Microsoft teases new foldable phone and unveils AirPods rival
NEW YORK — Several years after Microsoft began retreating from the smartphone market, the company now appears to be trying to break back into it.
Microsoft teased a new phone at its annual Surface press event on Wednesday. The new device, called the Surface Duo, is foldable with two 5.6-inch displays side by side and works with Android.
“You’re going to talk about it as a phone, and I get that,” Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer, said at the event. “And you’re going to talk about it as a communication device, and it does both those things incredibly well for sure.” But, he added, “make no mistake, this product is a Surface.”
In an unusual move, however, Microsoft teased the product well below it’s expected to hit the market. The Surface Duo will launch in the 2020 holiday season, more than a year from now, according to the company.
After years of high-profile hardware missteps, Microsoft had thrived recently in large part by focusing not on consumers, but enterprise customers. Under CEO Satya Nadella, made a successful years-long bet on cloud computing, positioning it as one of the two dominant players in this fast-growing market along with Amazon. Microsoft also took a massive $7.6 billion writedown from its acquisition of Nokia’s handset business.
But Wednesday’s press event highlighted that Microsoft isn’t giving up on hardware either, both for consumers — with the Surface Duo — and business customers.
In addition to the Duo, Microsoft teased a new dual-screen device called the Surface Neo that also won’t be available until next holiday season. The device combines two 9-inch screens and folds inward. You can flip it, reverse it and surf Netflix. It’s also possible to expand a single app across the two screens or use two apps at the same time.
“Neo is not only the next new Surface, it’s the next category,” Panay said.
But the product may remind some longtime Microsoft watchers of the Courier, a two-screen tablet concept that pre-dated the iPad. Former CEO Steve Ballmer famously killed that device.
Microsoft also took direct aim at Apple with the launch of its new Surface Earbuds, wireless earbuds that are clearly intended as a rival offering to Apple’s AirPods. Earbuds will work with Microsoft Office products and boast a full day of battery life, according to the company.
The product will be available later this year for $249, or slightly more than the $199 Apple charges for AirPods with a wireless charging case.
Beyond these products, Microsoft refreshed its hardware lineup with the introduction of the Surface Pro 7, an updated tablet with USB-C and deeper integration with Microsoft Office, and the Surface Pro X, a laptop and tablet hybrid with a new processor, 4K video and an edge-to-edge display.
Microsoft said the Surface Pro X is the first and only Windows PC to have an integrated AI engine, which will correct a video call and bring the eye gaze up so if you’re talking to someone on a call, they appear to be making eye contact.
The tablets start at $749 and $999, respectively.
Microsoft is also expanding its hardware lineup with the Surface Laptop 3, a new laptop that instantly turns on when you open it and comes in an aluminum finish that’s the color of “sandstone.”
Panay said the new laptop is “three times more powerful” than Apple’s MacBook Air. A 13-inch model will start at $999 and a 15-inch model will start at $1,199. Both will be available starting on October 22.