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Surface Duo success (or failure) hinges on Microsoft's Android enhancements

Surface Duo Press Pen Horizontal
Surface Duo Press Pen Horizontal (Image credit: Microsoft)

Surface Duo's success or failure will solely depend on whether Microsoft has nailed the software. That's the number one concern most people interested in this device should have. I know there are a load of debates out there regarding the hardware, including whether dual-screen makes sense when foldable displays are a thing. But I'm here to tell you that none of that matters if the software on this device isn't perfect.

Dual-screen devices aren't new. Sony tried to make a dual-screen phone in 2011, but it was terrible because the hardware was bulky, and the software was rubbish. LG has also tried many dual-screen phones, but they are also rubbish because the dual-screen aspect comes in the form of a plastic clip-on case with software that isn't well optimized for it. The dual-screen aspect of LG phones feels like an afterthought, unlike the Surface Duo.

Everything you need to know about the Surface Duo

This dual-screen idea has legs, but it depends almost exclusively on whether or not the user experience (UX) on the software side is done right. The hardware can be amazing, or it can be terrible, but as long as the software experiences are able to light up the form factor in new and unique ways, Surface Duo has a future.

Dual-screens need UX optimization

Surface Duo Press Mylio Photo

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft is hell-bent on the idea that dual-screens makes you more productive. It's the number one reason why they went for a dual-screen setup over a single foldable screen. It truly believes dual-screen devices can make it easier to do the things you do everyday on existing single-screen phones, but for that to be true, the user experience needs to be optimized for it.

Microsoft hasn't just slapped Android on the Surface Duo and called it a day, it's really thought about how it can enhance the user experience so that manipulating the dual-screens is as easy as possible. This includes making the UI feel fast and fluid, with natural gestures that make moving content one from display to the other feel intuitive.

Android needs to be well optimized by Microsoft for dual-screens to work.

Being able to "pick up" an object or item on the screen and move it across the center bezel is a super important aspect that makes the Surface Duo's form factor much more approachable to normal people. You don't have to think about it as much if the software experience comes naturally to you, and that's exactly what Surface Duo needs to nail for this form factor to work.

Then there's the software working in the background to deliver the best experience to the user depending on orientation. When folding the screens around, how does the phone react when in use? It needs to know which screen you're intending to use in phone mode, it also needs to remember what you had on the other screen for when you return to dual-screen mode.

Apps also need to flow around the center bezel when spanning across both displays. All apps can span, but only a handful of them will be built to flow around the bezel. If an app doesn't correctly span across both displays, it's not the end of the world, as the app will behave normally in single-screen mode. But all of Microsoft's first-party apps need to support spanning at least.

The UX cannot be clunky

Surface Duo Press Peek

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

If the user experience feels clunky or unfinished at any point, then that's a big problem for this device. You shouldn't have to think too hard about how to do something when in dual-screen mode, or worry about what the device is going to do when folding it into single-screen mode. It should just work as expected, and flow naturally at every opportunity.

I cannot stress enough how important the software experience is for this device. The gestures, sounds, animations, fluidity, and everything in-between are all equally important for this form factor. Microsoft needs to customize Android so that it fits well on dual-screens, and I think it knows that and has been working to deliver an experience that makes sense on Surface Duo.

Of course, whether or not the experience they've built is intuitive enough remains to be seen. Hopefully, the software isn't super buggy at launch. Any bugs that could possibly get in the way of the user experience, including issues with determining which orientation the device is being used in, could be a big problem for the flow of the device, and give off a bad first impression, something Microsoft needs to avoid.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the Surface Duo and its version of Android? Let us know in the comments.

