Surface DuoSource: Windows Central

Holiday 2020 is when Microsoft said to expect the Surface Neo and Surface Duo, two new form-factor devices that Surface fans have been waiting for with bated breath. But what if I told you that one of those products was ahead of schedule, and may be available to buy much sooner than anticipated? This is what I've heard from multiple contacts over the last couple of months.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Microsoft is hoping to launch Surface Duo much earlier than originally announced. This is because both the hardware and software are pretty much done. Android 10 has been complete since August 2019, so Microsoft is currently focused on finalizing the top-level OS customizations and in-box app experiences specific to Surface Duo.

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I'm told that Microsoft is hoping to have all the software done by early April, and that Surface Duo could start shipping in limited quantities in time for the summer if everything goes according to plan. I expect that this initial launch will be aimed primarily at developers and enthusiasts, with its availability announced in the spring alongside the Surface Go 2 and Surface Book 3.

Surface Duo specs

Surface DuoSource: Microsoft

I understand that Surface Duo will ship with a Snapdragon 855 inside, along with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage for the entry-level model. There will be variants with more RAM and storage, but the Snapdragon 855 will be universal across all Surface Duo tiers. This means that Surface Duo will be shipping with last year's flagship processor, but will miss out on 5G support.

Missing out on 5G support is a bigger deal than you might think. Although 5G doesn't seem to be all that important right now, 2020 is very much going to be the kick-off year for 5G as a whole. Most new flagship phones launching this year will include 5G capabilities in some capacity, and by the end of next year, 5G will be a much more widespread thing.

This is why Surface Duo needs to launch soon. If Surface Duo is releasing with a Snapdragon 855 and no 5G support, then this is a product that needs to launch before it's considered "too outdated" by the rest of the market. It's an unfortunate position for Surface Duo to be in, but not all that surprising if you're familiar with Surface Duo's development history.

A long development cycle

Surface DuoSource: Marques Brownlee

Surface Duo has had a long, hard journey internally. Microsoft started working on it back in 2016 under the codename Andromeda, and the plan was for Surface Duo to be one of the first products to ship with Windows Core OS. Under those plans, the product was supposed to launch in 2018, but that changed when Microsoft dumped Windows for Android instead.

Because of this, the hardware has essentially been ready to go for two years, with only iterative changes being made to the device since. This might explain why Surface Duo doesn't have slim bezels or multiple camera sensors. These were only just starting to be a thing on smartphones launching in 2018. In 2020, thin bezels, 5G, and multiple cameras are pretty much the norm.

As always, plans can change, but this is definitely something that Microsoft is hoping to do this summer. The company recently announced that Surface might suffer from supply constraints in 2020 as factories in China are shut down due to COVID-19. If conditions don't improve, Microsoft may have no choice but to postpone or cancel these early launch plans for Surface Duo.

We'll continue to keep you updated on all things Surface, but in the meantime, what are you most looking forward to from Microsoft this year? Let us know in the comments.