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Smartphones are dead Part II: Evolve or die, Microsoft's ultra-mobile PC strategy

This demand has led to an evolution of smartphone hardware and consumer usage that positions these devices more as mini-tablet computers than phones. In fact, we established in part one of this series that current smartphones are indeed mini-tablet PCs that are an "evolutionary" step between phones and the next phase of personal computing. Ultra-mobile personal computers (as I am calling them) will be pocketable all-in-one devices that take advantage of a universal platform, context sensitive hardware and software, universal apps and the cloud to facilitate the mobility of a user's digital experiences.

Lumia 950 and Surface

Lumia 950 and Surface (Image credit: Windows Central)

I contend that our current "smartphones," which have replaced small tablets, which replaced desktop PCs for an increasing number of personal computing tasks, will continue their trek toward the all-in-one ultra-mobile device capable of managing an increasingly complex array of personal computing tasks previously reserved to the traditional desktop environment.

This smartphone evolution in its current "mini-tablet" state is, of course, a device-agnostic transition. iPhones, Android devices, and Windows phones have all reached dimensions, functionality and usage that qualify them as mini-tablets. Indeed, each of these platforms is represented in the market by devices that occupy this transitory phase preceding the advent of the true ultra-mobile PC.

However, this current smartphone landscape, which is dominated by the iPhone and a host of Android devices, has virtually plateaued. As a result of a "phone-focused" paradigm, these two dominant platforms impose inherent barriers to evolving into personal computing's next phase. I believe, however, that Microsoft may possess the missing link.

Evolutionary dead end

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella had the following to say regarding Redmond's future in the mobile landscape and mobile computing's evolution:

If anything, one big mistake we made in our past was to think of the PC as the hub for everything for all time to come...today…the high volume device is the six-inch phone...But to think that that's what the future is for all time to come would be to make the same mistake we made in the past…Therefore, we have to be on the hunt for what's the next bend in the curve…We're doing that with our innovation in Windows…features like Continuum.Even the phone, I just don't want to build another phone, a copycat phone operating system, even…when I think about our Windows Phone, I want it to stand for something like Continuum. When I say, wow, that's an interesting approach where you can have a phone and that same phone, because of our universal platform with Continuum, can, in fact, be a desktop. That is not something any other phone operating system or device can do. And that's what I want our devices and device innovation to stand for.

The ability for a "phone", via Continuum, to be a desktop is indeed not something any other phone operating system can do (yet). It is this unique platform level capability combined with the Universal Windows Platform that has positioned Redmond's mobile strategy on a divergent "evolutionary" path from rivals Apple and Google. A path that I contend will allow Microsoft's mobile efforts to accommodate progressively complex personal computing demands unencumbered by barriers inherent to Apple's and Google's phone-focused paradigm.

Continuum and the UWP position Windows "phone" on a divergent evolutionary path.

The current "smartphone-focused" iPhone and Android dominated mobile landscape has two major barriers preventing their transition to the next step of ultra-mobile personal computing.

First, the current smartphone paradigm evolved from a perspective of bringing greater functionality to a handheld, app-focused slate form factor environment, as a distinct and deliberate departure from the desktop environment. Thus, a development, user interface and user experience "chasm" between the PC and smartphone evolved with the evolution of the mobile landscape. So the entire infrastructure that supports the current smartphone paradigm has built into its foundation and "DNA" that it is not meant to serve the complex range of personal computing provided by a desktop computing environment.

For the past nine years, however, the smartphone industry has struggled to reconcile the increasing demands of users and app developers for more PC-like functionality with the inherent limitations of the infrastructure of the current smartphone. Consider this: as users demanded more desktop-type power and functionality from their smartphones, the industry responded with bigger, faster and higher specced devices while maintaining the systemic barriers between "phone" and "desktop" systems.

A focus on improving "phone" hardware and updating the OS would inevitably lead to a dead end.

Though this approach has provided a limited approximation of desktop power and capabilities on our phones, the current system is self-limiting. This surface-level "throw-them-a-bone" solution did not address platform level limitations that could not be addressed by bigger, faster and shinier phones with better cameras. Thus, a reasonable analysis of the current system leads to a sobering conclusion.

