Last week, Microsoft stunned the tech community when it announced a new portfolio of devices in the "Surface" line of products. These new Surface devices for the most part extend the existing line of Windows devices in that they serve as the "best example" of a Windows 10 implementation, by providing great hardware to compliment software provided by the company.
Ranging from tablets (the "Surface Pro 7", the "Surface Pro X" and the dual-screen "Surface Neo", for example) to the new "Surface Laptop 3" laptop, most of the products were in-line with existing strategy, and natural progressions.
But one product, the new, dual-screen "Surface Duo," is a total departure in strategy, and it leaves me wondering what Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, is thinking.
Unlike the rest of the tablet and laptop lineup, this new device is a phone, powered by Android. That's right, the maker of the most widely-used operating system in the world, Windows, is powering their phone with Google's operating system.
Nadella, as detailed in TheVerge.com, claims the operating system is no longer important. He says it's about the user experience.
Sure, I agree user experience is important. However, why not just continue creating great apps for both iOS and Android? Invest in the user experience of the app. Why the need to create what may be seen as a gimmicky device?
Microsoft is now competing with generic hardware.
By creating the Duo, Microsoft officially becomes a generic Android phone manufacturer. Now Microsoft will compete head-on with Samsung, the largest phone maker in the world, along with Huawei (second largest), Xiaomi (fourth largest), and every other commodity phone manufacturer. These phone makers can leverage their vast manufacturing infrastructure to pump out hardware faster and cheaper than Microsoft, who will outsource manufacturing.
While the dual-screen design is certainly nice, it too is not unique. Samsung and others already offer foldable or dual-screen designs. Nothing here creates a barrier to competition.
One company Microsoft will not be competing with is Apple. By offering its own unique experience, on its own unique operating system, Apple ensures Microsoft's minor tweaks to the base Android OS will not win over any iOS fans.
Microsoft's plan is to offer additional services and APIs in its phone to lure over Android developers and have them build apps that are unique to the Duo.
I highly doubt many developers will entertain the option, and instead continue developing for the Android superset, instead of the Android-Microsoft subset, of the marketplace.
Will developers "embrace" the dual-screen features of the Duo phone? Eventually, yes. This will happen when an Android "meta package" is released that allows the developer to write for all dual-screen devices at once and not just the Surface Duo. This will commoditize the Duo even further.
Microsoft is a software and services company. Whether its operating systems, office productivity, or the lastest XBox game, Microsoft has always focused on software. Hardware has always been developed to complement the software. Now, with its new phone, Microsoft is throwing this away. They've decided to compete strictly on hardware. A few nice dual-screen gimmicks are not enough to convice me (or the Android public) they have anything else but a commodity phone.
Dead from the start, Microsoft should take another look at their core competencies and understand what's important in the end. Microsoft's value is providing software and services. By building a phone for Android, Microsoft is ceding its software and services, and betting on its dual-screen hardware novelty. Instead, Microsoft should leverage what it does best, software, and build the best Office user experience for both iOS and Android.