of the basement.
  • Hey! That's your boy.. Probably ran out of Go Phone minutes. 🙄🙄🙄
  • I might get a Duo if they get the pricing right. The device we saw would be very cool at $699. If it is >$1000 then they at least need to shrink the bezels. The idea that it will help the Windows ecosystem is really stretching. I see Neo getting Android before Duo gets 10X. I give it 3 years before 10X is "no longer a focus". The processor supposedly has Atom level performance. Combined with the lack of an ecosystem, Windows 10X is going to have a very steep hill to climb.
  • The Surface Neo will need to be marketed as a digital Moleskine that by coincidence can also run MS Office etc., but the intended target user group will need to be much closer to the initial MS Courier use form factor. And yes this market will be niche, but trust me a smaller market for a device with higher margins will make it viable for MS. The number of apps for the MS Surface Neo is irrelevant. They need a limited set of tailor made apps that translate the Moleskine idea in to a digital, versatile counterpart. I would not mind to pay 1500$ for such a device (Surface Neo) provided it will deliver on an agile fast OS (win 10X) that can do rapidly what was demonstrated in the initial MS courier demo's. Nothing more nothing less and I would be very happy.
  • Who is looking for a digit moleskin? People in the US don't even know what that is. Gonna be a tough sell.
  • A lot of people actually, given most people's opinions are derived from anecdotal evidence I would say it depends which job sector you work in.
  • Fully agree. MS have made a massive and far reaching error in adopting Android. It won't be the future Duo adopting a MS UI rather it will be a future Neo adopting Android. Developers will force MS's hand in this.
  • when I can get windows with telephony that fits in my pocket I'll bite, not interested in anything else.
  • I think eventually we will see a Win10x phone, it's technologically a very small step from the Neo, the truth is though that right now it's an Android world and I can see the logic for MS meeting consumers and developers where they are. Panos made a big show of trying to position the Duo as more than just a phone, and I think how it rolls out to developers in the coming months will play a big role in how successful those efforts are. I think that Jason is right they want a Pocket PC that is phone enabled, that's their end goal, so you have to consider the Duo as a step on a path towards that.
  • No Apps Jason...you need to give it up!!!
  • He will never give it up.
  • "No Apps Jason...you need to give it up!!!" Do you mean the multi-billion dollar global company that just introduced these two products (Neo and Duo) to the world a year ahead of launch with the explicit statement of getting developer support to create experiences for these Window 10X and Android (Duo has the entire library of Google apps by the way😉) dual screen devices should "give it up?" I just write about the strategy. I'm not part of the decision-making at Microsoft. 🙂 I'm not sure if you read the piece, glimpsed the title or merely skimmed the content before commenting. But I feel if you read the entire piece you 'll see that my analysis of Microsoft's strategy revolves entirely around its acknowkdgement that there is an app deficit for a mobile Windows experience and how it's using Android and the Duo to meet developers where they are and is highlighting its ecosystem on an Android device, a platform developers would likely build dual screened experiences for, with a an additional goal to build relationships that may help draw these developers even further into Microsoft's s ecosystem where they may also see value in building those same dual screened experiences on Window 10X as well. It may or may not work. And as I said in the piece developers may or may not respond to this strategy that is being heralded with undeniably great hardware (Duo and Neo), a bold step in the company's embracing Android on a first-party device and a simultaneous introduction of Windows 10X the most capable and adaptable form of Windows ever for a mobile and touch centric experience as well as a traditional desktop experience. You may disagree with the strategy, but Microsoft is making a comprehensive approach here to push the industry toward its vision of computing's future on Windows and Android, and bringing Windows 10X to our pockets I see as one of the goals in this approach. You may or may not agree, it may or may not work, but for Microsoft to do nothing, or as you seem to be saying, "give it up, " would be, (if you think this is a bad strategy) an even worse strategy. 😉
  • Referring to Microsoft running Win 10 X on the Duo vs