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It's the Surface Neo, not Duo, that should be more exciting for Windows Phone fans

Microsoft employee with Surface Neo
Microsoft employee with Surface Neo (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

I can already hear the wider tech press groaning at this title. I HEAR YOU, tech press, and guess what, I don't care.

I gave up my Lumia 950 XL, moved onto Android, begrudgingly, when Twitter UWP became a crash-fest. Deep down, though, I always believed. One day, Windows on phones would rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, to reclaim its place as the greatest mobile OS above all. And it would be glorious.

Okay, that's a bit dramatic, maybe, but hear me out. It's pretty apt that the Windows 10X-powered folding tablet is called "Neo." While most are probably fawning over the Android-powered Surface phone-like "Duo," it's Matrix-monikered Neo that could prove itself to be the one for Windows Phone fans. And here's why.

Windows 10X is the path of Neo

Neo, previously known to us by its codename, Centaurus, is Microsoft's upcoming dual-screen folding tablet, powered by an all-new Windows 10X operating system. This new OS experience is based on Windows 10 itself, complete with Win32 programs that PC users know and love. It will additionally come with a different type of user experience, designed first for touch and dual-screen experiences.

Duo conversely is powered by raw Android, complete with Google Play support. It's not Android on top of Windows, as some have speculated/hoped, it is just literally Android, complete with the same developer environment, and Google's ultimate control. It will bridge between Windows-like no other phone in existence, thanks to Microsoft tools like Your Phone and OneDrive. However, like Samsung and Huawei have noticed over the years, Google ultimately has final control over the environment. Regulatory pressures thankfully will stop Google interfering in Microsoft's efforts too much. However, even with Your Phone and other cloud-based Android-to-Windows experiences, it's still never going to feel as integrated as a full Windows OS.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

That's where Windows 10X comes in. This lighter version of Windows still has the power to run Win32 PC apps, but it also comes with a touch-optimized experience for mobile-like devices. In this incarnation, Windows 10X powers the Neo tablet, and presumably other OEM tablets that will likely make themselves known at a later date. A lot of the apps Microsoft demonstrated during its showcase were explicitly built for this platform, however, using the full suite of UWP APIs that are ARM-friendly. And thus, phone friendly.

With Windows 10X, I'm starting to believe

Surface Neo (Image credit: Microsoft)

If Windows 10X truly takes off with developers, it could finally be the catalyst Microsoft needs to get app developers interested in building touch-optimized experiences that are fully compliant with a mobile use-case on Windows.

As of right now, Windows 10's tablet mode is in a sad, sorry state. And perhaps, now we know why. Instead of trying to beef up Windows 10's tablet mode, they've simply been spending their resources on 10X instead. The lack of touch-optimization in Windows 10 led to a lack of interest in tablet-optimized apps and services for Windows 10 devices, which in turn, has led to a fairly anemic market for pure Windows 10 tablets. Generally, any Windows 10 device with a touch screen is a 2-in-1, since you'll want to run away screaming from tablet mode as soon as you're finished with the task at hand.

10X will hopefully change all of that. We won't know for sure until it ships in its final form in 2020, but if it's anything like what was demonstrated on stage at the Surface event, it looks like a big step up above what we have now.

Surface Neo unveiling (Image credit: Windows Central)

Inspiring consumers to buy will hopefully kick off more interest from developers and companies whose apps arbitrarily sidestep Windows. You don't have to look far to find examples of staple apps that are painfully absent on Windows, that flourish on iOS and Android's more touch-friendly platforms. Instagram on Windows hasn't been updated in 5 billion years (disclaimer: possible exaggeration), and we've seen more significant companies leave Windows than arrive. The lack of a mobile endpoint is, in my opinion, to blame for all of that. 10X won't be a silver bullet, but it's a crucial step forward.

As Windows 10X grows, it could also shrink

Therein lies the obvious endgame. If Microsoft and its OEM PC partners can make Windows 10X a success where RT, Windows 10 Mobile, and other touch-oriented efforts have failed, there's no reason to envisage a world where Neo could shrink down, and fit into your pocket.

All the APIs for telephony and LTE are there already. It just needs those damn apps. Win32 is a huge boon, but so much of the modern consumer computing and entertainment experience lives elsewhere.

There's a world where both the Android-powered Duo phone and Windows-powered Neo can perfectly co-exist, too, of course. Many people may just prefer Android, even if Microsoft manages to entice significant apps and services over to Windows. As long as you're using Microsoft services, Redmond is ultimately happy.

