Microsoft blind-sided almost everyone with the announcement of the Surface Duo at its October 2nd Surface event. Though there have been somewhat shaky rumors for years, the confirmation signals the company’s brave return to the phone market.
The trailer and event emphasized many aspects of the dual-screen Android device. Its productivity, design, and communication features were much talked about, but gaming wasn’t.
For a brief moment in its trailer, the Surface Duo showcased Forza Horizon 4 via Microsoft’s game streaming service, xCloud. Its top screen worked like a traditional monitor, while the bottom contained custom, updating controls for the title.
A Thumb-free Experience
With the new form factor, Duo has removed many of the concerns I had for game streaming on mobile devices. While the UI for dedicated mobile games can be shaped to work around your hands in the way of the screen, the same can’t be said for traditional Xbox and PC titles. Meanwhile, pairing your mobile with a wireless controller, even if its split in half, eliminates portability from the equation.
Instead, Duo’s second screen appears to be using Cloud Aware SDK integration to deliver contextual controls to the user. A touchscreen is unlikely to be as accurate in shooters as the physical feedback of a controller or mouse, but it’s certainly better than current solutions.
Meanwhile, I assume Duo could be paired with a mouse if required. Those can be pretty portable these days (look at the Surface Arc Mouse), while the bottom display can be used both to the prop up the primary monitor and as a keyboard.
The same philosophy, of course, applies to the Surface Neo, though at a less portable scale. Each screen will be 9-inches rather than the Duo’s 5.6″, but that’s still more portable than a laptop, and it includes a keyboard.
Even so, the most exciting thing may not be what Microsoft does, but how OEMs follow suit. While the tech giant’s devices will undoubtedly be expensive, there’s little to prevent similar, cheaper alternatives. This clearly isn’t the main purpose of the form factor, but it’s another look at how it can innovate in surprising ways.