First, it is virtually inevitable that user's and developer's demand for more complex mobile personal computing will continue to approach that which is usually reserved to the desktop. Thus, the focus on improving "phone" hardware and updating the OS without intentionally crossing the chasm between the desktop and "phone" environments, on a development and user experience level, would inevitably lead to a dead end. That is a plateauing of the smartphone landscape where high-end devices based on the current nature of their platforms have virtually no further to go in answering the demand for more desktop-like personal computing. And that's exactly what has happened.

Today's "mini-tablets", our smartphones, have reached their comfortable size limits and the spec race offers little differentiation between competing devices.

The spec race offers little differentiation between competing devices.

This reality is the core of the second and more profound barrier. There still exists many personal computing activities that, despite slumping PC sales, are best managed in a desktop environment that these "mini slate PCs" cannot serve. The 270 million and growing installs of Windows 10 (which is a contributor to lower PC sales), the increasing market of 2-in-1's, the 1.5 billion install base of Windows PCs, the slight increase in sales of Macs and growing niche popularity of Chromebooks are a testimony to this.

Evolving alongside this foundation, however, personal computing continues its trek toward an increasingly mobile experience. Often, a user's digital experiences are managed in the cloud, and all-in-one portable hardware is expected to be capable of managing more of the tasks currently served in a desktop environment.

That said, I believe that the company that is successful in embracing and intentionally positioning their mobile devices as "personal computers" linguistically, in relation to hardware flexibility and in broad universal platform support, will be best able to meet users' and developers' diverse mobile personal computing expectations. If this analysis is accurate a deliberate disassembling of the barriers between the mobile phone and desktop environments that evolved with the smartphone industry would, therefore, be in order.

Tearing down barriers

Microsoft's bold Universal Windows Platform and Continuum are an audacious upheaval of a mobile paradigm that has sought to bring an increasing range of personal computing experiences from the PC to the phone through hardware improvements and OS updates. Microsoft's solution is a comprehensive restructuring of the mobile paradigm which accommodates both the current state of mobile and its future, where the mobile platform is tasked with more of the weight of the desktop environment.

In fact, Microsoft's approach to mobile personal computing facilitates a strategically progressing merger of the desktop and mobile environments. The current practice of transitioning to an entirely different device (phone to a PC for example) to access a different user interface or operating system will likely ultimately be replaced, for most tasks, with a single device that adapts to a user's needs. Context conforming hardware and software as demonstrated by the Surface, Continuum and Continuum for Phone will be the bridge between a user and a particular personal computing task.

In hindsight, some might argue that had industry leaders foreseen how central the smartphone would become to personal computing a course toward unified platforms would have been an early goal of the mobile revolution. That may or may not be true. Apple's Tim Cook has publicly stated OS X and iOS will remain distinct platforms.

"We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad …what we're worried would happen, is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants."

Of course, Apple is a notoriously secretive company. And they have set a precedent of denying a particular strategy virtually up until the time they launch a new product or initiative that contradicts that public profession. Larger iPhones, for example, (though leaked) were denied as a course the company would follow due to ergonomic "common sense" benefits of smaller devices.

That said Apple is publicly pursuing building a closer relationship between iOS and OSX via Continuity. Though, given their history, a merger of the platforms can't be ruled out entirely.

Furthermore, Google is pursuing bringing Android and Chrome closer together as well. The company's SVP of Android, Chrome OS and Chromecast, Hiroshi Lockheimer, is on record, however, stating that a total merger of the platforms is not on Mountain View's roadmap.

"While we've been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS."

The 2016 introduction and 2017 release of the composite Android/Chrome OS, combined with the practical applications of Apple's Continuity, puts Microsoft's Universal Windows and Continuum strategy under tremendous pressure for success.

That said those plans committed to by Microsoft's rivals are wrought with challenges that prevent them from providing as comprehensive a solution of bringing desktop level personal computing to a mobile form factor as Redmond's strategy provides. We will delve deeper into each of these strategies in part three of this series. But suffice it to say, though I contend Microsoft's strategy offers the best solution, Apple's and Google's combined 97% mobile share positions their solutions as a "default" to the vast majority of mobile users.

