Microsoft looks beyond smartphones to 'cellular PCs'

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/AdrianHancu)

With market share now sitting below one percent, it's safe to say most people have discredited Windows Phone. During the 2016 WinHEC conference, however, Microsoft announced its work on a significant advancement which could revive the platform, or at least give a boost to other Windows 10-based mobile devices. 

The biggest complaint users have with Windows Phone is the lack of apps, but with such a small amount of active devices the platform struggles to attract developers. In recent years, Microsoft has attempted to break this vicious cycle by making it easier to port from other platforms and debuting some innovative consumer features. 

For a while now it's seemed Microsoft has abandoned Windows Phone, in particular, due to its lack of flagship hardware. There's long been speculation Microsoft will bring its popular Surface line to mobile with a 'Surface Phone' and recent patents, even alleged photos, suggest this awaited device could be on the horizon. 

Next year would be the best opportunity for Microsoft to launch a comeback in mobile. Using the power of the upcoming Snapdragon 835 flagship SoC – due to hit devices in early 2017 – Microsoft has been able to run the full desktop version of Windows 10 on mobile ARM-based processors. 

Some would mock this doesn't solve the app issue as the Windows Store on desktop isn't flourishing with apps either, but Microsoft is going one step further by enabling the huge library of legacy Win32 apps to also run in the environment. This is little help when used on a smartphone, but when connected to a monitor it enables full apps to be run via the "Cellular PCs" (as Microsoft describes them.) 

Business users are going to love this. Demonstrating the capability, Microsoft showed a device running a full version of Adobe Photoshop alongside Microsoft Office without any performance issues. Even the popular game World of Tanks had no issues on the device, a testament of the Snapdragon 835's 27% higher performance and 40% less power draw than previous 14nm Snapdragon 820/821 SoCs. 

“We are excited to bring Windows 10 to the ARM ecosystem with Qualcomm Technologies,” said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft. “We continue to look for ways to empower our customers to create wherever they are. 

During its annual BUILD developer conference earlier this year, Microsoft announced the Desktop Bridge App Converter tool which makes it relatively trivial for developers to convert their Win32 apps to UWP for use across the various forms supported by Windows 10 (desktop, mobile, tablet, console .etc) 

Some apps which used the Desktop Bridge App Converter tool have already been published, including some big names such as Evernote. The company’s VP of engineering, Seth Hitchings, said: “We’re excited to bring our full-featured Evernote app to the Windows Store. The Desktop Bridge vastly simplifies our installer and uninstaller. It also opens up UWP APIs that we’ve taken advantage of, including the live tiles and notifications. And having the full-featured Evernote app in the Windows Store means future improvements will reach users faster.” 

As more developers see their Win32 apps gaining popularity from users accessing on mobile devices – not just smartphones but also more popular hybrids – it could tempt more developers into converting their apps to UWP and make them more friendly while also reaping the platform's modern improvements. 

Microsoft has been on a roll as of late when it comes to hardware; in particular with its 'Surface Hub' AIO, the Xbox One S, and continued excitement for HoloLens. Debuting a high-end Surface Phone which takes advantage of the Windows 10 on ARM announcement could be the company's best chance for some overdue momentum in mobile. 

Do you think Windows 10 on ARM will help its mobile ambitions? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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