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Microsoft Announces a Folding Phone, Taking the Gadget World by Surprise

October 2, 2019, 4:09 PM UTC

Microsoft shocked the gadget world on Wednesday by unveiling a new folding phone dubbed the Surface Duo. The device, which will go on sale in about a year, has two 5.6-inch screens and folds in the middle, like a book.

The announcement, which didn’t include how much the new phone would cost, came at the end of Microsoft’s hardware event in New York to debut upgrades to its Surface line of tablet and laptop computers.

“You’re going to talk about this as a phone,” Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay explained, almost trembling with excitement as he revealed the new device. “But make no mistake, this product is a Surface.”

Microsoft Surface Duo-Foldable Phone 01
Microsoft’s Surface Duo folding phone will go on sale in about a year, has two 5.6-inch screens, and folds in the middle, like a book
Courtesy of Microsoft

“Today you saw us reimagine pretty much every part of the tech stack,” CEO Satya Nadella said. “It takes me back to a sense of wonder and empowerment that I felt as 15-year-old.”

The company also announced a folding tablet with two 9-inch screens, called the Surface Neo. It also goes on sale towards the end of next year.

Microsoft famously missed the smartphone revolution, losing out to Apple and Google which created the two dominant mobile ecosystems. Even as it tried and failed to adapt its Windows software for phones and spent $7 billion to acquire Nokia’s phone business, consumers were instead opting for Apple’s iPhones and phones from companies like Samsung and LG running Google’s Android software. Finally, Microsoft stopped development on Windows Mobile in 2017.

Microsoft Surface Duo-Foldable Phone 02
After missing out on the smartphone revolution, Microsoft hopes its folding Android-based Surface Duo phone will get it back in the game.
Courtesy of Microsoft

The new Surface Duo doesn’t re-open the phone wars completely. Microsoft worked with Google to adapt a version of Android to run on the phone. Microsoft designed the hardware, including an Intel processor, and focused on creating versions of its popular productivity apps for the device.

The announcement also comes after Microsoft worked closely with Samsung to integrate its Windows software on PCs more closely with Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones.

Unlike Samsung’s folding phone, the Galaxy Fold, and some other companies’ prototypes shown earlier this year, the Duo has two separate screens with an obvious and visible hinge in the middle. That allows Microsoft to sidestep the difficulties of making an actual folding screen that bends in the middle. Samsung and others have faced challenges building folding screens durable enough to withstand day-to-day use by consumers.

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