An official release date has finally been confirmed for the much anticipated Surface Duo by Microsoft. You can pre-order the device starting today, but the Duo won't be released until September 10th. I have been looking forward to this news for some time now. I am a huge fan of the Surface product line and most of my development so far for the past few years has been done on the Surface Pro 6 and even the tiny Surface 3 that popped into existence for a short while.
And while the new Surface Duo does not run any form of Windows OS, and is more intended to be a phone than anything else, it brings with it the higher hardware quality expected from such a device. And really I'm talking about the unique 360 hinge mechanism that the Duo boasts. Microsoft knows hinges and they take it seriously. The Duo's mechanism is comprised of 56 micro-cables each thinner than a human hair.
This allows for the device to be completely folded flat leaving just one display visible or unfolded leaving a large 8.1 inch AMOLED display.
Before I get into why this is big for developers, here are a few notable features that the Surface Duo brings with it.
- Microsoft 365 integration w/ Android
- Dual PixelSense displays
- AMOLED display (2700 x 1800)
- Up to 27 hours of talk time
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform (optimized for dual screens)
- USB C 3.1
- Surface Slim Pen compatible
Overall, while not the most powerful mobile device in the world, it's definitely not the weakest by any means either. The Snapdragon 855 is still a strong competitor in the smartphone game. And personally, I don't think that Microsoft was aiming for a high performance device with this one.
Functionality seems to be the name of the game here. As a programmer and as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in an office environment, I can say that this is more appealing than many of the latest phones on the market so far.
The Duo will come pre-installed with most of Microsoft's office based software and allow for Skype video conferencing up to 1080p at 30fps. Which really shows that Microsoft is aiming for the buiness professional crowd.
The Surface Duo, while running Androids 10, will come pre-installed with Microsofts entire gamut of software. The list includes:
Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Office Lens
Microsoft To Do
Microsoft Bing Search
Intune Company Portal
More interestingly though is the Microsoft Surface Duo UI core. This is essentially the wrapper to Anroid 10 catered to Microsoft's dual screen display. A few of the features there include:
Dual screen windowing
Microsoft 365 feed
Your Phone Companion
Some of these are unique to the Surface Duo, like the Dual Screens (of course) as well as app groups and the adaptive camera. Many of the other features however you can still set up on your current android 10 phones if you use the official Microsoft Launcher, which I personally do.
360 degree dual hinge display
The major stand-out feature of the Surface Duo is of course the dual screen display. Not a folding screen mind you, which I think was a smart move by Microsoft.
If you've kept up with the latest in folding screen displays you'll note that most are still very sensitive and come with a laundry list of things that you should not do in order to not damage the display.
Microsoft bypassed that entire fiasco by doubling down on their hinge technology and treating this as truly "dual" screen setup. Whereas the other phone manufacturers have mainly focused on creating a tablet sized display, but still with a single screen in mind.
And this is where the Duo stands apart and really begins to shake us out of our old way of thinking when it comes to mobile technology.
Because the idea is still pretty new, we've only been able to glimpse at a few potential screen setups that the Duo can handle. One being the multi-app view in which you can have a full app run on each individual screen and another being a more functional view in which the Duo can be turned on its side and one screen can be used as a keyboard or other peripheral device.
You of course also have the option of treating both screens as one giant 8.1 inch display as well. Though you will have a giant hinge in between to contend with.
What it means for developers
It means that we will need to be more creative during this coming new decade. Most may not realize it, but dual screen touch displays weren't exactly possible a few years ago. This was mainly due to hardware limitations. Mobile processors were not up to par yet and battery technology would at best give you a couple of hours of play time.
Those problems have now been solved mainly, so in a sense we have a bit more breathing room in terms of what we can do and can't do.
How can we leverage an extra screen in our latest apps? This will be the new question to ask in the near future. I personally don't have an answer for that just yet. My mind is mainly still in the realm of having one giant tablet sized screen or in having 2 apps run side by side. And that is the old way of thinking.
The new way of thinking will be more along the lines of "This page is now done, now what else can be added to make it more useful". The one example that I can think of is Microsoft's own virtual keyboard example. While I do feel that the display is much too small to be an effective keyboard, it's definitely a clever and unique usecase for a secondary display.
The Surface Duo is not set to be released until September 10 however, so we still have some time to ponder what can be done. At a starting price of $1,399 for the 128GB model and $1,499 for the 256GB version it will probably be priced out for many people, mainly since at that price point it is competing with devices which boast much higher benchmarks, such as the Galaxy S20 Ultra or Galaxy Note 20.
I'm not ruling it out just yet. I'm definitely intrigued by this form factor and so far, just with Microsoft's big push towards funtionality and portability alone, I am definitely going to be keeping an eye on this one. At least until the Surface Neo makes its big debut.