If you're a fan of the concept of Windows on phones, however, Neo is the path back to that reality. Will it happen, though? If 10X takes off, I'd say it is inevitable.

Related: Everything Microsoft announced at its Surface event

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • I don't know about that What really would be exciting is if MS made two more launchers for Android... One Windows 10 desktop styled launcher, and another WP "Modern" styled launcher.... That way WP fans could enjoy all the awesomeness of Android with the look, and feel, of Windows they love.. This would be great because current WP themed launchers available for Android are second rate... We need something designed by MS.
  • The Windows Phone look is over. It's not ever coming back.
  • Sad, because it was great..
  • Do you really think putting squares around icons and non-functional should have been a success for Microsoft? That interface was terrible. Every that implemented it failed. It is easy to see why, it takes more than squares around icons and non-functional widgets to make a great platform. Android icons can be anything you want, as can the widgets. Putting limits on your platform doesn't make it great, especially if those limits are arbitrary and not well thought out. If you want a limited platform, Apple does it best.
  • I ran your comment through google translate, but even that couldn't figure out what you're going on about... Anyways, take some time to reminisce over some of these absolutely beautiful Windows Phone start screens. I haven't seen anything like them since. 84 page thread here: Don't come back till you've read the whole thread.
  • "squares around icons and non-functional widgets " I don`t know what you are talking about but that was definitely not windows phone . With windows phone I was able to see every information I needed and every notification with just one glance at the screen. No other OS could beat that,no mater what widgets will do . With more refinement on the live tiles it would had been the best thing ever. But the again to whom am I explaining . Your brain is to bleached.
  • Widgets could easily imitate Live Tiles (non-functional widgets) and some do imitate Live Tiles. Even if they do show something useful, which was rare since they were mostly random, you had no way to act on that information beyond opening the app. Useless next to a well built widget.
  • Short answer, yes....
  • Oh, please. Android is both ugly and crap as a user experience. Putting lipstick on the icons is all you can do with Android's garbage. Live Tiles weren't just "putting squares around icons", that's just ignorant.
  • That is exactly what it was. Squares around icons and non-functional widgets that could only show an image with no interactivity. If you want form over function, buy an Apple.
  • I haven't seen you fully troll in a while, and it looks like you came back in full stride here. Live tiles were not only functional, they were very useful. Android is literally the one that has non functional icons here. I can't even get a number of emails I have without an add on. The windows live tiles ONLY didn't work if the developer decided they didn't want to code it. As for Apple doing it best, sure they allow a number of notifications, but when did apple allow you to see an actual message in their icons, or a balance in an account, or any real information from their app.
  • Apple has actual widgets and a notification center. 1x1 icons on Windows Phone were just icons with Squares. The widgets (Live Tiles) couldn't be 1x1 and had no functionality beyond showing images, usually randomly. Why a power user would want that instead of a fully functional widget makes no sense.
  • I hate to say it, but even Surface Scribe would have been a better name than Surface Duo.
  • Lol. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 That's funny. I don't really have a problem with Duo, but I could swear Samsung has used this name before.
  • You're right. They did. In their ovens lol
  • For me it's really not even only about the looks.
    I just want Microsoft to control the OS not Google.
    1st of all. Because that way they can implement any feature they want. They don't need Googles permission to do things. I
    2nd of all. They can optimize performance themselves. Do their own updates. Lastly. I just hate Google.
  • You implement any feature you want on Android. It is open source and the license doesn't seem to have much in the way of feature limitations.
  • Still, you need a google account to use the phone, and google will track your activity and sell it to advertisers because that's what they do (and why you never pay directly for google software or services... they sell your information). Second, you still have to use the play store, and google takes 30% every time you do. Even if the app is free, you need a google account, they track it, and your information is used to make money. I get that most people don't mind the business model. They gladly give their formally private information to google for them to use as they see fit in exchange for free software and services. That said, some people simply do not trust or like google. For those people, the Duo is no better than a Samsung, or Pixel phone.
  • While I dislike google as much as the next person, you should probably know that legit, google-free app stores are a thing. Aptoide is a big one, and there are replacements for everything else. I dunno if I will get this, but if I do, google is the first to go.