Microsoft Surface Duo

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

97 Comments
  • If only it ran Windows.
    And only if the neo ran windows 10 instead of 10 x.
  • I disagree. W10 would be clunky and horrible. It is not built for these kinds of devices
  • I disagree as Surface Pro X isn't clunky and it runs 10X. Also the intel arm always connected PC's aren't clunky either but everyone is entitled to an opinion.
  • The Pro X does not run 10X. It runs Windows 10 for ARM64.
  • It's future proof as it's built to run 10x which was delayed as we all know.
  • So then you agree ... the Pro X does not run Windows 10X, currently, and your original post was wrong.
  • I thunk it does not matter the X, it runs Windows.
  • Windows 10x refers to a specific operating system. Just as w10 version xxxx refers to a specific operating system.
    It matters.
  • All tests prior to the delay were done with 10X running on pro X until Satya did what he always does... Put on hold until cancellation... We'll see what he does in regards to 10X though.
  • You are confusing the Pro X with the Neo device.
  • Windows 10X does not even run on ARM at this point. It is Intel only. And the Neo was Intel.
  • What gave you the idea the Pro X was built for Windows 10X? Windows 10 on the Duo would be utterly horrible. Microsoft cancelled the Surface Mini for a reason and rust was bigger.
  • Wow. One of the issues with 'Windows' is all the Windows that have nothing to do with each other, Windows 10, Windows 10X, Windows on ARM, Windows Phone (RIP). Win10X is the only one that really has a tablet (touch) form factor in its soul. It was going on Neo. Even still they were providing a physical keyboard because MS can't get away from that paradigm. Windows, real Windows, applications just aren't optimized to be used on a tablet, regardless of whether the desktop/launcher is. Not even MS's. They really had a chance with Windows Phone and Continuum, because the apps were designed to work on a phone and scaled up for a tablet or big screen. They still worked with touch. It wasn't touch shoehorned into a desktop app. The DUO will work because it is based on a phone OS. Whether it will sell is still up in the air.
  • What?! (to your entire comment) You Trump'd the hell out of that
  • Your comment is confusing.
    Intel arm always connected?
  • I too would like a Windows device in this form factor. However, given where mobile is, and Microsoft's software presence across Android, I can't really see why I should care what the underlying OS is. If I were buying with the intent of running legacy Windows app, or PC gaming, perhaps the underlying OS would be relevant to me. But, I'm not, and I can't imagine anyone doing so to be honest. As far as 10X is concerned: The same conversation that Zac had in the article applies. Just slapping Windows on a new form factor without getting the GUI/UX right is a sure path to failure. Windows 10 has enough challenges just moving between desktop and tablet mode ... I can't imagine what fresh hell tablet mode with 2x screens would bring.
  • Agreed, I want a pocketable Surface that can do everything my Surface Pro can do.
  • What does your Surface Pro do that this doesn't?
  • Access, Visio, Project, and that's just some of the MS apps. The reality is, you don't want to run those on a small screen with your fingers in the form they currently are. If you could build an app that would access the data/documents like Word, Excell and PowerPoint do that is conducive to the form factor, that would be great. As it is, you don't want Windows in a small touch device. Have several. Not pleasant.
  • "If only it ran Windows."
    Microsoft and its partners tried years ago to sell the world on 8-inch tablets running Windows 8, and then Windows 10. The best one was the $450 Lenovo ThinkPad 8. I bought one, did you? If you did, that makes two of us. They didn't sell. No one bought them. The entire 8-inch tablet segment DIED. The reason? Consumers and businesses did not want full Windows on a small form factor. How this history lesson is lost on you is bizarre. But I can tell you HP, Lenovo, Asus, Toshiba, and Dell have not forgotten. 10X conceptually would have been fun to try on Duo, but without apps, its fate would be the same as Windows Phone.
  • I had a cheap Win8 tablet. It was an underpowered piece of crap, but I felt the form factor was perfect for simple browsing and replying to short emails
  • Mine literally couldnt even do an upgrade and the battery life wasn't even worth the charge up. It would take longer to charge then it would stay on lol. That's when I understood "w10 will be upgraded for the life of the device" meant 😂
  • Oh yeah, Win10 is absolute garbage on that thing. I downgraded it to 8.1
  • Haha! "If you did that makes two of us"... Lol
    😂😂😂🥳🥳🥳💯💯💯👌🏽👌🏽👌🏽😂
  • Three at least. I have had some 7-8" Dells, and the wonderful HP Slate 500. That was 9" with docking stations and all. Came with Win 7. Win 8 didn't really help. The 'launcher'/desktop was fine, but once you got to an application it was same old, same old. Office and the like weren't, and still aren't, built for small(er) screens and fingers. If you have a nice 7" screen but still need a keyboard and mouse to use it effectively, what's the point?
