Some Thoughts About Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum

Posted on April 4, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 0

Some Thoughts About Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum

While Windows 10 Mobile is distressingly immature compared to Windows 10 for PCs and tablets—and to its smart phone competition—it does have one key unique feature: Continuum for phones. Will it ever matter?

I’m not honestly sure, and in some ways you might make the case that the biggest issue with Continuum for phones is that it’s tied to Windows 10 Mobile, which has to date only been used on ARM-based handsets that cannot run Windows desktop applications. There are loopy ways around this—and over the weekend, I watched a recording of a short Build 2016 theater event called Continuum for Phone that outlines some of the coming improvements in this system, too—but the short version is that Continuum for phones isn’t today much of a mainstream solution. Unless you fall into one of two weird categories: Extremely low-end users with few app needs or business users, both of which have gotten stuck, somehow, with Windows phone.

I have a hard time either group actually exists in any meaningful number today. But in the perpetual chicken-and-egg problem that is Windows phone, Continuum is just the latest in a long line of unique features that the fans believe they can simply will into being the platform’s savior. It’s not going to happen this year, folks. But I do feel that Continuum has a future on phones, and yes, even on Windows phones.

Here’s why: While Windows phones today are indeed only ARM-based, there’s no reason why Microsoft or its hardware partners couldn’t in the future sell Intel-based Windows 10 Mobile handsets and mini-tablets. Such devices could conceivably allow the user to store and run Win32/desktop applications locally. And that would be a game changer in a way that running such apps remotely never will be, at least not for consumers.

In a recent interview, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella actually kind of/sort of hinted at this possibility.

“What is unique about our phones is this Continuum feature,” he told Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff. “If anything, we will want to continue to build that capability out. Just like how with Surface we were able to create a category. Three years ago most people would have said, ‘What is a two-in-one?’ And now even Apple has a two-in-one. And so three years from now, I hope that people will look and say, ‘Oh wow, that’s right, this is a phone that can also be a PC’.”

“Take emerging markets. India for sure is a mobile-first country. But I don’t think it will be a mobile-only country for all time. An emerging market will have more computing in their lives, not less computing, as there is more GDP and there is more need. As they grow they will also want computers that grow from their phone. What’s the most logical thing? I would claim it’s a Continuum phone, which means that it can have other forms of input beyond touch.”

You might make the argument that because Microsoft sees the personal computing market from the perspective of a Windows PC, then in its view everything is a Windows PC. But what’s wrong with that? When it comes to productivity, there are consumption/light editing devices like phones and tablets, and then there are full-featured productivity solutions like PC and Mac. If that is the central point of your device—if you spend more or as much time creating and editing content as you do reading it—then why wouldn’t a PC make sense as a phone?

The funny thing, if it weren’t for the app gap—Windows phone’s biggest and most obvious issue—Continuum would be a no-brainer today. But it’s still really amazing, and works quite well. If you are interested in this intriguing solution, please do take the 15 minutes or so and watch the Continuum for Phone session from Build. There’s really something to it, even if it’s not ever going to save Windows phone. At least not anytime soon.

I’ll write a bit more about Continuum for phones shortly. –Paul


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