Here Comes Continuum for Phones

Posted on April 30, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 0

Here Comes Continuum for Phones

For all the news that came out of Build this week, I think my favorite was Continuum for phones, a feature of Windows 10 that will enable smart phones handsets to act as tiny, full-powered PCs and work with external peripherals like keyboards, mice and displays.

To use this feature, however, you’ll need to clear a few hurdles. It will only work on upcoming new Windows Phone hardware, and it’s reasonable to expect it to require higher-end devices with multi-core processors and lots of RAM. It requires remote display capabilities in displays, though that is becoming a lot more common. And some usage cases—like game playing with a dedicated controller, something I’d love to see—simply won’t be possible, or won’t work well, at launch.

But no matter. We’re all carrying incredibly powerful PC-like devices in our pockets, and the ability to use any screen and other peripherals, anywhere, is a tantalizing proposition.

Continuum for phones was first shown off publicly during the Wednesday keynote. But Microsoft’s Terry Myerson told me about the coming demo the previous day during a briefing.

“Continuum is a core focus in Windows 10,” he told me. “On phones it enables use to turn any display into a full PC experience, with your apps transitioning seamlessly from 4-inches up to a much larger display. There’s just so much power in your pocket with Windows 10.”

Even prepared for the demo, I was blown away by what I saw the next day.

“So far we’ve shown this Continuum feature working with our shell and with apps … on the PC, and watched the PC device flex across these form factors,” Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore said during the Build 2015 day one keynote. “But we have a vision that not only the PC can benefit from this flexibility and use of input devices and screen sizes; so too can the phone.”

The live demo was really a simulation—Joe didn’t have the new hardware required to drive Continuum—but it provided a realistic idea of how this would work. His phone was connected to Bluetooth-based mouse and keyboard, and to a screen via HDMI. (I assume it will be more common to use a Miracast-type wireless display going forward, or that we’ll see some interesting Windows Phone docking solutions, similar to but smaller than what we see with Surface devices today.

(If you don’t have a mouse or keyboard, Windows 10 for phones includes virtual mouse and keyboard interfaces that you can enable when you connect to a remote screen. But Joe didn’t demo that functionality.)

On the external display, you will see a familiar Windows 10 desktop experience, but with one major change: the Start menu is replaced by the one you see on your phone, customized with the same tiles you configured on your own device.


What’s most fascinating about this experience is that when launch apps from this menu using the external display (and keyboard and mouse) those apps run full-screen on the external display and adapt to the size, orientation and resolution of that display. In other words, an app like PowerPoint for Windows 10 will of course run full-screen on both the phone’s screen and on an external display, but it will look different—adapt—for each. As Joe pointed out, on the external display, this app looks like it would if you ran it on a PC (which you could).


But it’s not just the look and feel of the app that adapts. You can use the mouse and keyboard, too, as you would on a PC, to interact with the app. It’s a natural, PC-like experience, though of course ancillary displays—a file picker, for example—won’t directly mimic their PC-based equivalents because what you’re seeing here are phone-based UIs, adapted to the big screen.


The interesting thing about Continuum for phones, in a way, is that it drives home a fact that many users probably don’t understand: Those universal apps running on phones and tablets/PCs really are the same apps. And they can accommodate—adapt to—different screen orientations, sizes, and resolutions on the fly. It’s what enables Outlook Mail to work fine on the portrait orientation of a phone screen, but then expand out to accommodate multiple columns—and also mouse and keyboard—when used on a larger, landscape-oriented display.

At a special event today at Build, Joe Belfiore said that Continuum for phones, like many Windows 10 features, would evolve over time. The feature is initially being built to accommodate two screens—the phone’s internal screen and one external display—so that users can navigate with the phone screen if needed. But this scenarios requires a fairly high-end handset. So post-launch, they will try to provide an update that will instead provide screen sharing—the same display on both the phone and the external display—enabling the feature to work on lower-end handsets.

I cannot wait to use this feature.

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