Praised as a major differentiator for Windows 10 Mobile handsets, Continuum relies on modern hardware and software to transform a smart phone into a fairly capable PC-like device, complete with HDTV screen, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals. This week, Microsoft explained why they went down this path.
Back in July, when Microsoft announced its major strategy shift for Windows phones, I opined that Continuum was a nice differentiator, something that would make Microsoft’s smart phone platform “unique but also uniquely useful.” And while I’d like to believe that Continuum came out of Microsoft’s desire to be a leader, and take users to a place they didn’t know they wanted to go, it turns out that the start of Continuum on phones was your basic everyday market feedback.
“We started by talking to customers to understand what they needed. We spoke to people around the globe … and found that most people wanted the same thing: a phone that did more,” Microsoft explains. ”
What does “more” look like? According to the feedback, these three things:
The ability to connect to a bigger screen. “People rely on their laptops and desktops because their phone lacks a large screen, keyboard and mouse,” Microsoft says. “They want to easily connect to larger screens for both work and entertainment.”
They expect more from their phones. “Tech-savvy people,” in particular, expect more. “As the processing power of phones has risen, so has the expectations of the tech-savvy,” Microsoft claims. In other words, smart phones are already mini-PCs. They could be mini-PCs.
Many people do not have PCs. Around the world, many people simply can’t afford a PC. But they have a TV, and they have a phone. “So any computing work gets done on their phone.”
And the phone is a natural choice for Continuum because people are basically addicted to them.
“We take our phones everywhere, we depend on them, and we feel lost without them,” Microsoft notes. “Yet, when the time comes to do ‘real work,’ we reach for a laptop or desktop PC. So we end up carrying our phones plus our laptops, or we wait until we are at our desks to do the heavy lifting.”
Microsoft is correct in stating that modern smart phones—especially high-end devices like the Lumia 950 and 950 XL—have enough processing power and resources to handle common PC-like tasks. The issue is that the OS used by most smart phones isn’t up to the task. But that is changing with Windows 10 Mobile, which is based on the same Windows 10 OS used on PCs and tablets.
Continuum on phones can get you only partway to what we’re really looking for: The ability to run desktop Windows apps on a phone. For the short term, Microsoft provides a Remote Desktop solution that won’t help those in emerging markets at all, but could be a great solution for businesses. Longer term, Windows 10 Mobile is coming to Intel x86, which could/should open up full Windows desktop compatibility, especially when the phone is docked with Continuum. (I’ll be writing more about that latter topic soon.)
The most interesting part of Microsoft’s explanation, perhaps, is the bit about the technical challenges it ran into while developing Continuum for phones. Long story short, this isn’t just a story about the OS: The Windows universal app platform had to adapt to support apps that could run on a phone or on a larger attached screen, and be used with touch or keyboard and mouse.
Continuum is very interesting. But it is of course an incomplete and very niche solution in its current guise. I’m very curious to see how this evolves over time.