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Microsoft Explains Foldable Devices' Two-Tiered App Development Process

Microsoft Dual-Screen Mockup

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Earlier this year Microsoft announced its first foldable devices, the upcoming Surface Neo PC and Surface Duo Android phone, as well as the Windows 10X operating system on which they would rely. Yesterday, the Windows Developer Platform's corporate vice president, Kevin Gallo, explained in a blog post how the company expects developers to start supporting this new form factor.

Gallo said it's actually just a two-step process: "1. Your websites and apps work," and "2. Embrace dual-screen experiences." That's not a particularly detailed roadmap--there are many things to consider between making something work and truly embracing new hardware. But it looks like Microsoft's keeping expectations simple.

The blog post included a mock-up showing dual-screen devices looking much like their mono-screened counterparts, with the primary difference being that the dual-screen devices were a bit wider. That is the baseline--simply making sure that software won't break just because it's being shown on two displays simultaneously.

That isn't a particularly notable change for desktop software; people have been using multi-monitor setups for years. But these devices are more portable devices, and while there have been some other dual-screen mobile devices, none have really had a noticeable effect on the mainstream market of late. 

Developers will have to figure out how to enable a mobile experience on multiple displays, then, as well as adapt to the other possibilities afforded by devices like the Surface Neo. But that's assuming enough people buy these dual-screen products to justify the additional development costs associated with supporting the hardware.

That's probably why Microsoft's blog post started with "Your websites and apps work" as the baseline. The company isn't expecting developers to introduce amazing experiences that completely justify the dual-screen form factor right away; it just wants to make sure people can use the software they rely on while the category's getting started.

Gallo said Microsoft will assist developers in making sure their software works on dual-screen devices. Windows 10X developers "will be able to use existing investments and tools for Web, UWP and Win32" on devices that rely on the operating system, he said, and the Surface Duo is similarly backwards compatible.

From there, Gallo said Microsoft is "in the process of identifying key postures and layouts across dual-screen and foldable PCs so that [developers] can take advantage of both." Truly embracing these new devices will require some changes to the development process, though, and Gallo summarized Microsoft's efforts there as:

"For native app developers, our goal is to develop a common model layered onto existing platform-specific tools and frameworks for Windows and Android. Of course, APIs to access this model will be tailored to the developer platform for each operating system. For example, you can use APIs to enhance your apps to use dual-screen capabilities and features like the 360-degree hinge. 

Web will continue to follow the standards-based model. And we are committed to building the right web standards and APIs to allow web developers to take advantage of cross-platform dual-screen capabilities. Web developers can use the browser or web-based app model of their choosing to take advantage of these capabilities."

Gallo instructed developers curious about dual-screen devices to email dualscreendev@microsoft.com to learn more about the company's efforts. (And, potentially, to gain early access to these platforms.) The company will also "share more details with developers in early 2020."