Computer makers have been dreaming about dual-screened laptops for a long time. Microsoft got the hype started nearly a decade ago with the Courier, a rumoured dual-screen tablet that at some point was in development but never got an official release. Now in 2019, it seems the idea behind the Courier has come full circle, based on a new report from Forbes.
According to Jeff Lin, an associate director at market intelligence firm IHS Markit who spoke to Forbes, Microsoft apparently has plans for a foldable Surface device that features dual 9-inch screens and will run a new version of Windows that may even include support for Android apps.
Other tidbits about this alleged dual-screen Surface – which last year was reported to be in development under the code name ‘Centaurus’—include the use of a new Intel Lakefield system-on-a-chip, always-on connectivity (via 4G LTE or possibly 5G), and an expected launch data as early as Q1 or Q2 of next year.
Lin also claims the screens on this multi-display Surface will have 4:3 aspect ratios, though I suspect that the final model will have 3:2 displays, as that’s the same aspect ratio Microsoft has used on all of the Surfaces it’s released over the past few years.
With devices like Intel’s Honeycomb Glacier concept and Asus’ ZenBook Pro Duo, the proposition of a dual-screen laptop doesn’t seem quite as outlandish as it used to. However, what makes Microsoft’s rumoured two-screen Surface so interesting is that it could be one of the first products to run something based on Microsoft’s still unannounced Windows Core OS (WCOS) platform instead of vanilla Windows 10.
The reason why this is important is that WCOS is reportedly being designed as a modular OS platform that allows Microsoft to mix and match various OS elements like a taskbar or file system for use on a specific device, instead of needing using a one-size-fits-all approach as you get with standard Windows 10.
This is critical because currently, Windows 10 isn’t really designed to support laptop-like gadgets with dual screens and no physical keyboard like this rumoured Surface device. However, by using WCOS, Microsoft could simply make a software module for managing those dual-screens and then bolt it onto a stripped-down version of Windows that should be more appropriate for what appears could be a highly mobile device rather than something that spends most of its life on a desk.
Additionally, despite being based on Windows 10, WCOS gives Microsoft the flexibility to add support for Android apps to its upcoming Surface, either cloud-based or on-device virtualisation. While it might sound a bit weird for Microsoft to support Android like this, it makes a lot of sense as a way to combat the rising popularity of Chromebooks, which run Chrome OS but can also run Android apps thanks to an initiative Google started rolling out back in 2016.
That said, I also feel like no matter how clever this device ends up being, it’s going to be a little awkward. That’s because, while portable, a laptop with dual 9-inch displays doesn’t really deliver the same amount of screen space you get from today’s 13 and 14-inch ultraportables, since when you’re working, a large part of one of those displays will presumably have to be reserved for an on-screen keyboard or touchpad (or both). And unlike Lenovo’s foldable laptop concept, the gap between the Surface’s two displays could limit its adaptability.
But for a company that has been rumoured to be working on a dual-screen tablet/laptop mash-up for the better part of a decade, I’m incredibly curious to see what Microsoft can come up with. Here’s hoping Lin’s claim of an official announcement sometime in the first half of 2020 is accurate.