Microsoft fires a loaded salvo at Samsung, Huawei by announcing two foldable devices at the Surface event
In what came as a surprise, Microsoft announced the launch of its first foldable phone that runs Google’s Android operating system at its Surface event. There had been a bevy of rumours suggesting Microsoft was working on a Surface-branded phone to venture back into the smartphone market, and it made quite an entry.
Dubbed Surface Duo, the foldable phone leverages Google’s ubiquitous mobile operating system, Android, to power the two displays, which make it an 8.3-inch device. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stressed why the Surface Duo (and Surface Neo) are not phones but first two of the many future products from a category that Microsoft is trying to create.
Surface Duo is, essentially, a phone that has headlined the rumour mill multiple times after Microsoft’s unfortunate failure in the mobile business. After it sold Nokia Mobile brand to HMD Global, the company did not have much in the smartphone market to be proud of. This is when rumours around a Surface Phone emerged as a ray of hope that could revive Microsoft’s repute also as a mobile phone company.
But that comes at the expense of Microsoft resorting to use Android to make Surface Duo mainstream. Although, Microsoft has announced a new version of Windows 10, called Windows 10X, tailored specifically for foldable devices, it is keeping Android as backup in case Windows 10X fails.
Surface Duo has two 5.6-inch screens that fold both inside. There are huge bezels all around the device that is hinged from the centre. According to The Wired, Surface Duo is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor. However, Microsoft says the Surface Duo will not ship until 2020, which could make the company’s choice of processor old. The device runs Android 9 Pie out-of-the-box, which has been optimised for foldable displays and customised to look more like Windows 10X.
The Surface Duo unit showed off on the stage by Microsoft’s chief product officer Panay Panos, does not bear any rear cameras. To be able to click photos, the Surface Duo needs to be folded outwards so that the front cameras double as the rear ones. But Panos told The Wired the camera mechanism on the device could change over time until its tentative release date nears.
A bigger sibling of the Surface Duo is called Surface Neo and will not ship until 2020. The Surface Neo has 9-inch screens either side and sports LCD material. Each flap is 5.6mm thick and the overall weight of the device is 655 grams. Unlike the Surface Duo, the Surface Neo rocks a custom Intel Lakefield processor that has 11th-generation engine to drive graphics on both the screens, claimed Panos onstage. The Surface Neo runs Windows 10X, a new operating system from Microsoft that is based on Windows 10 and supports foldable devices, Surface Neo being the first.
But the most interesting part of the Surface Neo is the keyboard that can attach itself magnetically to the back of the device and can be folded out to be slapped on one of the touchscreens. As the keyboard attaches itself on one of the displays, the input interface changes, turning the remaining space on the display into an emoji picker or a touchpad.
For now, Microsoft has divulged limited information about both the devices because it is still working on them. The company is optimistically moving ahead to counter the next-generation of devices, which are called ‘foldable phones’ in the common parlance currently. Samsung and Huawei have already launched their foldable devices while Xiaomi and even Apple are apparently working on theirs. But for Microsoft that has admittedly failed in the smartphone business, it is a big deal to skip some of the breakthrough smartphone innovations we have seen so far and jump directly to the nascent foldable device category.