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Does anybody know what the Surface Duo is supposed to be?

Opinion post by

David Imel

“I’m sure you’re gonna talk about this as a phone. I’m sure you’re gonna talk about it as a communication device and I get that. It does both those things incredibly well. But make no mistake, this product is a Surface,” said Panos Panay at the October 2 Surface event in New York City. The crowd, seemingly entranced by Panay’s energy, erupted into cheer.

I think the problem with this statement is that it doesn’t tell you anything about what the Microsoft Surface Duo actually is.

Panay’s statement plays into the same idea of Apple’s “What’s a computer?” campaign. Apple would like you to think that the iPad has moved past computing and is all about productivity. Simply calling the Duo a Surface plays into the same concept. This isn’t a gadget, it’s a sprocket that allows you to see your ideas realized.

But how is the Duo different from say, a phone? Sure, it has two screens. But for all intents and purposes, this is still a phone. It runs Android. It makes phone calls. That’s what a phone is, whether Panay likes it or not.

ZTE attempted a similar concept in 2017 with the Axon M, and it didn’t try to hide the fact that it was still a phone. Of course, the company pushed the creative and productivity aspects of the device, but at the end of the day, it ran Android. It made phone calls. It was a phone.

While I don’t like being the guy who calls technology useless before I’ve tried it for myself, I feel like I have tried this for myself. It didn’t work. The Axon M was clunky, but it was still a phone. The Duo isn’t inherently better just because Panay calls it a Surface.

Foldable — not dual-screen — devices are useful because they seamlessly expand to add more real-estate. The whole point is the portability to usability ratio, not what you can do with the device. The Galaxy Fold is inherently as much of a phone as the Galaxy Note 10. More screen is better, but it doesn’t change the device’s core functionality. Panay’s “It’s a Surface” statement tries to make you think this is something different entirely, but at the end of the day, it is still a phone.

I could also get into the fact that foldable devices are the evolution of dual-screen devices. Having a huge hinge in the center of your view does exactly the opposite what Panay says a Surface is supposed to do. It gets in your way, it’s distracting, and it looks plain bad. Foldable devices solve this problem. I realize true foldables have problems in their current form, but we’re still in the first generation. Shouldn’t we try to improve on an actually useful concept before we try to refine something that didn’t work?

Until Panay can explain to me exactly how the Duo is better than a phone, I’ll stay skeptical. We’re still more than a year away from this device actually launching though, so who knows.


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