High Surface Duo price limits phone's appeal

Microsoft is pitching its new dual-screen Surface phone as a productivity powerhouse. Experts said the high Surface Duo price tag will limit its potential market.

Microsoft has priced the new Surface Duo too high for everyone but tech enthusiasts and the most avid users of the company's office productivity suite, industry observers said.

The company announced last week that it would release the $1,400 gadget on Sept. 10. To justify the high starting price, Microsoft touted the Android-based Surface Duo's two screens to form an 8.1-inch display.

The feature is equivalent to having two monitors with a desktop computer. Users of Microsoft's office suite, now called Microsoft 365, would benefit the most. For example, they could have a Teams videoconference open on one screen while giving a PowerPoint presentation on the other. Alternatively, a user could review their Outlook calendar while discussing possible meeting dates via email.

At a list price of $1,400, with a poor camera and no support for 5G, I don't see this device gaining any traction in the market.
Irwin LazarAnalyst, Nemertes Research

Analysts are skeptical that the Surface Duo's multitasking capabilities are enough for mainstream success. "At a list price of $1,400, with a poor camera and no support for 5G, I don't see this device gaining any traction in the market," said Irwin Lazar, a Nemertes Research analyst.

Productivity as a differentiator

Other analysts see it a bit differently. Microsoft might find fans among 365 users who struggle with using multiple office apps on a regular smartphone, said independent tech analyst Eric Klein.

Therefore, Microsoft's decision to highlight the Surface Duo's value to 365 usersis a "good differentiator" from Samsung and Apple phones, said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. Both of those companies have focused on consumers with features like high-quality cameras.

Time will tell whether the benefits to 365 users are enough to make Surface Duo a sales success.

"Most efforts to create a new class of device have failed, as it's difficult to convince someone to carry something other than a phone, tablet or laptop," Lazar said. "In looking at this device, I don't see that it offers any significant benefit compared to a traditional tablet or smartphone."

Klein agreed that people with multiple devices already have enough portable screens to consult one app while making changes in another. "That's really the barrier to entry. People have made investments in their devices already," he said.

For enterprises, the price of the Surface Duo will be a significant hurdle, Klein said. Microsoft would have to come down in price considerably before companies would buy the product en masse.

For now, the Surface Duo's most likely buyer is a hard-core 365 user, or a tech enthusiast attracted to the novelty of the device, analysts said. That might be OK with Microsoft. The company is unlikely to expect its unusual smartphone to be a smash hit today, Nguyen said.

"I think the goal is to demonstrate Microsoft's vision of what the paradigm of smartphone productivity should be."

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