Microsoft's new smartphone is Holy Grail for middle-aged men
I can see the glint of excitement in the eyes of colleagues of a certain age. Microsoft has a new phone. Its announcement of a new dual-screen phone, the Surface Duo, caught the world's attention. But especially for middle-aged men.
In case you missed it, the tech giant unveiled a new 'productivity' smartphone that runs Android and has two large screens that fold over to make its own case.
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You may even be able to get a leatherette cover for it.
Loin-stirring memories of iPaqs, Communicators and Palms re-emerge.
For years, BlackBerry Man has been lost. He has rummaged through the baubles of iPhone cameras and Galaxy S-Pens.
But from next year, he may once again be able to proudly don an Excel cape, firing off Outlook calendar invitations like so many Snapchat stories.
I'm not being pejorative here: I am a middle-aged man. So I know what I'm talking about.
But I am being a little cheeky. I was there at the big launch last week and no, Microsoft hasn't gone out of its way to make a new device for David Brent.
In fact, this new Duo phone is designed purely as a logical next step in Microsoft's eye-opening hardware revival.
If you haven't been paying attention over the past five years, the company's Surface range of high-end tech is now one of the industry's most talked-about.
Most of us have heard of its two-in-one tablet (Surface Pro) and maybe even its laptop (Surface Laptop).
But it now also makes a high-end desktop PC (Surface Studio) and giant office smart screen (Surface Hub). It even makes headphones (Surface Headphones) and, as of this week, wireless earbuds (Surface Earbuds).
All of this stuff is very design-led. Microsoft has managed to pull off something very difficult: to create aspirational tech gadgets that completely sideline its decade-ago image of a boring, beige Windows ecosystem. So the obvious addition was a phone.
Thus, it was in a small presentation room in New York last week (where the Sunday Independent had a seat) that Microsoft's chief product officer, Panos Panay, suddenly produced the gadget from his pocket. It was a move right out of Steve Jobs' 'one more thing' presentation playbook.
Looking at it closely, the Duo will be something much closer to a high-tech work organiser that also happens to make and take calls. For example, the only camera it has will be aimed at conference calls, rather than travel or family portrait shots.
In other words, it's aimed at the part of the market that regards their phone's best asset as being really, really useful for work-related stuff.
It's hard to underscore the significance of a return to the phone market from Microsoft. We all remember the failure that was Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia. Microsoft struck a deal with the Finnish phone company, which was in freefall after the explosive growth of the iPhone. Nokia smartphones would run Microsoft's own new mobile operating system and not Android. It just didn't work. App developers treated the entire Microsoft mobile ecosystem as second-tier.
Some giant ones, including Snapchat and Google, just ignored it. So, then, did second-tier apps such as Sky and other on-demand video companies.
The result was a range of Lumia phones that were affordable and nicely designed and made (because of Nokia engineers), but had no native YouTube, Google, Gmail, Snapchat or dozens of other apps we want and use.
So Microsoft just let it die. It stopped investing in the platform or updating the operating system.
In hindsight, this was the right move. It always looked like a waste of resources to try to compete with Android or iOS.
Fast-forward to 2019 and this new Surface Duo uses Android. It's a seminal decision from Microsoft and probably a clever one.
Microsoft's rationale is that its real interface is its apps: that people interested in buying a phone like this will use it most for the enhanced effects that Office software will perform on it.
This is where Microsoft's deeper hardware integration helps. Its new Surface Earbuds, for example, can be used with Office to transcribe your speech directly into Microsoft applications, such as documents or email.
They also translate into other languages directly through your voice transcription.
This is a neat trick and is the kind of feature that might help sell the entire Surface ecosystem to someone.
As for the specifications of the phone itself, the main ones are that it's made up of dual 5.6-inch screens that fold out into an 8.3-inch tablet.
A 360-degree hinge means that the form factor is of a 'closed' device (with the screens facing each other), or a doubled-sided screen gadget.
There's no word yet of a price, although I'd be amazed if it's less than €1,000, given those dual displays. (The new generation of 'folding phones' from Samsung and Huawei cost well over €2,000 each.)
But Microsoft won't actually be selling this device until late 2020. So we've some time yet to wonder about upgrading.
Sunday Indo Business