Surface Duo: Microsoft Thunk Differently
As rumors are circulating regarding the end of the Microsoft Surface Duo Phone, I wanted to provide my perspective on owning the device for several years. I can hear the naysayers now. Microsoft phones are destined to die. I understand the skepticism of a Microsoft phone, but I’m writing this article to make the case that the Duo was a revolutionary device, full stop. Read on to find out how the Duo could have upset the mobile phone market.
I’ve been around for some time now, both in construction and IT. This year, Lydon Solutions will be 15 years old! Not only have we provided IT software solutions to the construction industry, but we have also provided hardware and support on some occasions. Over the years, several phone-like devices have completely changed our lives and, believe it or not, eventually led to a device like the Duo.
- Palm Pilot (1996). The first real smart device without being a phone. Taking notes, adding tasks, and managing contacts on a handheld device was huge. I remember having one of these hanging from a belt clip😊. The Palm Pilot undoubtedly helped me be more productive and less forgetful.
- Blackberry (1999). One of the most productive communication devices. Everyone had flip phones until this little device came out and changed the email game. The tiny keyboard for your thumbs and the wheel for scrolling was the perfect tool for reading and composing emails. It was the king of smartphones until Steve Jobs showed up.
- iPhone (2007). Changed the game completely. The touchscreen interface and the iTunes app store changed the landscape forever. The iPhone was the first true smartphone you could use to take notes, send emails, listen to music, take photos, and more, thanks to a store full of apps. The iPhone is still the heavyweight champ for the most popular smartphone.
- Surface Duo (2020). Yes, I have this device on the list. What the Duo did was change the form factor of mobile phones. So, instead of a single screen, you could now multitask. That might seem minor to the average iPhone user who uses their phone for Facebook, taking photos, and listening to music, but for a business user, it was huge. At any point in time, you could be in a Teams meeting and work in a browser on another screen or update an Excel file on one screen while sending out an email on another. This multi-screen smartphone is a significant productivity enhancement that will be copied in the future.
Why the Microsoft Duo Was Not a Success
I know what you are thinking, so if it was so revolutionary, why would it go the way of all Microsoft Phones? Here are my thoughts on why it never took off:
- Late to the game. Apple and Samsung dominate the cell phone market. This device might have gained better traction if it had been released five years earlier at the height of the Surface laptop craze.
- Wrong market. Microsoft has a history of failed attempts to cater to the consumer market instead of the business market. Yes, the Duo can play games like a mini Xbox console, take photos, and access your social media app, but that’s not what makes it shine. It’s a productivity device.
- Android OS. This OS is a pro and a con for the Duo. While Microsoft did not want to get caught in the same trap as previous Windows phones where no apps were available at launch, having an Android OS made it feel disconnected. Microsoft already had a great mobile OS platform, and Windows was being built for any device, so the choice of Android might have been a turn-off.
- Buggy. When it was first released, some updates were needed for it to be usable. This can be expected with a first-to-market device, but the odds were already against Microsoft because of its past attempts to enter the mobile market, so this had to be perfect.
- Clunky. While it was designed to be a small notepad, it didn’t fit in your pocket. Also, the camera wasn’t great, and it was awkward to trigger it to be outward-facing. The Duo also suffered from subpar hardware compared to other devices on the market.
- Price. The Duo was a premium device for sure, but it was more expensive than any other phone.
- Marketing. While Microsoft announced the device at a Surface event, it was not further promoted, especially in the business space. In fact, many AT&T stores did not even know what it was when I went on the hunt to find it.
- Updates. Microsoft was very slow in releasing enhancements, and the Android OS updates were delayed. Microsoft has committed to three years of updates, and as of September of 2023, Microsoft is no longer releasing OS updates or security patches for the first Duo and only has another 12 months of advertised support for the second-generation model.
In summary, the Duo was revolutionary. It needed a few more iterations and much more marketing to get it to become a true business smartphone. Unfortunately, it seems to be going the way of Windows Mobile, which is a shame. With the Surface Duo on life support, which company will swing for the fence and develop the next revolutionary mobile device? And at this point, can only Apple or Samsung make it? I hope not. Could this device or some iteration of it be the future? And if so, could Microsoft have another crack at this with Copilot AI integrated with a Duo? I can only wish.