  • Aptoid, f-droid and a few other stores can easily be sideloaded on most android devices, there's even an amazon store you can sideload.
  • You can bypass all Google services on android. Just use the F-droid and Aurora stores. The only apps off limits are the paid ones.
  • If you don't like that business model, why are you using Windows? Microsoft does the same thing and makes you pay for it! If that is your argument, then using Windows is hypocritical. You want Linux or Apple products.
  • Android is nominally open source but Google is still in control. Users expect Android devices to have access to the Play Store, which gives Google all the leverage it needs. Too much for my liking.
  • I fully agree. The major issue with Android is that in order to get Google Play Store and Play Services - you HAVE to follow the rules of Google. This is a serious restriction when we talk customization, especially if it is about "reversing" limitations implemented in Oreo, Pie and Q. You can't do "too much" with Android - unless you fork the system and make a Google free version of it.
  • Yeah, Windows has way less restrictions. That argument makes sense.
  • I don't recall having to fork over 30 % to Microsoft last time I installed a program on my PC...
  • That's not the problem because Microsoft can provide any feature like multitasking ,gestures, pen support , various user modes etc through android.
    Third party App optimization is the major problem in android specially with tablet and dual screen devices like this
  • "Lastly. I just hate Google."
    Dang... but I hear you loud and clear and feel your pain
  • Yes I am not sure what to feel about this Duo. I've always tried to google as much as i can. U won't believe me maybe that I still use my Lumia. it's a very strange feeling that no matter what I just cant trust google. i don't like their business model. I don't like their policy. After so many scandals about them there is large amount of trust issues have been grown in my mind bcz of their action and of course i just hate google.
  • Microsoft has the same issues. Have you not been paying attention or are you ignoring when Microsoft does it?
  • They're too filled with hatred for Google to see the facts. Besides, even if they saw the reality that MS also harvests their data they would ignore it.
  • Did you know that over 85% of Google revenue comes from advertising, but just 5% of Microsoft's revenue? For Google, collecting and selling your information IS their business. This stuff is pretty basic. They have two dramatically different business models. You can honestly state that fact without judgment or emotion. That said, I get how regular consumers don't understand.
  • Exactly. Who is more motivated to keep your data safe? I think they are both fine, but Google has more stake in it. They will be more trustworthy in the end.
  • In your fantasy land this might make sense. In the real world, the opposite is true. Google (the real one, not what you've dreamed up in your head) has made it their business to treat their customers as nothing more than disposable commodities, sources of data to be mined and discarded when no longer useful. This is only a small part of Microsoft's business; they simply have no motivation to treat their customers the same way and so if your data could be considered "safe", you'd be better off sticking with Microsoft.
  • with Google, YOU are the product being bought and sold,, not the phone or browser or OS.
  • Oh, please! Income from data harvesting in no way equals respect for data security; if that was true, Facebook would be a regular Fort Knox!, unlike the leaky sieve that they are...!
  • Hold on! Why wouldn't Microsoft just do Fluent design version of the metro”modern” apps and have the live tiles feature. That for me would be the icing on the cake look! Hoping is still in the drawing board and not in the trash!
  • That's exactly what I said above
  • The good thing is that we have at least 11 months before it hits the market and a lot could change in that time. Maybe it'll be Microfied or even run windows X and Google simply allows the play store to run on it to avoid issues here in the US like they're facing in Europe. Maybe Microsoft knows something we don't and that's why they're waiting until next year as the device seemed fully functional.
  • I wany it running Android. MS' only true mobile interface right now is launcher, and that's not going to change any time soon, and especially in a year.
    What I do wish they would do is give us a Window Phone ish looking option in launcher.. MS knows that would make a lot of people happy... Yesterday when I got to work people were talking about Duo, and several people said they missed their WP devices. People love the interface.
  • Yeah they could have a launcher that has Live Tiles on it, which for the most part only needs permissions to read notifications and display inside the Live Tile. Microsoft owned apps on Android can then take advantage of the API on the Launcher to use some special features like showing content without notification. Fluent Design is something they can tweak with Android, as most OEM's do. Microsoft does not need to totally change the UI, just the skin basically. Doing that still leaves Android pretty much pure except for different facelift and icons. Others are simply pre-loaded apps. Maybe just that Phone Integration similar to Samsung they can also do that with Duo and native Cloud Clipboard, Instant Share and Pen UX.
