Microsoft is holding its next Surface event in New York City on October 2 and rumors are buzzing that the company could launch its long-rumored, never-shipped dual-screen device, codenamed Centaurus. It would be a significant change of approach if the company did. After initially leading the way with a series of impressive products, Surface has been quiet (in brand terms) for the past few years. Designs like the Surface Book have been refreshed, but the last major product to be introduced under the Surface brand was the Surface Laptop. (The Surface Hub is technically branded as a Surface product, but it sells for vastly more money and isn’t really consumer-oriented.)
Microsoft has demoed Centaurus at internal events, indicating that the device may be nearing completion. We’ve seen Intel push OEMs to create some dual-screen devices — the company demoed its Honeycomb Glacier concept at Computex this year, which drew some praise (and eyeballs) for its unusual design:
That’s what Honeycomb Glacier looked like when folded flat, and it’s not necessarily all that appealing. Open, however, the laptop reportedly offered a second display that worked rather well for at least some use-cases:
Intel has also created prototypes like Tiger Rapids, a folding dual-display concept with a conventional display on one side and an e-ink panel for inking and writing on the other. That concept has been commercialized as the Yoga Book C930 from Lenovo. One major question about the new Surface devices would be this: Are they intended to be general-purpose machines for regular users, or specialty devices that appeal to narrow market segments?
Since it launched Surface, Microsoft has devoted time to both market groups. The initial Surface Pro and Surface were an attempt to push PCs into tablet form factors, with detachable keyboards, fanless operation (some models), and an emphasis on weight and battery life. Later, Microsoft branched out into more niche concepts like the Surface Book (2-in-1 tablet, but with a discrete GPU), Surface Hub (corporate presentations), and Surface Studio (focused on creatives and featuring Surface Dial). Other products, like the Surface Laptop, were initially intended for users who wanted a stripped-down and limited version of Windows before Microsoft changed strategies and decided to market the system primarily to ordinary users.
Complicating this scenario is the fact that Microsoft has never actually shown Centaurus or its rumored predecessor, Andromeda, to the public. Some Surface products that have been rumored for years simply never materialize. Remember the Surface Phone? It was rumored to be right around the corner for several years, even as Microsoft tore up its plans for Windows 10 Mobile. There were even a few rumors that the company would still launch Surface Phone after shutting down its phone division, or that it would partner with a third-party company to create some kind of product. Nothing ever materialized.
Right now, the rumor mill seems to think dual screens are the juicy feature on tap for the event; if Microsoft has anything else in the till that it hasn’t shown off the company has been quiet about it. The new launch may feature products from Intel’s 10th Generation CPU family, but Surface has been historically slow to adapt cutting-edge Intel parts — it isn’t unusual for Microsoft to tap older hardware for its various updates. Ice Lake’s 10nm chips are expected to be a huge leap forward for Intel integrated graphics, however, and it would make a lot of sense for Microsoft to tap those CPUs for the Surface Pro and Surface Book. A new Surface Book might feature Intel Gen 11 graphics for the CPU, with a Turing GPU option available via a partnership with Nvidia, for example, improving both integrated and discrete performance.