Thus, the success of Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform rests in the weight of the firm's success in the PC space and its 1.5 billion install base. But not likely in the way many may think.

Bridging the PC gap with PC apps

In, Windows Phone isn't dead part VI, we took a deep dive into Microsoft's efforts to build an app ecosystem. This area, of course, is the Achilles heel of Redmond's mobile strategy. It is so profound a problem that even non-techies are known for stating, "Windows Phone has no apps." There is no shortage of apps, or programs, however, in Microsoft's desktop PC environment. As a matter of fact, during Microsoft's Build 2016 Developers Conference Microsoft boasted that there are sixteen million legacy Win32 apps currently available on Windows. That's a lot of apps.

The PC is not dying, but it is changing.

Microsoft is aware that despite declining PC sales due to the increase in mobile personal computing, the PC is not dying — it is changing. This reality is combined with the fact that many personal computing tasks are still optimally facilitated in a desktop space. Personal computing then is both a mobile and static experience. One where tech firms are working to build systems (i.e., Apple's Continuity and Microsoft's UWP with Continuum) that will help users move seamlessly between these environments.

Microsoft realizes that the 16 million legacy Windows apps will always have value. I believe that the company sees them as powerful tools that simply need to be updated, or evolved, to adapt to the new world of mobile and desktop computing. This juncture is where Microsoft's Project Centennial Bridge, which was strategically pushed during Build comes in. In a nutshell, this Bridge can be used by developers to convert their Win32 desktop app to a Universal Windows app that works across form factors.

The arguments regarding parity between certain Win32 apps and their Universal Windows app counterparts can be debated in comments, the forums or social media. Here, I am simply addressing the goal of the initiative. Which is to bring legacy apps to the Windows 10 Universal Platform.

This topic is usually discussed, argued or debated within the context of how this Bridge will bring apps to Windows "phone." The argument that is often made is that no one wants desktop apps on a phone. Fair enough. But let's look at this from another angle.

I see your 1.5 million apps and raise you 1.6 million

First, let's consider the broad picture. Microsoft's ultimate goal is to bring legacy (and other) apps to the Universal Window Platform. This platform incorporates many form factors including the desktop PC environment that, as we discussed, still has a place in personal computing. Legacy apps converted through the Centennial Bridge or desktop app convertor can be coded as universal apps that will work on all form factors and will also be distributed through the Windows Store.

If just 10% of these 16 million apps are converted to Universal Windows apps 1.6 million new apps will have been added to the Window Store. When added to the nearly half million apps already in the Store that would bring the total number of apps to approximately 2 million.

Of course, Apple's and Google's app stores, which currently both boast about 1.5 million apps apiece, will continue their upward trek as the Windows Store is populated with "bridged" apps (if successful). But via Centennial alone, 10% of the available Win32 apps would effectively (numerically) close the app gap.

The Centennial Bridge updates the familiar desktop with apps adapted to a static and mobile environment.

Both the practical availability of these apps via the Windows Store and the symbolic victory the successful execution of this strategy brings would be of great benefit to the platform. Other developers, who have neglected Windows may be encouraged to invest time polishing or building apps for the platform after seeing the potential vitality such an app surge would bring the ecosystem.

If nothing more, this Centennial Bridge strategy succeeds in updating the familiar desktop environment so that programs that we are accustomed to are adapted to a world with both static and mobile computing demands. That takes care of the software. The hardware is the next piece to this puzzle.

You say phone, I say ultra-mobile PC

The question has been asked, "Who want's desktop apps on a phone?" The answer to this rhetorical question is an implied, "no one." The question that I ask is "who wants desktop apps on a PC? The implied response of course is, everyone. I believe, as I posited last year in "Will Microsoft's rumored Surface Phone be a re-imagined Surface Mini?, and in part one of this series that the anticipated Surface Phone will not be a "phone" at all.

See more

I believe what Microsoft is planning to introduce next year will be an ultra-mobile personal computer. I think it will occupy the lowest tier of the Surface family hierarchy. Beneath the Surface Book which doubles as a digital clipboard and the Surface which is both a tablet and laptop, the new Surface will be a pen-focused digital notepad as well as an ultra-mobile personal computer.

