The Surface Duo is an Xbox tablet in all but name – here’s why

Last night’s Microsoft event was a packed showcase full of shiny new 2-in-1s, bold new concepts and more surprises than you could shake a Surface Pen at.

But for me, the most interesting item on the menu wasn’t the spiffy new Surface Pro X or the folding Surface Neo, it was Microsoft’s new phone – the Surface Duo.

This isn’t just because it’s the first Microsoft blower since the firm axed Windows Phone and the Lumia line, or the fact it has a custom dual screen design – it’s because of how clearly it fits into Microsoft’s future plans for gaming and Xbox.

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Think about it. As it stands, Microsoft and Google are set to once again go mano-a-mano in the very near future, but not on mobile. Instead the two are set to fight for control of the growing games streaming market. Specifically, Microsoft Project xCloud is set to duke it out with Google Stadia.

For those that missed it, Stadia and xCloud are triple-A game streaming services. They aim to let you stream triple-A games over the cloud, without the need for any heavy-duty gaming hardware. Both are set to launch as trials before the year’s end. While Microsoft’s currently got an edge on Google in the gaming market thanks to its experience with Xbox, it also has one critical weakness: it hasn’t got any presence in the mobile market.

Even when Windows Phone was a thing, Google’s Android dwarfed its market share. Today Android is the most used mobile platform in the world. This, coupled with the fact that mobile phones are the most used product in most people’s lives, means that Google will have a much easier time delivering Stadia to customers than Microsoft, if it gets its Android app out quick enough.

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This is why it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to release a flagship phone-come-tablet that’s sure to grab the headlines right around the time the full version of xCloud is expected to fully launch next year.

There’s evidence to support my theory. Microsoft made the device’s gaming chops clear during the launch event, showing a video of the Duo playing Forza – the very same game it used to showcase Project xCloud when it first unveiled the service at Game Developer Conference earlier this year.

If I’m right the move would also directly tie into CEO Satya Nadella’s genius cloud and services strategy, which has been leading the company from success to success recently.

Like other Surfaces, Microsoft doesn’t overtly care about the hardware, because it wants to become a Dell or Apple. It just wants a means to get people using its services and locked into its ecosystem. With this in mind, the Duo isn’t important as a flagship phone-come-tablet, it’s important as it’s a way for Microsoft to get people into it’s Xbox ecosystem via xCloud.

By creating a truly innovative new product like the Duo, Microsoft has the ideal hardware platform to get people onto or, at the very least, considering its services. Once in, it’s unlikely users will want to change, giving Microsoft an ongoing xCloud customer base.

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