  • Microsoft has tried that time and time again. It doesn't work. They would be crazy to do it again.
  • an earlier concept had MS Launcher's left pane, and live tiles on the right. not really sure what changed that - might've just because live tiles weren't commonly used. that was a very early concept as well, and it was for the foldable OS, not android. personally, I do agree that MS design has been lacking for a few years. MS Band 2, Xbox Fluent dash, Windows Phone 8, Zune - all these had really unique, well-thought out UIs, I haven't personally been impressed by anything recent, except maybe Hub 2X/Aruba.
  • There is no such thing as "the awesomeness of Android". Android sucks.
  • Don't be biased.. With recent Android updates it's very nice to use. It's nowhere near as put together as iOS, and WP, but it makes up for it in flexibility..
  • Flexibility to have your data or identity ripped off by malware. Play Store seems to regularly make the news for the latest round of malicious apps Google has had to remove from the store. Android just simply doesn't compare to Windows or iOS on important issues like security.
  • The Microsoft Launcher for Android is designed by Microsoft.
  • I can never, ever use "android" and "awesome" together. They are diametrically opposed terms. There's not enough lipstick you can put on that pig. And I've tried.
  • Path back possibly. However the Android designers have not only replicated the Windows phone launchers but have improved upon them, so something new would need to be in play from Microsoft. Their current android launcher is a sore attempt. If this is to be a productivity device, then give me connections so I can transfer data in the field, give me pro audio controls over bluetooth, build in VPN, 10bit color and calibrated screen, connect to broadcast over Samsung TVs and connected devices, partner with an audio manufacturer for grade A DAC and sound components, partner with home security companies for unique features, allow it to extend your PC screen, make Cortana relevant again... if the attempt is make more than a phone, then make more then a phone.
  • You're not crazy, NUMEROUS tech outlets have suggested that MS might be making the same approach
  • As much as I’d like to believe... the by far more likely result is that within a year or two we see a Surface branded flagship device running... Chrome OS.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if they convert the Neo to Android at some point. Even a 9" screen doesn't create a great Windows experience.
  • It's running a version of Windows that no one in the public has ever used that's specifically designed for foldable devices and that device in mind. I think we should wait to see how Windows 10X is before saying things like that.
  • I mean future versions, not this one. 9" is too small for Windows experiences, I won't be surprised if the Neo fails. A 13" version with Windows would be killer though.
  • “I wouldn't be surprised if they convert the Neo to Android at some point.” If I’m honest with myself yeah that’s much more likely to happen than the Duo becoming Windows 10x based. And that’s pretty much so what I meant. Neo would either sport Android OS or a Chrome OS version that supports Android apps (like the Pixelbook). In any case I’m in no mood to bet the farm that MS fully commits to Win 10x at some later date. And I’d be shocked if any other devs out there are that risk tolerant either.
  • Chrome OS can't even do full screen apps well on a consistent basis. What makes you think it could do two screens right? MS understands they can own 2 in 1 territory and larger i.e. desktop, laptop, but small screen is Apple and Android. No good business reason to so a phone OS right now. And no Neo will not have enough users to be a Windows on phone Trojan horse. Windows phone is dead dead dead and should stay that way. Here's hoping MA update Android frequently and support the device for 5+ years
  • If Google is making Android dual screen, what makes you think they won't make Chrome OS dual screen next? Besides... the Neo form factor is by nature a SMALL form factor. In fact it's two small form factors hinged together. Which would make it a perfect candidate for what @Bleached said... dual screen Android... or a modded dual screen Chrome OS or perhaps Google's Fuschia project. I think you missed the main point of my statement though. At this point in their history Microsoft cannot be trusted to commit to Win 10x. Desperate ppl cannot be trusted. And when you're so desperate you install your competitor's OS and App Store on your own flagship brand you might just do anything. How this whole thread of the conversation started is by wishful thinking that by some miracle of miracles MS' master plan is to align Duo with Neo and eventually turn into a Win 10x phone. On the contrary, it's much more likely MS will align Neo to Duo than the other way around. Anyone considering developing software for the MS Store or Windows 10x should seriously consider whether or not this Microsoft can be trusted. Recent history shows that it can't. So again... I almost never say this but... "mark my words"... in 3 to 5 years you will see a Surface branded Neo-like device running either Android or Chrome OS. You will NOT see a Surface branded Duo device running Win 10x.
  • You're right. And if Android is the better OS experience MS is wise to capitalize on it.
