Over the past six months, we’ve seen some pretty weird and wonderful Windows laptops. There was Lenovo’s first “foldable PC,” HP’s dual-screen gaming laptop, and even an Asus notebook with two 4K screens. Laptops are definitely getting weird again. As the smartphone industry looks toward dual-screen and foldable phones, laptop makers aren’t far behind, and Microsoft and Intel are pushing them on.
Microsoft is holding a special Surface hardware event in New York City this morning, where the company will unveil its latest lineup of holiday hardware. It’s also expected to tease the future of what type of hardware we’ll see next year and beyond.
Microsoft, Intel, and others have been working on dual-screen and foldable devices that use a special version of Windows. Microsoft has referred to this as “Windows Lite” and “Santorini” internally at the company, and it’s designed to be a stripped-down version of Windows that’s prioritized for dual-screen devices. A leak yesterday claims this will be called “Windows 10X.”
At the same time, Intel has been pushing OEMs to create new dual-screen hardware, laptops made out of fabric that have multiple screens, and even wild, dual-screen gaming prototypes. This hardware all looks futuristic, but some of it is already here or coming soon.
Microsoft hasn’t publicly unveiled any of its dual-screen or foldable work, but the company did hint earlier this year that a new version of Windows is on the way with seamless background updates that sound more Chrome OS-like.
Today could be the day we finally get to hear more about Microsoft and Intel’s ambitious plans. In recent years, Microsoft has been creating a new Composable Shell (C-Shell) and Windows Core OS, a more modular version of the existing Windows Shell that powers parts of Windows 10. Some of Windows Core OS is now powering hardware like the HoloLens 2 or Microsoft’s upcoming Surface Hub 2X.
Windows Lite is thought to be part of this Windows Core OS work, and the changes Microsoft makes to its Windows operating system will be key for the future of dual-screen and foldable hardware. The Windows Lite interface will be similar to Windows 10, but more of a blend of what Microsoft does with its Surface Hub shell and the previous Windows Phone Continuum user interface. Leaks have suggested there could be some Start menu changes, but there’s bound to be a lot more work to the entire UI to make Windows shine on this new hardware.
Microsoft isn’t only working on the software side, though. The software maker previously teased its own dual-screen Surface device, codenamed “Centaurus,” earlier this year. It’s designed to be the hero device for all these new dual-screen tablet / laptop hybrids and to really show what these devices can do. Microsoft was previously working on a smaller “pocketable” Surface device codenamed “Andromeda,” but the company scrapped this in favor of the larger Centaurus hardware.
Surface chief Panos Panay revealed last year that a pocketable Surface device was “absolutely my baby” in an interview with The Verge. Panay also revealed that “we will invent and we will create when products are right. We can’t bring new categories into the world and not be a place where customers need it.”
Microsoft famously canceled a Surface Mini device just weeks before its announcement, so it’s still possible that Centaurus could meet a similar fate. Given the work going into this project, Windows Lite, and Intel’s OEM push, it seems very likely we’re about to see some weird and wonderful Windows devices once again.
If Microsoft is ready to show off its own Surface work and its ambitions for dual-screen Windows devices, then we could start to get a better idea for when these will eventually be available to consumers. Lenovo has promised its foldable PC in some form in the first half of 2020, so it’s reasonable to assume we’ll see these devices appear next year. Either way, get ready, dual-screen and foldable Windows laptops are on the way.