Nick Summers, writing for Engadget:
Microsoft’s first Android phone has two 5.6-inch screens that combine into one larger 8.1-inch PixelSense Fusion display. It’s all held together by a “revolutionary 360-degree hinge” that we’re praying keeps out debris a little better than Samsung’s first Galaxy Fold. We already know that the device will be 4.8mm thick in its unfolded form. According to Microsoft, that’ll make it “the thinnest mobile device on the market,” though of course it won’t be quite as sleek when it’s folded (thereby making it roughly 9.6mm thick) in your pocket or bag.
A few years from now, I may read again these lines below and think: “Oh my, I was so wrong.” It would not be the first time. It is a possibility, but I’m quite confident that it won’t be the case. I’ve spent a lot of time today trying to find a good hot take on the new Microsoft Surface Duo: a column that would make me question my doubts, open my mind on the possibilities, and contradict my initial impressions.
This device looks like a prototype, and I believe it should not have been introduced like this in 2020, let alone being launched in September. I think Microsoft knows it, and if there is any indication that they don’t really care, is how they managed to screw up the launch itself. Like I said, I’ve read a dozen of takes on the Duo, from journalists who were at the press event, and I’ve not seen one really worth quoting here more than the others, even those written by experts I truly admire and respect, as if this product was uninspiring (and I think it is).
Microsoft shared a vision in which dual-screen mobile devices have a certain role; not sure if they believe it will be a crucial role, but a role nonetheless. And they introduced this half-baked device to show their commitment to this vision: a very expensive, underpowered tablet — and an Android one at that — that can be folded in half, and can be used as a phone, if the word “phone” means anything at all besides “it has a data connection and fit in your pockets.”
I know the hardware is not the main story here (how can it be right?), but I’m far from being convinced by the video presentation. I truly believe that Microsoft would consider me as part of its key target audience for this product, and yet, nothing I see excites me, and nothing I watched made me project into a future where these devices are anything more than what were the two-in-one laptops once were (they were supposed to be the next big thing eight years ago.)
Either Microsoft is terrible at selling its vision and its new hardware (I mean, the iPad Magic Keyboard is so much more inspiring than this and it is just a keyboard), either this vision and this device form factor suck, or I’m already too old to understand anything new with technology. One of the three possibilities, where I only have 33% chance of being wrong I guess? I mean LG’s vision was more exciting than this.
I get it that Microsoft wants to brings something new to the table. They were late for the first few rounds of orders of the mobile revolution which started thirteen years ago, and now they want a seat next to the others. In the early hours of Android, people thought phablets were ridiculous, yet it helped Android gain precious marketshare points when it mattered to convince developper teams to create apps for a platform. Maybe these dual-screen things will succeed like phablets once did, as a niche product were Microsoft can be the reference? Maybe.
Maybe Microsoft is hoping that this device will improve its image as an innovating company? Maybe the whole point of this device is to bring some excitement among the bored Microsoft teams?
One thing is certain though: imagine for one second if Samsung, Google, or Apple unveiled this product, and unveiled it like Microsoft did. Imagine the torrents of crap they would face from the public, from the investors, and from the media. Sure, the hinge looks cool, and this is thin, and sort of new. But this doesn’t translate into a desirable consumer product in my opinion. Last year I expected that the clever 360° hinge, instead of the foldable screen, would allow Microsoft to bring down the price of newly revealed foldables, and make them more durable, but for this price, I’d rather buy an iPad Air plus a very nice smartphone to go with it, and some wireless headphones while I’m at it.
There is this Steve Jobs’s quote that I really like, and I fear that the Surface Duo concept fits right in:
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, you can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. […] What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer? Not starting with ’let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have, and then how we’re gonna market that.”
Update: I eventually read a hot take that goes beyond the risk-free superficial observations, in this one from Malik Om where we mostly agree about the Duo:
If not for working stiffs/old farts like me, who is the ideal buyer for this product? I am not sure if Surface Duo addresses the younger generation (aka the next generation of computing consumers.)