  • There's nothing in the world stopping businesses from creating Android apps til the cows come home today. Microsoft didn't need to fill some "void" in an already rich Android phone market so that businesses had a platform to target. Besides... I've work in IT now for some 25 years, have a measure of influence in the decisions that are made, and I can tell you for a fact we're in no hurry to purchase our ppl $2000 phones. First off... we have about 500 issued iPhones in an enterprise of about 1100. We have about another 300 iPads. Why? Because iPhones and iPads are what most workers want, they're more secure, easier to manage, and more companies sell high quality off the shelf apps that target iPhones than they do Android. Microsoft may have this fantasy they're "doing this for business", but this device does nothing for businesses we didn't already have on October 1. The ONLY thing this device accomplishes is make MS look even more incompetent in mobile than they already looked pre October 2, and undermines any chance for Neo to thrive. If I'm already targeting Android for my mobile devices it makes ZERO sense to write the app again for a Windows 10x device. I might as well buy a tablet that runs Android and just run the same app I already invested precious resources in.
  • Lol jp144, you're breaking their hearts with with well thought out reasoning.
    I'm surprised you haven't suffered the usual fate of being labelled a MS hater. That's usually how they respond.
  • I invested in MSFT back in 2012. I bought five shares for a miniscule $35 a share. I had a feeling based on what MSFT was doing, that they were on the verge of establishing another direction in the computer ingenuity space. The first Surface didn't turn a lot of heads, and the second one, didn't do much better, but the Surface Pro 3 really put the rest of the industry on notice. When you have the Mac Pro looking like the Surface Pro, I'd say MSFT accomplished their goal. The concept of trust is predicated on what the expectation is. MSFT's stock has risen from $35 to $135 a share. That doesn't happen with people in charge that don't know what they're doing. As evolved as Chrome OS has become, the desktop market share still suggests it has a good while yet to go to contend with Windows. I feel MSFT is at a moment of time where they will again establish its mark on the tech space. The first Neo won't provide the fizzle that many will hope for, but then again, my expectation isn't that. I look for the first reiteration of the Neo or even the second one, will bare the fruit of MSFT's labors, and those who have the foresight to trust in that will see not only Neo doing well, but many other manufacturers pushing similar form factors, including Apple.
  • The windows foldable OS has been around for a while - particularly with OEMs. Highly doubt that they'd repeat the mistakes with the Elite X3 and kill it again - that caused quite a bit of tension.
  • Win phones OS wasn't for duals screens, it's as completely code base from windows 8 - 8.1.
  • How do you know? You haven't seen Windows Lite in action...
  • Tom Warren believes MS may be heading down that path also.
  • Jez your like my sister nadine. She used her windows phone the longest out of our family once I finally convinced her to try it. She loved it.. Didn't want to give it up. My mom's broke. My other sister needed square payments. I slowly moved across when my last job gave me an android to use. I reluctantly carried 2 phones on me for 3 years. But only had one to do calls. I finally made the full switch when I purchased the razer phone 2 a year ago. But when groove music pass was killed that was painful for how much I used the phone.. Spotify stayed active on the device. I'm not sure if I'll move back. At this point I have to think what are my needs what will I use it for. Do I need a tablet and a phone? Do I need to be another early adopter. I'm tired of. Eing the tester who gets the bugs. Or buys a device before everyone else. Maybe it's time to sit back. I am glad ms held the launch to next year to give us time to figure out our priorities.. The only thing I worry about is now other copy cats from apple will drop sooner.
  • Just purchased a new batter for my Lumia 830. I WILL NEVER LET WINDOWS PHOOOOOOONE DIE EITHER!
  • I agree 100% in the notion that the NEO is the device to get and I'm more interested in it rather than the Duo. Although I really like the design of the Duo I can't get over the thought it is powered by Android. I thought I could convince myself to get one but the more I think about it the Duo will most likely not make any list of mine.
  • As long as it works seamlessly with Microsoft services, has the overall Microsoft look and feel, and has all the apps that Android has, then it doesn't matter to me what the underlying OS is. Yes, it would be great for the Duo to run 10x, but only if they could get Android apps to run on them. They obviously didn't think that was a viable option, at least at this point. If developers need to do extra work to get the apps to run on a Windows OS, then the vast majority are not going to do that. We have been done this path before.
  • Agreed but I would preferred less Google on the most intimate device I use. I know that Google and MSFT both "spy" on their users, but I trust Microsoft more than Google with my data. That being said I have used Windows Phones with an Android phone for years now because MSFT just never got it together.
  • This was not the roll out that Panos wanted, but they were already committed to the date. Windows 10X is clearly a short-term stopgap. The one OS to rule them all is still in the cards. …and it won’t be saddled with “Windows.”