Let’s answer the question: Is Android a good choice for Surface Duo?
I have been creating applications for Windows Phone 7.x, 8.x and Windows 10 mobile for years, I have (and still am) a big fan of these OSes but let me share with you the reasons for their failures.
It wasn’t because of the OS, it was very stable, good performance and very rich.
It wasn’t because of the UX, this one was amazing and I still miss it.
It wasn’t because of the marketing, Nokia and Microsoft were very good at it.
It wasn’t because of the hardware, the full Lumia line was amazing and ahead of time (a phone with a 41 mega-pixel camera 🤯).
No, the problem was elsewhere and unfortunately impossible to fix: too many apps were missing.
For 4 years, I worked day and night, without taking time off to develop all the top apps that were missing for Windows Phone, and I was not the only one, many other developers did the same, at the end, almost all top apps had an alternative. What has been missing are the “other” apps, the ones we all ignore, the ones journalists never talk about, the small applications that no one talks about but that are essential to your life:
- Your banking application to start with, which allows you to scan a check without moving from your place or withdraw money without your card.
- Applications to move around, whether to unlock a car (Zipcar, Getaround) or a scooter (Jump, Bird, Lime, Scoot, Spin, Lyft, etc…)
- The loyalty program apps, when I was using a Windows phone, it was impossible for me to access Safeway’s sales (an American supermarket) because I needed an app for that 😣
- If you have a Tesla, you need an app to access some features (smart summon for example but also dog and sentry mode…).
And that’s not all, almost all of my objects need apps:
- My vacuum cleaner robot needs an app to update and to access to settings
- My sound bar needs an app to change the equalizer
- My drone to drive it
- My fitness bracelet to access stats and configure it
- My wifi router to configure it (no web interface, thank you Google…)
- My lights to program scenes and activate some features
- My shutters to configure them
- My TV to use voice commands
- I buy my bus tickets via an app
- My security camera to monitor my dog
- Even my dog’s bowl is connected!!!
We really underestimate the number of apps that is essential, we often talk about top apps (Spotify, Snapchat, Facebook, …) but it is far from being enough, we live in a world of mobile apps and the number of these applications is huge and increase each day, especially since if we take into account that many of these apps are country specific (supermarkets, banks, transportation, movie tickets, etc…). We are talking about dozens of thousands of apps at the worldwide level.
And here is the issue, even if you have thousands of apps, if 1 is missing, it’s already too much. Every time a user will see on his product or stores: download app XXX on iOS/Android to use your product/access the service, the user will feel a huge frustration and it will motivate him/her to switch to another OS.
We need Android apps, I understand that, but why not include an Android emulator or fork Android?
Many companies have tried and failed:
- Blackberry with BB10
- Amazon with Fire Phone
- Microsoft themselves with Nokia X
- Microsoft a second time with Project Astoria
The problem is it’s forbidden to integrate Google services when you fork or emulate Android, and what many people don’t know is that the vast majority of Android apps use Google’s services to run: authentication, payment, in-app purchase, map, backup, geolocation, etc…
This is (unfortunately) a fact, even if Android is partly open source, almost all apps need Google to work and forking or emulating Android will not fix the problem.
So what if I’m a Microsoft fan?
I am one too and I can’t wait to buy a Surface Duo.
For the first time, you will see a mobile device made by the Surface team, of much better quality than the other phones, you will have all the Microsoft applications you like: Office, Outlook, To-Do, Your Phone, Team, Cortana… Because Android is fully customizable, the made-by-Microsoft user experience will not look like the one on a Pixel, Galaxy, HTC, etc…. You will probably find Timeline on your Home screen, a very different UI, etc… It will be a Microsoft product, with Microsoft services and a user experience made by Microsoft.
Because in the end what is important for the user is not the OS, but the user experience and the UI, is knowing that he can access all the apps he/she wants, it is also knowing that his product was made by the same people who built Surface Hub 2X, Surface Pro X and Surface Laptop.
I am a developer and a UWP enthusiast, it’s not easy for me to say it, but it’s essential to use Android for Surface Duo, if you want the product to succeed, you need applications and not frustrate users, it’s not about what I prefer but what’s good for users.
I’m going to ask you a very simple question: when you first tried a Tesla, did you ask yourself what OS the car uses? When you play with your Nintendo Switch, have you ever wondered what was the OS? Probably not, because what’s important is not how it works but how rich is the experience and how much joy you have when you use the product.
Finally, the last point. Microsoft has already proven that it can take a Google product and make it something extraordinary, the new Edge uses Chromium, but is that really important? No because the UI and UX are great, even better than Chrome and as a user I also know that I will be able to use all the extensions I want to use. So let’s trust Microsoft once again, let’s wait and see.
But what about Surface Neo?
Even if the two products are similar, they do not fulfil the same role.
Surface Neo will be used as a Netbook or a tablet, you do not need the same apps than on your phone, you will never open your Tesla or buy your bus ticket on it.
The huge difference between Neo and Duo and that Duo will replace your mobile phone, no one likes to have 2 devices in their pockets, but to replace your phone you need the other product to support 100% of the apps you had on it. Neo and Duo tries to solve 2 different things. Duo wants to replace your phone in your pocket, it will be your daily device, always with you. Neo will replace your iPad, your Netbook and partially your computer. On a spectrum mobile-PC, Duo is very close to the left, Neo is between the middle and the right.
What about UWP?
Surface Duo wasn’t the only device announced.
Not only is Surface Pro X (using an ARM64 processor) a dream platform for UWP applications, but we also have Surface Neo that will provide a new user experience only UWP apps will be able to fully take advantage of.
As a UWP developer I am more than excited by these 2 devices. But this is only the beginning, new devices will also arrive in 2020:
- Surface Hub 2X
- Xbox next-gen
- The public version of Hololens 2
- all other Windows 10X devices from Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo
This is the beginning of a new era for us, let’s enjoy it!
If you want Surface Duo and this new form factor to be a success, it is essential to have apps so that the user can throw his current phone in the bin and only use Duo.
Android is the ideal solution for this, 100% of the applications he/she uses will be available from the first day. Let’s keep in mind that the product will be a Microsoft product, featuring a unique user-experience by Microsoft, running Microsoft apps and providing rich features to other Microsoft products (Office, XCloud…).
It was probably a very difficult decision for Microsoft to make, but they made it because what is important to them is to satisfy their users.
It’s only the beginning, I wouldn’t be surprised if the OS had a its own Store in addition to the Play Store for example (Samsung already does it with the Galaxy Store), if Timeline will be a huge part of the product, if the integration with Your Phone will be unique and provide even more rich features to Windows 10 users, etc….
Let’s wait and see, but in the meantime, let’s trust the Surface team and continue to dream.