So, I am going to go out on a limb, but in a year from now, no one will confuse Surface Duo as a product that changed everything.
The more I think about the Duo, the more I think of it as a vanity project.
Today, I came across this interesting blog post by Carl Barenbrug, titled Saved Time. He writes:
In recent months, you might have found yourself with an abundance of time that has come to you unexpectedly. Time saved by working from home instead of commuting. A pared down social life instead of filling up your calendar with events. Fewer commitments. Less chaos. But how are you spending all this saved time? With all this time you have back, as temporary as it may be, will you choose to spend it on things that are truly important to you?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of days: the lockdown in France, the end of it, the new rules, the new behaviours: How did I spend my saved time?
During the first few weeks of lockdown, mid-March to end of April, I have been very busy. My work days were full, the wife and I took the time to cook a lot of delicious meals, I watched a lot of new shows and movies I hadn’t seen before, and I tweaked a lot of things on this blog. We could hear all the birds sing in the air-pollution-free Paris, and Twitter felt exciting again. Times were in many ways interesting, and lockdown felt a little like an adventure. A sad, boring, dull adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.
The only true casualties among my habits were music and podcasts. Without a commute to wear my earphones, I felt that time — one hour per day — was actually taken away from me, rather that given back. Not that I enjoyed commuting everyday in the Parisian métro, but I think podcasts in particular were designed for this moment of the day, in length, format, concept. Without commute, podcasts feel like pretentious on-demand radio don’t they?
Since May, the interesting part of this abnormal situation has vanished. The related sense of adventure too. During this new normal period, I became less and less productive. My work load was the same, but my energy levels were empty at the end of the day and I stopped writing, stopped reading. I only watched things I’ve already seen before, looking for comfort and reassuring familiarities.
As the lockdown ended, and we were able to walk around again, I could finally listen to music again properly. Not new music, but the music I missed the most, the music I was already familiar with. I didn’t miss podcasts so much. Meanwhile, traffic jams were back in Paris, we couldn’t hear the birds from our windows anymore, and Twitter felt like an empty space again.
Today, I look at all the books I didn’t read. I browse through all the shows I didn’t watch, and I haven’t opened my podcast app in weeks. I subscribed to Skillshare back in March thinking it would be a good use of my extra time: I haven’t watched one minute of it.
What did I do with all this time given to me this year? Like Carl writes:
There’s no correct way to spend your time. Or more specifically—free time. You might choose to read, write, exercise, explore nature, volunteer, watch TV, listen to music, listen to podcasts, learn about topics that interest you, cook, clean, repair things, build things, or maybe you choose to slow down and simply do nothing.
Exactly. I did nothing special, but I don’t feel like this time was wasted at all. All this saved time was not spent right away on something else, but saved for later, sort of.
2020 has gave me a lot of time to do things, but it also has given me a chance to not do things, it has given me the opportunity to think, and in many ways it gave me space to know myself better.
While doing nothing, I never felt so busy.
Must-watch video by Double Down News, featuring writer and stylist Ayishat Akanbi, talking about “cancel culture.”
I’ve been lucky to be a Twitter follower of Akanbi for quite a while now, and her thoughts and tweets are very well written and full of wisdom. Considering all of the things happening in the world and in our Twitter timelines, it is a true breath of fresh air to read her words.
This video doesn’t disappoint either: she manages to go straight to the point and make it clear on a very difficult topic. Highly recommended.
Damian Carrington — environmental editor for The Guardian — writes, in a piece aptly titled Climate crisis: alarm at record-breaking heatwave in Siberia:
Russian towns in the Arctic circle have recorded extraordinary temperatures, with Nizhnyaya Pesha hitting 30 °C on 9 June and Khatanga, which usually has daytime temperatures of around 0 °C at this time of year, hitting 25 °C on 22 May. The previous record was 12 °C.
[…] Martin Stendel, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, said the abnormal May temperatures seen in north-west Siberia would be likely to happen just once in 100,000 years without human-caused global heating.
If climate change doesn’t scare you yet, well, I admire your optimism.
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