Microsoft launched a phone and made me laugh

Redmond presented the Surface Duo to wild gasps. But it insisted it isn't a phone. What is it, then? Now that's a question for the marketing department, one it tried hard to answer.

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A double-Kindle, anyone?

Screenshot by ZDNet

I tried to focus, but, you know, it was 7 a.m. my time.

That's an hour normally reserved for wondering where I am.

Perhaps, then, the full impact of Microsoft's latest hardware event didn't strike home fully at first.

There were, though, a few words from the presentation that lingered in my mind long past lunch.

As Microsoft's chief product officer Panos Panay presented the glories of the Surface Duo, he offered these words: "You're going to talk about it as a phone, and I get that. You're going to talk about it as a communication device, and it does both those things incredibly well. But make no mistake, this product is a Surface."

Cue the roars from the faithful and roaring, chuckling confusion from my innards.

You see, the product itself looked rather interesting. The torture of describing it, however, was rather amusing.

I appreciate that Panay may not have wanted to call this phone a phone. After all, the words Microsoft and phone go together about as comfortably as fish and tractor.

I was more moved by how Panay -- or, I suspect, Microsoft's marketing department -- chose to characterize this new, relatively fascinating item. 

It's an unmistakable Surface was the claim. A little unfortunate, then, that the very first time we saw it being used in the company's highly aspirational promotional video, it was to answer a call.

So it's a Surface that makes calls? Well, that would be a Surface Phone, wouldn't it?

No, we can't say that because it's got the word phone in the name and this is just a mini-Surface. That makes calls.

Indeed, Microsoft has been so keen to distance its name from phones that it's peddling the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 in its own stores.

Microsoft could have called this new non-phone the Surface Mini, but that would have sounded like iPad Mini and that wouldn't be right. After all, Microsoft's the company that's thinking different, isn't it?

Worse, if it's just a folding phone then it'll be compared to all the folding phones that are dribbling out and occasionally splitting in two.

And anyway, a phone these days is really a camera with other functions attached.

Panay, then, was left to make a marvelously absurdist statement that several marketing people must have concocted over several nights in a remote Montana spa.

And really, who can blame them? In its blurb for this future non-phone -- available after the presidential election -- the company says: "Surface Duo brings together the best of Microsoft and Android to reimagine productivity on the go."

You mean Surface and the Android phone platform, right? You mean you shouldn't bother to take your Surface Pro 7 or your Surface Laptop 3 with you at all? You mean it's a mini-laptop/tablet thing then, which is what Surface is, except when it isn't?

I'm trying to imagine Steve Jobs standing on stage, presenting Apple's new phone and saying: "Make no mistake, this product is a Mac."

Instead, Apple decided to admit what it was and even tell you how best to hold it to make calls.

Still, Surface as a brand name has become quite accepted -- once NFL announcers stopped calling it the iPad. It was a brand name created to get away from the tawdry image of, well, Microsoft.

So I know you're going to talk about the Duo as a Microsoft phone. But please don't.

It's a Surface. That makes calls.