  • Microsoft tried years ago... Perfect reasoning for why it wouldn't work now, with a newer OS, in a different form factor... 🙄 Man, this site is reaching new lows! I mean, you guys release a podcast where you insist that the Duo isn't a phone, and that users will need to have a proper phone along with the Duo. And literally seconds later you argue that the Duo needs to run Android because of the app gap!?! And to top it off, a few minutes later you point out that PWAs are coming and work better than native apps... Can you spell schizophrenic?!?
  • If you go to AT&T's website to upgrade your device it says "choose your phone" and Duo is like the 5th choice. Lol 😂 😂 😂 I guess there is no Ultramobile foldable section yet. 🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️
  • I don't know when MS is going to learn. If they want a chance to highlight there device no matter the carrier, they're going to have to do some advertisement because they cannot rely on carrier websites or salespeople to make the device known. That goes for any device that isn't a Galaxy or iphone but even LG and others get more play than Microsoft despite them running Android.
  • I agree with you 100% on this. I remember when Windows Phone was a great device and yet the sales people in the stores would act as if they had never heard of them. I hope that with the current leadership there is an understanding that you have to appropriately market these devices to spur interest. Although I am not sure that the consumer market is where they are going with this.
  • Marketing is key, but they might want to wait for a more "complete" version this time around.. If V2 is greatly improved they should market that device to the public.
  • Stop it. You've made arguments about nfc being an issue for duo even though it's not an issue for you. Why is it okay for you to make arguments youre not personally behind to give someone else options to think about but multiple people (meaning multiple viewpoints and stances) on wc cannot do the same? If wc is schizophrenic then so are you and in that case, why be the pot calling the tea kettle black?
  • All the above is correct. What confuses you? Although you don't need a Duo and a phone. Many people might but employees with a personal and work phone, super common.
  • You can't see the contradiction...? You can't argue that it needs to run Android because it's a phone and need apps, while at the same time claiming that its limitations aren't relevant because it's not a phone and you need a separate smartphone anyway, even as you point out that the app gap point is moot because PWAs are better and are already here, or at the very least right around the corner. You can't have your cake and eat it too...!
  • No, it needs to run a phone OS because it has a phone-like UI, touch, and so needs apps that appreciate that. Android, iOS, even Windows Phone apps do. Windows, decidedly does not.
  • Daniel... Important SD Best Buy news that needs to be shared. https://twitter.com/surface/status/1298320476314509312?s=19
  • I bit the bullet and pre-ordered mine. I'm sure I won't regret it despite the things others are complaining about as the tech MS crammed into thus device is first in class tech as far as the split motherboard, ultra thin display, and dual batteries that function as one on top of the software enhancements.
  • I had a ThinkPad 8 but it was too underpowered. I preferred Windows 8.1 on it since it felt better suited for a tablet interface. Windows 10 sucked on it and then one day I yanked the power cord out wrong and broke the pins. Never missed it. I've always thought I wanted Windows on a small form factor. I thought, I could take it to work and and download my youtube videos, transcode my ripped DVD's or CD's while I worked and it would be ready for consumption when I got home. Now I have a Surface Go and I still don't do any of that stuff and find myself using my old iPad because of the app selection.
  • Ripping dvd's lol, that is very oldschool indeed.
    Windows tablets vs Ipads is just preference. Windows has more browser variety and stuff like Steam and GOG which Ipads lack imo. Windows has also broader native pen control (its supported by a lot of things, also things like screen snip). Almost all of the stuff you want to do on a Ipad can also be done on a Windows tablet but you have to either use a pwa or website. Considering that you can pin sites the taskbar I do not mind it (heck it gives the advantage of having an adblocker).
  • “The entire 8-inch tablet segment DIED” Well, the entire 8 inch Windows tablet segment died.
