The rapid rise of the coronavirus epidemic has cast fresh shadows over recent rumors that Microsoft might be looking to launch their Surface Neo and Duo devices sooner than expected.
Announced late last year, the Surface Neo is a dual-screen tablet powered by a custom version of one of Intel's Lakefield processors. Featuring a notebook-esque design that features two 9-inch LCD displays tied together by a 360-degree hinge, Microsoft is pushing the Neo as a flagship for a new form-factor as one that promotes adaptability.
You can use the Surface Neo as a dual-screened tablet or as a screen-and-a-half laptop (similar to the ZenBook Pro Duo) via the magnetically-attached Bluetooth keyboard that flips around from the exterior of the device to the interior. When used in the latter form-factor, the leftover screen-space can be transformed into a Mac Touch Bar-inspired mini-screen or a digital trackpad.
The Surface Duo is an Android device built around a miniaturized version of the dual-screen design found in the Surface Neo. It's not quite foldable but it's certainly eye-catching. It features two 5.6-inch displays but the software powering the device can act like it's a single 8.3-inch screen.
At the time both devices were revealed, Microsoft indicated that they were targeting a Holiday 2020 launch for the device. However, recent rumors have suggested otherwise.
According to WindowCentral, “multiple contacts suggest the Duo may actually be available as soon as this summer [ in the United States]."
The report claims “the hardware and software are pretty much done,” and that Microsoft is basically focusing on putting the finishing touches on its Duo-specific features and Android tweaks. The software could be done as soon as April, but a summer launch would likely be primarily aimed at developers and enthusiasts.”
Unfortunately, one of the many unexpected knock-on effects of coronavirus on the supply chain for mainstream consumer electronics may include pushing the launch of the Surface Duo back.
In a recent blog post tied to their Q3 forecast, Microsoft says that “Although we see strong Windows demand in line with our expectations, the supply chain is returning to normal operations at a slower pace than anticipated at the time of our Q2 earnings call [due to the public health crisis in China].”
Specifically, the company say that "Windows OEM and Surface are more negatively impacted than previously anticipated."
What does this mean for Australian consumers?
Realistically, Australian consumers might not see Microsoft’s dual-screened Surface devices until 2021. This prediction could be wrong but, at this stage, we’re not holding our breath.
Even if the supply chain is mostly mended in three-months time, Microsoft is still going to be working with significantly more limitations on stock than previously expected. And in a world where the company can’t launch with as many units or in as many countries as they originally wanted to, it’s unlikely that Australian consumers will be prioritised over markets like the United States or European.
Microsoft might be a global company but some regions matter more than others.
The other reason to expect a Surface Duo delay is that, in a post-coronavirus world, consumers are going to have less money to spend. It’ll take time for the economy and the value of the Australian dollar to return to some sense of normality.
Apple's next iPhone is in a similar boat and the longer that Microsoft waits before launching the Surface here, the larger the potential market for the cutting-edge device becomes. On paper, anyway.
Rushing out to get the hype of a global launch could seriously hurt the Surface Duo’s commercial prospects and, historically, Microsoft have emphasised a desire to get the launch of their first dual-screened product right rather than just make it happen as fast as possible.
In light of that, a delay into 2021 - at least for the Australian market - is unsurprising but, probably the smartest move Microsoft can make given the ongoing circumstances.