Microsoft’s Falling Surface Duo

Jesus Diaz, writing at Tom’s Guide shortly after Microsoft unveiled the Surface Duo phone in October 2019, nearly a year before it was released:

Yesterday, as I finished watching Microsoft’s presentation on my iPad Pro, I thought that Redmond had crushed its old archnemesis in just half an hour. The Surface Neo and the Surface Duo made me think that Microsoft is now the king of innovation and industrial design. They have beaten Apple at its own game.

Not only that, but I also got the impression that, while Apple has been aimlessly wandering for years now — led by a man who is an administrator not interested in products but marketing and profits — Microsoft has surprisingly come out with a clear vision of what they want the future to be. And they are executing it.

Diaz calls Microsoft “the David to Apple’s Goliath”, which is an incredible analogy to use for what are currently the two most valuable businesses in the world, both of which are the only companies to have a market cap of over $2 trillion. Even at the time Diaz wrote this, Apple and Microsoft were worth around a trillion dollars apiece, which is less David-and-Goliath and more Hobbs-and-Shaw.1

Rob Enderle, eWeek, in August 2020, a few weeks before the Surface Duo was finally released:

Microsoft’s last major attempt to pivot a market belonging to someone else was with the Zune, which attempted to redefine the iPod segment into something with video and where music sharing was legal. It failed, and it was embarrassingly followed by the iPhone, which showcased what Microsoft should have built instead.


In short, the Surface Duo won’t be a Zune (the execution is far above where the Zune was); the question is whether it will eventually step up to reaching its potential as an iPhone-like product that can pivot the market. That question will depend on several things I’ve mentioned, and it will take two to five years.

Enderle acknowledges that the first version of the Surface Duo would likely be rocky. Like the iPhone, he says, it would take several iterations for it to sell well. But the iPhone was immediately apparent as the future of mobile devices. The Surface Duo, on the other hand — well?

Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica yesterday:

Poor Microsoft. The company’s Surface Duo phone was supposed to be the company’s triumphant entry into the Android phone market, but instead, it will probably be remembered as one of the bigger flops in the industry. The latest chapter of Microsoft’s dual-screen disaster involves a new low price for the ongoing fire sale: Amazon’s Woot is selling the phone for $409, an incredible $990.99 off the $1399.99 MSRP. The one catch is that it’s locked to AT&T.

Woot’s inventory is now sold out, which will disappoint those of you hoping to buy a prototype device that was inexplicably announced a year before going on sale at a higher price than any iPhone model or, for what’s worth, this Suzuki. Not a great showing for the new “king of innovation” and one of the “best inventions of 2020” according to Time magazine.

  1. As Diaz writes, the other major new product announced at Microsoft’s 2019 press conference was the Surface Neo. Despite a promised holiday 2020 launch date, it still has not shipped, possibly in part because development on the operating system it was supposed to run has been cancelled↥︎