The Surface Duo turns a whole lot of things in the story of Microsoft, Surface and mobile their respective heads. I have been thinking about this a lot and not really come to any conclusions.
The first thing is the relationship between hardware and software. Microsoft client operating systems had always been built for other people to make the software. Surface upset this being both Microsoft hardware and software. Surface Duo turns all this around 180 degrees. It’s Microsoft hardware with a third party OS. In this case Google.
It is a Surface in the sense of creating a new form factor. However, they are trying so hard not to call it a phone. They are trying to say that this device is for “dual screen productivity”. It feels like they really want to make a phone but recent history means they can’t. So, despite aching to make a phone, they have come up with a device that can do everything a mobile phone can do but they don’t want to call it that. I slightly wonder if a “Surface Phone” turn up eventually. After all the Surface Pro and the Surface Book tried to avoid being laptop. Then eventually they built a laptop.
Panos Panay was interesting holding the Duo. My mind slipped back to the moment he held up the Lumia 950 in 2015. He looked like a man holding someone else’s product. It was. It was a Nokia. At that point he looked like a man trying to promote the benefits of doing root canal surgery on yourself. The Windows Mobile 10 OS was buggy and was only at its best after the anniversary upgrade. The plastic back and removable battery didn’t feel too flagship at all. However, WindowsPhone fans were waiting for the first Microsoft Lumia.
It struck me that the Duo was what WindowsPhone should have been. Designed and built by Microsoft. They had Apple envy but not Apple execution. Microsoft had to wait for OEMs, wait for carriers then subsidise Nokia. This is another 180. If they want a device like Surface Duo they must build it themselves. If they really wanted a phone business in 2010 that would compete with Apple then they should have built it themselves.