  • Agree with Daniel with the above in part... meaning businesses/consumers don't want windows in a tablet form factor. Surface is kind of a high end show piece, but let's be honest, most aren't using it in tablet mode. I've had two 8-inch windows tables a dell venue and now I have a cheap nuvision, yet I have never run into anyone else that has one. The reason the Duo doesn't make sense on any level is its basically two cellphones duct taped together, and it doesn't really eliminate any other device. The workers that need a tablet, still need a tablet. The workers that need a laptop, still need a laptop. The worker that needs a full display PC type experience, still needs a full display. Its okay for a test, but none of this has a long term future that I can see. It doesn't provide any real value.
  • "It doesn't provide any real value" ... FOR YOU. Seriously, these blanket opinions are the most annoying things about the internet. As an app developer and website designer, I can name quite a few ways this phone adds value to me. I've been wanting a dual-screen portable to do my work on for years that I can take places my laptop can't go. While no one knows what the future holds for the Duo, it definitely tries something new, and many people in my line of work agree that it definitely adds value. "It's basically two cellphones duct taped together" ... you pretty much lost me here. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about, nor of the incredible custom parts and pieces that had to be built to make this whole thing work. You're confusing the Surface Duo with that abomination LG made that added a second screen as figuratively an afterthought. I strongly suggest you watch the video Microsoft posted with Panos Panay before you make any more of those "duct tape" comments. Maybe go hold one in your hand. But always remember that your opinion does not equal the opinion of everyone.
  • "FOR YOU" And the masses, its just not something businesses and people are going to go buy, imo. "I strongly suggest you watch the video Microsoft posted with Panos Panay before you make any more of those "duct tape" comments. Maybe go hold one in your hand. But always remember that your opinion does not equal the opinion of everyone." Just remember your opinion does not equal the opinion of everyone. My guess is this will not sell long-term and it will be abandoned. You are free to have a different opinion, but good luck if you think people are ditching their phones for this and businesses will buy it. It simply doesn't eliminate anything in most use cases. "I've been wanting a dual-screen portable to do my work on for years that I can take places my laptop can't go." I would say that is where out opinions differ the most, this isn't going to eliminate a laptop in most use cases, imo. You seem upset, calm down... its just a piece of plastic. (most of things in these comments sections are based on opinion)
  • Most do not use it in tablet mode because tablet mode is half assed implemented. If it would be implemented well it would be used more. Also tablet mode is not required anymore, either it was Zac or someone on reddit surface who showed that through using PowerTools etc you can get something more modern as a replacement. Also Duo makes a lot of sense when you want to be productive on a phone. You have to see the promo videos to understand it better.
  • I've seen all the promotion videos, the dual screens really don't help and you're carry twice as much bulk. This device won't eliminate another use case for a different form factor in business in particular. Just my take.
  • "How this history lesson is lost on you is bizarre" How someone's nostalgia for the promise of Windows Phone is lost on a little, bitter troll like you even weirder.
  • I used my Windows 8" tablet as a target. If I remember correctly, I got it out of the box and started it up. It was then I realized what a hot mess that thing was and that sending it back to only end up in someone's hands was a crime against humanity. A minor one for sure but still one. It was at that point I concluded that execution was the only reasonable thing to do.
  • I'd agree if MS didn't already abandon mobile years ago. Whatever amount of support they had for mobile dev on Windows is now non-existent. Maybe in a few years when 10X gains traction with Neo and other devices, but right now Android is their only choice.
  • Fully agree with this, its too late now. They might have a chance with WoA too, but they blew that one. Maybe in the future with 10X or 10 when it has better desktop mode touch support.
  • I would agree completely with you if MSFT was releasing the Duo with some rendition of a Windows mobile OS. The fact that they are releasing it with Android, gives it the chance for a higher level of traction if only because it's going to get a little more exposure. Remember, the biggest issue with Windows phone was no one knew about it. The big cell phone carriers didn't really care to carry them and the majority of the market share already gravitated to iOS or Android. It's all going to based on how this device is marketed. Get people enthused about what they see when they open the device up, not turned off by the windows icon on the outside. We'll have to see.
  • I totally agree. As a pc with a properly optimized W10X, this could be a killer portable secondary pc; as an Android device, its ONLY strength lies in the field where Android is weakest...
