Who is Surface Duo for? Don't overthink it.
For now, Surface Duo is for fans of Microsoft and Surface hardware. But it's really about changing the conversation.
This week has been rather momentous as Microsoft pulled the curtain back on its dual-screen mobile device dubbed Surface Duo. Pricing and availability were revealed, and as expected, both did not quite meet the hopes of many techies.
One question that comes up frequently is who is Surface Duo for – as in, who is expected to buy this thing?
I see a lot of handwaving about how Surface Duo won't sell to the masses, it's not a consumer device, it's too expensive, grandma won't buy it, Billy down the street has no need for it, and how LG is a better option (even though no one buys LG phones). But all of this misses the point.
The answer to who should buy Surface Duo is simple, and I think a lot of our core audience is overanalyzing it. Surface Duo is for Surface enthusiasts and those that rely on Microsoft's services. It is also for people who want a different Android experience that is more focused on productivity and creativity. That is a niche group, but niche isn't a bad thing when it comes to new technology.
This hypothesis is not me riffing or taking a guess. Microsoft's chief product officer Panos Panay has said this multiple times.
In an in-depth interview with Fast Company, Panay says matter of factly that Surface Duo is for "Surface fans who live in the Microsoft app ecosystem." Panay reiterates the position again in the Surface Duo press presentation (embedded above), which I implore you to watch. Towards the beginning, Panay states that Duo is about "challenging conventional thinking … that leads to building new categories," and after the Surface Duo sizzler reel, he remarks, "We built this product for Surface fans, there's no question about it, for people who love Microsoft …." Later Panay gives a meta-analysis that Duo is "the Microsoft you love and the Android you know."
And that's it. Microsoft is not playing 4D chess.
Surface Duo is not here to defeat Samsung or Apple. Surface Duo means to start a new conversation, and it's doing that. Surface Duo is about what mobile computing could be and how it can be better. Surface Duo has a lot of interest and curiosity, even from those with no plans to buy one, which is the whole point of it.
Will that lack of mass purchasing always be the case? Of course not. I've stated in our podcast that Surface Duo is about testing the theory of dual-screen devices. It's a stripped-down, core experience that will go into real people's hands to see what they do with it. Future iterations of Surface Duo will add those features that are glaringly absent in this iteration. Microsoft is also hoping Surface Duo drives other device makers to embrace the concept, too — it's not just for them.
The trajectory and eventual goal for the Surface Duo should be evident. The first version gets people talking with early adopters, Surface fans, and general tech enthusiasts taking the plunge and buying one. Most people will simply look on with curiosity. Surface Duo v2 will fix shortcomings of the first model, and more people will consider buying one that time around. By the third version, Microsoft, in principle, will have made the dual-screen mobile device that meets the needs of its target demographic.
Of course, none of this matters if the core experience of Surface Duo — that two screens are better for productivity and creativity — falls flat. That could happen. This possibility is why its price, camera quality, lack of Qi, or NFC does not mater. No one can justify a $1,400 category-defining device if it fails at its core experience even if it has a whizbang camera or lets you buy a Slim Jim at 7-11 without your wallet. But if the dual-display approach works, adding Qi, NFC, and improving the camera experience later is solvable. Getting the foundation right in a new device experience is the hard part.
As far as price and it sinking sales? There are three things to consider:
- Discounts. Microsoft routinely puts new hardware on sale near the holiday season. This strategy happened last year with Surface Pro X, Surface Pro 7, and Surface Laptop 3. I suspect we will see Surface Duo drop in price later this year. Companies often build in a higher price point so they can do this to drive sales. There's also the whole trade-in thing.
- Expectations. If Microsoft expects to sell 200,000 Surface Duos and makes that many, but it only sells 80,000 – that's a big failure. If, however, Microsoft plans to sell 10,000 and sells 9,100, then it is a success. Microsoft learned a hard lesson about "big launches" with Surface Pro 1 and 2, where it had to write down $900 million due to overstock. This is why there is no global release. If you strictly control inventory and have it mirror demand, your product is not a failure because you matched expectations. That's a very different definition from the success of a "mass consumer product," but it is also not wrong.
- Proprietary everything is expensive. Surface Duo has the world's thinnest touch display that supports inking in a mobile device. The battery, the motherboard, the inking processor, the dual sensors, the antenna design, are all custom made and not mass-produced. That drives up costs. Anyone who studies the Bill of Materials (BOM) for a smartphone knows the display is the most expensive part. That's true here too, especially when you have two, and they have touch, pen support, and a wide color gamut.
Yes, I know those are not the answers you want to hear, but that is the reality of innovation. New tech is always more than what we want to pay for it. It is why I sat out for Tesla's electric car revolution until (1) it came down in price, and (2) the infrastructure was there to support it. Both of those things happened in 2019 but were not true in 2012.
Right now, Surface Duo is intended for a specific, narrow demographic. It's for Surface and Microsoft enthusiasts, early adopters, and those who want to try something new. It's not complicated. As this platform grows, so will the audience, with many going from onlookers to participants.
The bottom line is Surface Duo is driving the conversation in a very mature and stagnant smartphone market. There is a reason why those who refuse to buy one are commenting on nearly all our articles. There is also an explanation of why the tech press has been quite positive on Surface Duo. The core concept makes sense. Your piqued curiosity is why Surface Duo exists.
Microsoft doesn't need to justify the existence of the Surface Duo
But if you don't think it's worth it now, that's fine too. Sit back and enjoy the ride because it is happening.
