(Pictured above: Microsoft’s Panos Panay demonstrates the Surface Duo at an event on Oct. 2. Courtesy Microsoft.)
By Jeffrey Schwartz
Microsoft is developing a foldable, dual-screen Android phone in partnership with Google. It’s called the Surface Duo, which will also function as a computer powered with a new version of Windows in development that can run different tasks on each display.
It won’t arrive for another year, but the unexpected Surface Duo preview stood out at Microsoft’s annual fall hardware rollout event Wednesday with the launch of several new Surface PCs, tablets and accessories slated for release in the coming weeks. The introduction of the Surface Duo was a surprise because Microsoft had given little indication publicly that it’s gunning to return to the phone business since exiting the market two years ago.
While Microsoft revealed and demonstrated the Surface Duo and its core capabilities, the company didn’t share pricing or how it will distribute the product. Panos Panay, chief product officer for Microsoft’s device portfolio, scoffed at referring to the Surface Duo as a phone, insisting it is much more.
“I’m super clear you’re going to talk about this as a phone and I get that, and you’re going to talk about it as a communication device, and it does both those things incredibly well for sure,” Panay told attendees at the event, held in New York. “But make no mistake, this product is a Surface because of how productive you can be on it.”
Indeed, Panay said there is no mainstream product like the Duo. Unfolded, it measures 8.3 inches, but its two 5.6-inch displays, which are separated by hinges, folds to the latter size. The Surface Duo will run a new version of Windows called Windows 10X, an iteration of the operating system designed to let users run different applications or tasks separately on each display of a dual-screen device. A demo of the device showed a user clicking on an email attachment on one screen, and the application for that attachment launching on the other screen.
While Microsoft is partnering with Google to provide the Android phone capability on the new device, the compute function of the Surface Duo, and a larger tablet without a phone called the Surface Neo, will be powered by the new Windows 10X, which is a new “expression” of Windows 10 under development for several years, said Carmen Zlateff, partner program manager in Microsoft’s Windows group.
“Our goal is to fuel a new era of mobile productivity and creativity across two screens,” Zlateff said. “Windows 10X was designed and optimized for dual screen devices just like surface to keeping you in your flow, no matter how you work, create and learn.”
Since launching its first Surface tablet PC seven years ago, Microsoft has avoided revealing new hardware under development. But Panay, who expressed uneasiness about previewing the new devices a year in advance, noted that getting the word out in this case is necessary to enable ISVs, OEMs and other partners to develop applications for the new form factor. In addition to offering the Surface Duo and Neo devices, Microsoft said Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo will debut new hardware based on …