These features aren’t new, but Microsoft offers some fresh tweaks, like a keyboard that appears only on the screen where you tapped the input field and is aligned to the respective bezel, making the letters easier to reach. Another addition is something Microsoft calls App Groups that lets you pair apps to launch in each screen at the same time. And of course, its own Office apps take advantage of the various modes as well. When you have the company’s To Do app and Edge browser open side by side, for example, you can drag and drop text between the windows.
These are ideas we’ve seen or heard about on dual-screen devices for years, and it seems like with the Duo they might finally be coming to a phone that people would actually want to use. This software won’t be exclusive to the Surface device, either. “We didn’t create them just for Duo, we created them in the Android code base,” Panay said. This means that the features Microsoft and Google worked to build could also roll out to any other company’s dual-screen phone that uses Android in the future.
It’s still unclear which pieces of what Microsoft calls the Duo UI are built into the Android code base and which will remain specifically for Microsoft, but Panay said the collaboration with Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer was “very deep.”
“We really do want Android to continue to adopt these pieces and kind of light up the best Microsoft experiences,” he said. It won’t just be Microsoft that benefits from the collaboration, either. Google and its partners with dual-screen ambitions stand to gain too.
But Android offers a compelling advantage to Microsoft. When asked why the company chose to go with Android as the Duo’s operating system, Panay simply replied “Apps.” He added, “Mobile apps. Having the Play Store is critical.” The multitude of apps available via Google’s store will all work on both of the Duo’s screens, Panay said, and developers won’t have to do extra work to take advantage of some of the basic new interface features. “In the APIs we created, you can do more magic if you’re a developer,” he added, pointing to Amazon’s Kindle and Spotify as some third-party options that have tweaked their apps for the Duo.
That’s good news, since not all developers want or can afford to do extra work for a platform that isn’t proven. The lack of apps that properly make use of dual-screens has been a major obstacle in the category succeeding. Apps are also a huge part of making an OS enticing to users.
Microsoft needs to reach a wide audience for the Duo to succeed, and if it were to rely only on its own apps, it risks sending the message that this is a business-first product. With Android and the vast number of apps that welcomes into the fold, Microsoft is astutely positioning the Duo as a lifestyle gadget that has the productivity chops to handle work when you need it to. As foldable phones start to gain traction, dual-screen devices like the Duo could ride those tailwinds to find mainstream success at last — this time backed by software that finally looks ready to roll.