Event thought its distributing versions of its Windows 10 operating system to anyone and everyone who wants to try them, it wasn’t until this week that Microsoft revealed a Windows 10 for phones feature that wasn’t just a rehash of something it’d done before. On stage at its developer conference Microsoft showed a new feature that’ll allow users to turn their smartphones into Windows Desktop PCs.
The feature that lets Windows 10 for Phones morph into Desktop PCs isn’t completely new to Windows 10. In fact, it’s the Continuum feature that lets Windows 10 2-in-1s and tablets switch in and out of Tablet Mode when no keyboard is detected. On stage during the BUILD 2015 keynote, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore showed off what he called Continuum for Phones.
Continuum for Phones works the same way as it does on other versions of Windows 10. Connect a Windows 10 phone to an external display and a Desktop interface complete with all of their phone’s apps displays on the screen. Users have to pair their phone with a Bluetooth keyboard, but can use their smartphone’s screen as a touchpad replacement.
Instead of downloading new versions of their apps, Microsoft says Windows 10 phone owners won’t need to do any extra setup on their part for this experience. For Windows 10, Microsoft is rolling out new apps that adapt to different screen sizes and input methods. The same apps that are running on Windows 10 phones are the same apps that are running on Windows 10 notebooks, desktops and tablets.
Unfortunately, there appear to be two drawbacks with Continuum for Windows 10 phones. First, none of the Windows Phones running Windows Phone 8.1 today will get this feature. Belfiore says during his keynote address that this is because devices need dual display support, something no current Windows Phone has. Second, Windows 10 phones are only able to run apps downloading from Microsoft’s own Windows Store.
Still, Continuum on Windows 10 phones is Microsoft at its most interesting. At the same time as its trying to win back Desktop users and build its tablet and convertible user base, it’s also betting on a new computing paradigm that could change how a lot of the world gets work done and lives life. Large swaths of people have no need for a notebook or Desktop computer. These people own a smartphone and they need it to handle as much of their life as they can. It’s as if Microsoft is working on two kinds of convertibles at the same time. It’s Surface and Surface Pro are Windows notebooks that look like tablets. Some Windows 10 phones will be smartphones that can replace desktops PCs.
Apple is hoping that iPhone users who don’t want a notebook and are always mobile will invest in iPad and accessories. Google’s tries to appeal to the same users with Chrome OS running on low-cost machines that are perfectly priced for the developing world.
At the same keynote that it showed off Continuum for Windows phones, Microsoft also announced it was stepping up support for developers in a big way. Besides convincing developers to create Windows apps that can scale from smartphone to tablets and PCs, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 phones would have an Android subsystem that allows them to run Android apps with minimal code changes from developers. In fact, Microsoft has added hooks to match a lot of what’s available to developers on Android devices. Microsoft is also making it easier for iOS developers to get their apps on Windows 10 phones too.
Phones running Windows 10 are expected to arrive later this year.