Through Continuum, the UWP and Universal Windows apps, this device will allow a user to connect to peripherals to provide a desktop environment. A new feature introduced at BUILD 2016 will even allow this Continuum enabled device to project the phone UI wirelessly to any Windows 10 PC or laptop. (See time mark 6:24 in video below).

Ideally, users will have access to a host of desktop apps converted via Centennial, which will allow them to work as one would work in a desktop environment.

Though this device will be positioned as a PC, its mobility-focused hardware will allow it to accommodate the mobile aspects of Windows 10 and Universal apps. Thus, it will be capable of seamlessly conveying a user's experiences between the desktop and mobile environments.

Of course, this ultra-mobile PC will also make phone calls.

Furthermore, though making phone calls on our current "mini-tablets" ranks sixth below PC-like activity (as I shared in part one of this series) of course this potential ultra-mobile PC will also have telephony.

Wrap Up

Like all of Microsoft's first-party hardware, this new Surface will be an aspirational device for other OEMs to pattern after. And not just phone OEMs. Microsoft's PC partners may be the company's strongest allies in introducing the next phase of mobile computing as they add this device category to their product portfolios. Consider this: Since the PC market is declining due to mobile devices, ultra-mobile PCs are a natural solution. And for phones that have plateaued at a spec race-inspired dead end, ultra-mobile PCs are a natural evolution.

Ultra-mobile PCs are a natural solution to a declining PC market and natural evolution to a plateauing smartphone market.

This strategy is a long play. It involves teaching a 1.5 billion PC install base, bloggers, analysts, developers and the industry at large to rethink what a personal computer can be. This shift will take time, marketing and thorough communication from Microsoft and its partners. That said how OEMs package these ultra-mobile PCs is also critical to how they will be perceived.

Take the image of the Acer Jade Primo below for instance. I don't know about you, but packaged in a box with an accompanying monitor, keyboard and mouse makes me think PC not phone. This form of communication is a good start.

Microsoft has come under a lot of fire for its phone strategy. How history will ultimately categorize their efforts, I don't know. But if my analysis is correct the company has been positioning its mobile strategy to play to its strength. And if there's one thing that we do know, Microsoft knows personal computers.

