Nearly everything Microsoft unveiled this morning had been leaked in the week leading up to the event. How could a company be so sloppy, many asked.
To this conspiratorially minded observer, it seems obvious: the Surface team knew that no one would be talking about the 2019 releases after seeing the preview of its 2020 products.
Like phoenixes rising from the tech ashes, the Surface Neo and Surface Duo revive concepts introduced in the never released Microsoft Courier and the much-requested (by me, at least) Surface Phone.
Dual screens, 360-degree hinges, pen support, attachable physical keyboards, a Windows 10 variant that introduces features to better utilize the two screens on the Neo, and full Android support for the Duo! Is that enough innovation for you?
My concerns about the form factor remain. The Neo has an unsightly seam between the two displays that will require panning the canvas while drawing. Both devices seem ungainly to hold in one hand unless slightly folded, again making inking impractical. I like the idea of closing the Duo when carrying it around as a phone, but do I want to unfold it every time I want to glance at a text message?
The physical keyboard is practical, but what will it look like on the back of the Neo? It leaves so little of the second screen exposed while in use. Does anyone need a massive strip of emojis while texting?
The reason for unveiling these products now is simple: the OS isn’t ready and Microsoft needs developers to come on board with innovative applications that make use of this new form factor. I honestly can’t think of any use case compelling enough to justify the new hardware investment.
I remember the original Courier demo featured a designer throwing together samples and swatches. Could the Neo be a killer device for Pinterest users? Can illustrated books be parsed to keep illustrations on one screen and text on the other? Could a drawing app move all its touch controls to one screen and offer the other as a blank canvas? Does any of that sound useful?
Because of its smaller size, the Duo seems immediately more useful, but for me the burning question is how much of Windows remains on this device? Is it purely Android? If so, how portable will projects begun on the Duo be? If it’s all about the pen, isn’t the 2020 version of the Galaxy Note the more obvious way to go?
The good news is that we will have 12 months to debate and mull over these questions while keeping our fingers crossed that a significant number of developers risk creating original concepts for this intriguing but unproven form factor.