Two screens are better than one.
Microsoft delves into the future of foldables with an ambitious dual-screen device, featuring two ultra-thin 5.6-inch AMOLED displays bound by a 360-degree hinge. This pocketable inking-enabled Android smartphone marks the latest in the Surface lineup, geared for mobile productivity.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Get the Windows Central Newsletter
All the latest news, reviews, and guides for Windows and Xbox diehards.
Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.
The only thing (for consumer market I mean) that could potentially still make a strong point for the Duo is its decent upgrade support and DuoOS. Of course for entreprise it is different since businesses can write off costs.
just decide to spend the money or save up first
Apple likes to play it safe, so now 2-1 laptops with digitizers etc.
I think it is ironic you say that inking is overrated when you name 5g (will be throttled as soon it will be mainstream), wifi 6 (the bulk of routers will throttle it), just slightly better proc (hardly noticeable in a phone).
Grungy, are you the new bleached or just a simpleton?
Office is bigger than windows and thats because it's not limited to windows devices and azure is even bigger to Microsoft than that.
I wish they got away from these spec lists. They only keep doing it because it's easy an quantifiable. We've long past the point where EVERY device is good. You have to purposely set out to make a bad one. So why do we care about specs. The totality of the experience is what matters. Specs don't when the baseline of what we expect is mastered. I also don't get the complaints about Android from ms fans. There is no mobile os that is currently relevant that has a ux that's more a kin to windows including the deceased w10m. If Ms wasn't chasing Apple's ux and set off to modernize their pre windows mobile os, it would have been JUST like Android.
Curious; what's your thoughts now?
With the duo, I may be able to get away with a lower tier surface pro, save the super performant task for my workstation and all things mobile to duo. Best buy has the sp7 for like 6 or 700. Anyways, I care, like you, about interoperability overall and Microsoft needed a device to complete the mobility piece of the puzzle. They've built a viable entry to full the void. I am the target audience. Question. What phone do you use now? Will you be replacing it with the duo or just adding the duo to your current stack?
Wanna talk enthusiasts? I think owning the following would make me a surface enthusiast
1) Surface Pro 3
2) Surface Go LTE
3) Surface Pro 7
5) SurfaceBook II 15in
6) XPS (2019) 15 w 32gb RAM 2tb HDD The XPS is my go-to desktop replacement attached to a 49" Dell monitor
The SP 7 is my mobile device. Using my iPhone max, I can more comfortably do EVERYTHING this device makes a use case for. For $1500 sorry I'm not that enthusiastic.
I travel a lot (up to 50 weeks a year), so mobility is top of the list for me.
I'm now working with a Surface Pro 7 and a Note 10+.
But I lost count of situations when the Surface is just a tad too bulky and the note just not as productive as I need it to be.
My note will be history as soon as I get the Duo.
I can see myself keeping the SP7 in the bag for most of the day and just use it for the heavy lifting at the end of the day at the hotel while I do the rest of my work on the Duo during the day.
If the battery gets me through a day, I think it's a tech dream come true for me. I'll use it it with a smartwatch, so I don't have to open it and turn on the screens to see notifications and with my surface earbuds, I can handle the calls without having to take it from my pocket at all, so I'd guess that will help with battery life.
It does get a bit exhausting but it will slow down in a year or so.
To me, there are a lot of potential costs in their choice: it is a gift for google, it has been incentivating developers to shift away from Microsoft and it will reduce Windows to a secondary and very technical OS. In short, they threw away the baby with the bathwater. Fair enough, we will shift to the technology they decide to give us, Android seems a mature system after all. However, we will need multiple accounts, multiple development tools to deploy apps on every device and not to mention the confusion of all that bloatware ... Unless we won't embrace a single platform which today can't be Microsoft at all. Not everything is getting simpler as you can see. What I want to stress is that Microsoft shouldn't do what people expect, as too many companies do. Microsoft should go beyond and the bold vision to give us a 3rd option on mobile, to put a true PC in our pockets, to unify the software development and the OS experience, well, truly suited them. A Surface phone like this just sounds unnatural to me.
Friends: What's that you've got there?
Me: This is the brand-new Surface Duo.
Friends: What does it do?
Me: This improves my productivity.
Friends: Really, that's nice. What else does it do?
Me: This improves my productivity.
Friends: Seriously, what else does it?
Me: Seriously, this improves my productivity. Man, stop asking, this does not have ugly raised cameras like your flashy Note 20 does. It has a nice pen writing, but I need to remember to have the pen with me and in my pocket. I have five wireless charging pads laid around my house for I am too lazy to plug things in and those are now heading for recycling bin, and I just forgo the mobile payment I've been using for the past 5 years because I traded in my last mobile phone for this. All for improving my productivity. Nothing is more important than improving my productivity.
Friends: How much did you pay for it?
Me: .... productivity is priceless. There you go, I've scripted a nice conversation that we will all likely to have with our friends when they see our shiny Surface Duo. Cheers, I have long been a Surface fan and have owned Surface Pro 2, 3, 4, Book 2 and Laptop 2 and I've owned Nokia 920, 1050 and Windows Phon 950 so, I am a bit entitled to let out my frustration about some simple omissions of the production decision made by SD. There are things I just can't forgo, and mobile payments / wireless charging are unfortunately two of them. I'll wait for gen 2 or 3 Surface Duo, but why can't they just get it right the first time?
Fingers crossed and see what they make of the Duo in the coming years. Maybe I might turn into an enthusiast... Soon.