My Microsoft a-ha! moment came not with the surprise Surface Duo Android phone, nor with the two-screened Surface Neo, but when Microsoft unfolded the wraparound keyboard accessory that shipped with its dual-screen Neo prototype.
Why? Because tapping on glass loses its appeal beyond banging out a quick text message. Actual work requires a keyboard with travel, in much the same way that we wear comfortable, cushioned shoes for walking or running. The Neo’s keyboard is emblematic of what Microsoft is trying to achieve: flexibility.
We’ve previously told you what microprocessor diversity means for Microsoft, as well as its chip partners Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel. What we thought then was that Qualcomm would enable all-day battery life (which emerged as the Surface Pro X), AMD would pump up the Surface’s graphics firepower (the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3), and Intel would power, well everything else. What we missed was Intel’s Lakefield, the compact, stacked-chip architecture which we already knew would be the foundation of dual-screen displays. That, of course, became the Surface Neo, Microsoft’s dual-screen device.
Why? Because people work in different ways. Microsoft provides a command line not just for coders, but for users who appreciate fine-grained control over their operating system. Why do people become so irritated with new Windows feature updates? Well, there are the inopportune update times, but once an update breaks the way in which a user goes about their day, it becomes a source of frustration. It breaks the “flow” that Microsoft’s chief Panos Panay so often talks about.
This brings us back to the Surface Neo, and to some extent, the Surface Duo as well. Two-in-1s have evolved beyond clamshells, providing alternative ways of viewing and interacting with information: tent mode, for example. Dual screens are the evolutionary next step, even if—and this is important—even if they’re not for everyone.
This is flexibility. This is what Microsoft understands.
About the only criticism I can come up with is that Microsoft probably should have reversed the Surface Duo and Neo brands. The dual-screen laptop feels much more like a “Duo,” and the slick, Android powered dual-display phone (that apparently works, unlike the Galaxy Fold) feels like much more of a “Neo”-like innovation. We won’t know more until we’re able to see the products–in about a year, we hope.
Quite clearly, the launch of the Surface Pro X, Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro 7, as well the Neo and Duo represented Microsoft’s best Surface launch ever. And it wasn’t just the products themselves, but what their variety represented: the culmination of everything Microsoft has tried to achieve with Surface. Will the Neo and Duo succeed? Not for everyone. And that’s the point.
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