  • 10X would be featureless compared to Android in 2020. You would have far less productivity with 10X.
  • I certainly wouldn't say Windows 10X itself would offer less productivity or features. But it definitely would offer far fewer apps. Because of this, I'm not understanding why people are pushing Windows 10X as an option for the Duo so hard. Especially with Your Phone being offered as a feature on Windows that allows you to use your phone with your PC quite well. It's clear from actions and from Panos Panay that Microsoft isn't going to be putting Windows 10X on any small form factors. It makes sense. I wish people could just let it go.
  • Besides 10X does not even offer stuff like whatsapp support for all we know, which would make it useless as a phone for many people.
  • I don't understand this obsession with windows on the duo right now. You wouldn't have apps and you're not losing anything running Android. You're only gaining benefits. I maintain the argument that there is no mobile os that's more akin to the windows ux than Android! If you didn't know Google bought Android, you'd all be none the wiser if you were told it was a ms os.
  • Exactly this. I'm no fan of Google or their privacy issues either, but many of the apps can be disabled, so I'm not seeing why people are pushing so hard against giving the Duo with Android a shot. As I said in another comment, Windows 10X just doesn't have the apps. It may work on dual screens and it may offer the same or better features arguably, but it's literally the apps (or lack thereof in Windows 10X's case) that made Microsoft decide to put Android on the Duo in the first place. If people continue to wait around for Microsoft to put Windows on a small form factor, I think they're going to be rather disappointed. The only way I see Windows 10X going on something as small as the Duo is if the Duo itself is booted with Windows 10X by someone at XDA Developers or if a third-party manufacturer wants to take that plunge.
  • You're absolutely correct.
  • Zac, i must have missed it in your videos, but on the task bar i see only 3 apps at a time, on both displays, which gets combined on one display when you open an app on the other one. Feels congested already but what if you have 4-5 apps on each display taskbar, how would it look?
  • Maybe they have limited it to only 3 icons per taskbar? I imagine there is a limitation to how many they can squish without being inoperable.
  • "all of Microsoft's first-party apps need to support spanning at least."
    It's like when Microsoft wanted everyone to emprace UWP apps .
  • Or like when MS released the Kinect and WMR platforms, but didn't bother producing much content for them to help them succeed.
  • They need to do more than 'support' spanning. They need to exemplify good dual screen programming. MS has had a touch and pen enabled OS since Windows XP Tablet edition, and Office still doesn't provide any reason to buy a PC with touch and pen capability.
  • Zac, I wonder just in case. Will Duo behaves similar if I use different launcher?
  • Given that Microsoft Launcher has been customised specifically for the Duo and other launchers have not, I doubt that you'd get the same experience.
  • Does anyone know when to expect Duo devices to go out to reviewers? When we can expect to receive some reviews regarding issues like Zac brings up in his article? Zac do you know when WC will receive their device for testing/review?
  • Yes. Around street date. Yes.
  • if you are writing can you write across screens? or does it hiccup when you hit the gap?
  • >Microsoft >Good, single purpose UI embraced by developers Pick one
  • Lol!!!! Facts! Think Panos being hired is a good starting point so hopefully we'll see some progress soon ™
  • We'll see it at the right time, as Dona used to say.
  • I agree
    I agree
    I agree
    I agree
    I agree... Microsoft needs to have Duo flow like WP8.1 did. The solution is for MS to have every app they can under their belt. We need MS messaging, dialer, photos, music, etc. Microsoft is great at designing apps.
  • Windows 8 was a huge hit. Microsoft would be dumb to not repeat it!
  • Huh? WTF are you talking about? You're smoking that off brand crack again. Please step into the street without looking.. Please🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
  • "The UX cannot be clunky" <slow clap> That's right up there with "For this restaurant to survive, the food has to be good."
  • Both true statements, though. I think he was going for more fact, and less profoundnes.. The message still gets through either way. 🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️ Stop nitpicking, my love. 😍😍😍
  • By that standard, my dad could be a food critic.
  • He probably is....
  • For me at least I have no interest In Windows 10x. No live tiles then no interest.
    And it's start menu is dull as $#@%. Lol and it's for low power devices. I'm a pc person but also I want full power and capabilitys.
    Windows 10 is great.
    And I hope we get a Windows devi