Surface Duo: Who is it for, and why it is so expensive.

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The highly anticipated Surface Duo has finally launched, and while there is a lot of excitement around Microsoft’s first foray into foldable devices, fans and critics alike expressed concerns primarily about the spec sheet and the price Microsoft is demanding for it.

The Surface Duo will ship with a Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, up to 256GB of storage, an 11MP camera, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5, a mono speaker, and a 3577 mAh battery. NFC, wireless charging, and 5G not included.

There’s no denying that these specs pale in comparison to the recently released flagships from Samsung, Google, and other Android OEMs. So, you can imagine people’s dismay when Microsoft announced that it would be charging $1399 for the base 128GB model, as customers could pick up a OnePlus 8 Pro, for example, with all of the latest specs for half the price. Or even the recently announced spec-laden Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G for about $100 less.

Social media erupted. “What exactly was Microsoft thinking?”. “Surface Duo is DOA”. “2019 specs for over $1000”. “No one will buy this”.

Who is Surface Duo for?

I think Microsoft made a statement by pricing Duo the way it did. That statement is that the Surface Duo is not a mass market device. It is not a device to win over the hearts of the average iPhone, Galaxy, or Pixel user.

“We built this product for Surface fans, there’s no question about it. We built it for people who love Microsoft, Office, Teams, Outlook, it really does come to life. But it’s also for those who use Android apps, or mobile apps in general, that was critical to the product. But ultimately, in building it, it was about productivity and creativity.”

Panos panay, chief product manager, microsoft

It was designed to appeal to a certain niche. A niche that includes Microsoft loyalists, and people specifically looking to boost their productivity while mobile. As a device that can make phone calls and fit in people pockets, it also had to have the apps that people needed for those who choose to use Surface Duo as their primary device.

We learned with Windows Phone, that even if you had a great platform, not having the apps you need to use on a day-to-day basis can make a device very difficult to live with.

First-gen expectations

Surface Duo is a first-of-its-kind device. Looking back, first-gen Surface devices have almost always been showcase devices, designed to either define a form factor, or redefine an existing one. Think about the Surface Pro, the Surface Book, and the Surface Studio. These devices redefined their respective device categories.

First-gen Surface devices never had the most powerful components, lacked functionality some consider critical (like Thunderbolt 3), and don’t even have the thinnest bezels as you could find on other Windows devices. Yet, they were and continue to be priced at a premium. So why do people buy them?

Asking myself that question, I have a few reasons. The versatility of the form factor plays a key role in why I continue to buy Surface devices. They allow me to be more flexible in how I use these devices to accomplish certain tasks. Build quality is impeccable with extensive use of premium materials like magnesium alloys and Alcantara, and it’s all wrapped up in a design that makes Surface products some of the best-looking pieces of technology out there.

The Surface Duo fits right in. A first-gen Surface to define a new category of devices, versatile in its form factor, built with premium materials with impeccable build quality, and a design that while subjective, is arguably the best-looking foldable device out there. Oh and it’s priced at a premium like the Surface devices before it.

As to why Surface Duo launched without the latest and greatest specs, I assume it’s because the design was probably finalized around mid-2019, and for one reason or another got delayed. Microsoft may not have wanted to risk an expensive redesign for an unproven product.

Ok, but why is it THIS expensive?

After Microsoft announced Surface Duo back in October 2019, Microsoft didn’t reveal the specs, or the price. The rumor mill never sleeps, though, and whispers that Surface Duo will not have the latest specs came to light soon after.

The assumptions people had would be that Duo will either be priced at around $799 considering it has outdated specs and doesn’t use expensive foldable display technology like the $2000 Samsung Galaxy Fold. Or, given it’s a Surface, Microsoft would price it at a premium with a starting price of $999.

Suffice to say, no one was expecting a starting price of $1,399.

So what gives? It would seem like Microsoft is intentionally pricing Surface Duo to be out of reach for most people.

I can only speculate, but to me, it seems like Microsoft is selling the experience rather than the device. That might sound like a load of BS, but it wouldn’t be the first time. The value that Surface Duo offers in terms of the increase in productivity that the device will undeniably offer is part of what contributes to the price. That, in addition to the premium of it being a Surface product, plus the fact that it’s in a next-gen form factor that’s all the rage in 2020, plus who knows how much R&D went into this product.

Another contributor is that Microsoft wants to be very careful about the number of units it manufactures to avoid another financial write-down. Which would explain the strict US-only launch. Low-volume manufacturing contributes to a products high price.

It appears that Microsoft would rather sell a few units to the products niche for a high price, than risk setting a low price for a general market that either isn’t interested in buying a product that isn’t an iPhone or Galaxy, or isn’t interested in a device that doesn’t have the highest and greatest specs to date.

Should you buy the Surface Duo?

The $1,399 question. I think you should firstly, wait for the reviews. Secondly, consider your use case for the device. Do you care more about being productive than anything else on your mobile device? Thirdly, are you able to live without the best camera, the largest battery, and without NFC, wireless charging, or 5G? Fourthly, are you a die-hard Microsoft fan/Surface supporter?

If your answer is no to these questions, then Surface Duo isn’t for you. If it’s yes, then you’ve probably already pre-ordered the device if you’re in the US.

Regardless, there’s no getting around it. $1,399 is a tough pill to swallow, for any mobile device.

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