Posts

Microsoft

Microsoft Hopes to Revolutionize Computing with Surface Neo and Duo

Though its Windows line of products has represented by far the most popular choice of operating system for decades, Microsoft is relatively new to the hardware space, as the cornerstone of its business has long been its software offerings. Barring their Xbox series of video game consoles, the company has only been manufacturing mobile computing devices for a few years, starting with its innovative Surface 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid in 2012. With the original Surface tablet, Microsoft intended to directly compete with Apple’s iPad line, but also aimed to innovate on the form factor by offering a keyboard accessory and a kick stand as well as compatibility with the Surface Pen, for precise touch input. While the Surface line of products has been a moderate financial success for Microsoft, the products have received acclaim from critics and consumers alike, and the Surface products have a very high favorability rating among customers.

Building on the success of its Surface tablets, and iterating on the philosophy of enabling different types of functionality that inspired the design of these tablets, Microsoft recently announced an entirely new suite of Surface products, many of which will not launch until Holiday 2020. The most notable of Microsoft’s announcements are the Surface Neo and the Surface Duo, which are a folding tablet and a folding smartphone, respectively. These two products have  a form factor which is fundamentally unlike any product that has since been announced, marking a bold new direction for the company. The two products, the latter of which resembles a smaller version of the former, feature two displays placed almost directly next to one another, separated by a hinge that allows the device to fold 360 degrees.

Embed from Getty Images

When closed, the devices resemble notebooks or journals, but constructed with a sleek and sturdy-looking metallic finish. When opened, the devices can be used in the form factor of a traditional laptop, with the lower screen acting as a software keyboard, or held sideways like a book. They can be opened further at 180 degrees to allow the two screens to work as one for a widescreen viewing experience. If the devices are opened further, they can sit on a table, with one screen allowing for a viewing experience from a distance. Finally, if the devices are folded all the way, they can be held in the hand like a traditional tablet or smartphone, with displays present on both sides.

Microsoft intends for these devices to enable a level of creativity and productivity not possible on other devices by allowing them to assume what they call different “postures.” As the devices can be unfolded and positioned in a variety of ways, each of these postures also enables different software opportunities, as the operating systems of the devices are able to detect how they are being held and offer options to the user accordingly. For instance, the Surface Neo can be used with a magnetically-attached keyboard peripheral, which can be placed on top of half of the lower screen, allowing the remainder of the display to be used as a trackpad. Additionally, both devices are compatible with styluses, allowing for precision input for a variety of applications, but perhaps most notably for digital artists.

Embed from Getty Images

During the keynote in which these devices were announced, representatives from Microsoft envision the current decade as being one in which devices are used for consuming content, and see the following decade as being one characterized by using technology to create things, hoping to lead the industry in that direction. By announcing these devices so far ahead of their release dates, Microsoft intends not only to give developers time to work on software applications that take advantage of their unique form factor, but also to give consumers an opportunity to invest in the Microsoft digital ecosystem in advance of the release of these groundbreaking products. 

Perhaps the most surprising feature of Microsoft’s announcement is the fact that the Surface Duo runs the Android operating system, leveraging software from Google, a direct competitor to the software giant. After the failure of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system, which failed to gain traction in large part because of the absence of support from third-party developers, Microsoft has seemingly given up on creating mobile operating systems. However, the company’s decision to go with Android, currently the most popular mobile operating system around the world, is a clear advantage to consumers, who will have access to a wide range of already-existing apps. The extent to which third-party developers take advantage of the unique form factor of the Neo and Duo, however, remains to be seen, and this factor likely will predict the long-term success of the products overall.