Part I: This is the age of the mini-tablet

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

101 Comments
  • Thanks, as usual for reading! I think the pieces are coming together around Microsoft's intent to launch a device that is not a phone, but an ultra-mobile Surface that fits more in the PC category of devices than a phone. This area is an area of strength for Microsoft. If this device can optimally take advantage of a declining PC market that has lost ground to smartphones and demonstrate sufficient differentiation from smartphones that makes it appealing in a plateauing smartphone space it could offer MS a measure of success and effectively change the game. Naturally this strategy is not without its challenges, but it positions Redmond to take advantage of weakness in two sectors in a way no other firm is demonstrating to this point. Of course if this is successful other areas put in place to garner more apps for the platform would likely be energized. I also note there is much discussion about bringing full PC apps to the new device, I didn't talk about that here bu this is a great topic: LETS TALK!!!
  • Quite a bit of rambling, hard to follow at times. But interesting nonetheless. I'd actually like to see MS market the Surface Phone as a PC :) . It'll be like trolling apple once again. What can be more satisfying?
  • I am waiting as they burn my mobile bridge. Honestly my Lumia 1020 had a more seamless OS experience compared to my 950. I think Android/Iphone have hit a wall but it won't stop the crazy sales and upgrade behavior driving this thing.
  • Let's combine a dying platform, with a shrinking one and that will certainly win us the day.
  • Best articles on this site always comes from you!! Very good read!!
  • You are amazing.
    From Windows Phone is dead to smartphones are dead.
    You truly are the most optimistic Windows fan. You are like "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated" And you alone are enough. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Jason, based on some posts here and my own understanding before reading your excellent article here, I had thought that Centennial was just about adding the ability to port Win32 apps so they could appear on the Windows Store, but they would still be limited to x86 machines running as Desktop apps. You seem to say that Centennial would at least help converting old Win32 apps to UWP. Could you expand on this? I do see the good in anything that makes the store more attractive -- dev's want customers, so if they can more easily reach them on the Store, then it makes sense to port Win32 to be Store-saleable, and with more apps, the Store itself becomes more attractive to customers meaning more Store traffic, and with more Store traffic, other developers are more likely to make UWP apps, which is in turn good for Windows Phone. But it sounds like you're talking about a more direct path from Win32 -> Centennial -> UWP version of prior Win32 app.
  • I'm wondering about that myself, there's a lot of confusion over Centennial and I've yet to have a chance to read more deeply into it. Posted from my Lumia 950
  • No offence to the WCentral staff, but I don't think they are the right people to ask about this kind of thing, as they lack any technical background in hardware or software engineering. Many of them have trouble correctly interpreting some of MS' more technical blog posts. In a nutshell, the answer is this: Centennial is two things: a tool which developers use to repackage existing non-UWP software (this creates a new installer) which allows said software to be uploaded to and distributed through the Windows Store. a runtime environment that ships with Windows 10, which enables something called application virtualization for non-UWP apps. This is basically a software layer that MS slides in-between such non-UWP Store "apps" and the Windows OS. This allows such software to think it's free to barf all over your filesystem (as Windows software always has), while Windows actually redirects all such file/registry/etc activity to its own encasulated environment. It's basically a little sandbox. This is what allows Windows to install, run, update and cleanly uninstall such non-UWP software as if it were UWP software. That being said, whatever the software was before the Centennial treatment, it still is afterwards. If it was a C++ program using the Win32 API, then it is still nothing other than that. Centennial doesn't automagically turn software into a UWP app. It's just packaged and distributed as though it were a UWP app, which is what makes it compatible with the Windows Store. However, a developer can then start to slowly phase out old parts of the software and replace them with parts that use the UWP, rather than whatever UWP-incompatible APIs they were using prior to that. Whenever anybody claims that Centennial allows you to convert non-UWP software into UWP software, this "easing" is what they are refering to (either that or they don't know what they are talking about). it just jump-starts one of the steps, although it's a very visible one. It might take years to fully transition such an app entirely to the UWP platform, but from a user's perspective it will look like they were much faster since they were able to get it into the store immediately. Of course this does absolutely nothing to enable such software to run on a W10M phone, at least not until it sheds everything that isn't UWP compatible, which still amounts to a "from-the-ground-up" software rewrite. Still, the ability to migrate software to the UWP in stages, rather than having to do it in one fell swoop is a very important capability. None of this has anything to do with x86 vs ARM compatibility. Any pure .NET application (which have existed for decades, and which is all a UWP app is) can run on any CPU, as .NET applications are CPU architecture neutral.
  • Thanks for the detailed overview, you learn something new everyday! It's definitely a great tool and hopefully before the end of the year I'll have time to try it out.
  • @a5cent, thanks! That confirms my original thinking, but you also added a lot more information that I didn't know. Much appreciated!
