Microsoft wants to create a “new and disruptive” dual-screen device category to influence the overall Surface roadmap and blur the lines between what’s considered PC and mobile. Codenamed Andromeda, Microsoft’s project has been in development for at least two years and is designed to be a pocketable Surface device. Last week, Microsoft’s Surface chief, Panos Panay, appeared to tease just such a machine, built in collaboration with LG Display. We’re on the cusp of seeing the release of a folding, tablet-like device that Microsoft has actually been dreaming of for almost a decade.
The original source for a lot of Microsoft’s ambitions was a device called Courier. The secret incubation project was designed to be a dual-screen digital journal, and was in development around the same time as Apple’s iPad. “Courier was really about bridging the divide between the analog world and the digital world,” explained Jon Friedman, now chief designer of Office 365, in a talk at Microsoft Build last month. Concept videos and images of Courier leaked, showing off a dual-screen device with support for inking and touch.
Microsoft’s previous concept videos have revealed the company’s future Surface products rather accurately. The Surface Hub 2 is manifestation of Microsoft’s obsession with large touchscreens, and even the Surface Studio and Surface Dial devices were shown in this same concept video. Bendable displays and folding phones are still a few years away from the mainstream, but it’s clear Microsoft has been anticipating this type of future device for quite some time.
Unfortunately, this highly malleable display technology won’t likely be available to buy just yet. But less ambitious designs could help blend the two separate displays together on dual-screen devices in the near term. That’s an important element to any dual-screen device: make it look like a single tablet display when unfurled.
Microsoft will really need to ensure the software works well enough to realize its dual-screen device dreams. Making apps scale across ever-changing display sizes and formats will be the most difficult challenge for any hardware maker to succeed with. But if any company is successful, then we might be witnessing an interesting era of smartphone and tablet devices.