  • Glad someone finally came out and said this. This should be an article in its own right, or at least used to correct the misguidings of the use Centinnial! Even an entire article devoted to "will Centennial apps run on a phone" was painful to read...
  • Hi Jason, great read again as usual. I was actually at a Microsoft event last night at their UK HQ and one of the things I cringed at was the demonstration of Continuum via a Surface Hub. They really struggled to get the room (Full of technical professionals) to understand that what was shown on the Surface Hub was actually the phone. Many people got the impression that in order to use it you need to essentially RDP into a desktop. Eventually the point came across after a bit of Q&A and people understood in the end. I think you are absolutely right that messaging is key, they really need to perfect their pitch to make it 100% clear that the phone is driving your experience and adapting to a new form factor as you connect different devices. One interesting point was within the Q&A it was asked if eventually they would release a Phone with full Windows 10 running x86, the answer was "I think that is the eventual goal and you can think of this as Continuum v1.0". This really emphasises your analysis that the next stage of evolution is for an ultra-mobile PC rather than a more powerful phone. Really excited to see how this progresses. After chatting with a lot of the employees I'm also more convinced than ever that Satya's mission statement and vision is not just something for PR, these guys seem to live and breath One Microsoft and the growth mindset. As such I think it's inevitable that the only way to go is up, when you have that many talented individuals working together towards a common goal anything can be achieved. Posted from my Lumia 950
  • One thing most consumers don't understand is the "direction of travel" of many of today's key products.  Apple's top-of-the-line iPad Pro is just a phone with a big screen and a (half-baked) stylus while Surface Pro is a full desktop PC in a miniature form.  Both are roughly the same size which confuses many.  Apple's phones are getting bigger while Microsoft's PCs are getting smaller.  This will continue.  Chips will be bigger, better and faster.  But phone chips will never be anywhere near as powerful as PC chips.  Then there's the software.....
  • UMPC is a dead standard
  • I still have a Samsung Q1 UMPC. I always wanted a UMPC that could also function as a phone on ATT or TMo bands.
  • To which extend will bots and AI replace apps? If bots and AI take off and the ultra mobile surface becomes reality, then our smartphones will "look" very different as our current smartphones.
  • Is this sponsored content like the previous series?
  • a look at the future.
    remeber the days, when smartphones were new? same **** was happening. people did not want to switch form a mobile phone. didn't see the value and only flaws. would never expect that huge success.
    no it's rinse and repeat. the people from "yesterday" are (finally) into smartphones now and don't see the shift toworads the next evolutionary step.
    btw. i was a doubter of smartphones and cloud in the beginning, too.
    i won't make this silly mistake again
  • I was a doubter too. Now I am a bit more open minded to new things and I think this is shaping really well. MS should just move and make the big push late 2016 instead of 2017. Apple and Google will catch up if MS doesn't deliver fast and with a solid lineup. What I do not understand is what kind of hardware will this ultra mobile PC will have, is there a suitable x86 processor out there? I didn't think so.
  • I think your thoughts, "is there a suitable x86 processor out there? I didn't think so." is precisely why the push is delayed to 2017 and not this fall. You can't ultimatley be successful by pushing a new paradigm that doesn't exist yet. You can nudge and hint but the pushing has to wait until the hardware catches up and is actually doable. Current technical reality isn't ready quite yet for the vision. 
  • I am not a doubter... MS will succeed at the cloud piece and being the backend... But I believe that they will not have any decent marketshare in consumer focussed devices... Consumer focussed Apps - Kinda... If consumers are interested in Enterprise apps namely Office...
  • I doubt it, it's just an editorial, like Jason usually writes. 
  • If I remember correctly there was a small disclaimer at the end of the last series that MS paid for it, all previous installments lacked it. Advertising and editorial content should be clearly separated, even in blogs. But I may remember wrongly.
  • That's not what it said at all. Here's the text:
    A big thanks to Microsoft for the support they provided for this culminating piece to the Window Phone isn't dead series.
    Support in this case most likely involves giving him access to some of the power point slides and other amterials he used in the piece. It's a very long way from that to a "paid article or advertisement"
  • Idk why ms would sponsor an article that reveals their strategy and allow their peers to catch up even before they have launched themselves in the market
  • Hi Vhyr. No nothing that I've written has been sponsored in any way. My thanks to Microsoft at the end of the Windows phone isn't dead series was in response to thier answers to questions I posed to them not any type of material or financial support. Hope that clears thing up.:-) -------------------------------
    Jason L Ward @JLTechWord
  • All clear :)
  • Microsoft started a revolution by unifying their OS has one it also spark a trend of real mobile computing in your pocket. W10 allows PC makers to full fill that goal but I am worried that Apple and android will do the same with their platforms and with their millions of apps in their eco system might left windows in the dark :(
  • Seriously? I have no clue what you're talking MS did this and that.
  • Kert, Sure, Apple and Android will try to do the same, however, they don't have the "PC" apps on the other side of the equation. While Microsoft has all the apps on the Desktop side, it has the advantage turning Mobile towards ultra-Mobile PC in this instance. They may put their apps on a larger screen, but until they rewrite all those apps (every one), they will never be able to take advantage of the display scaling to use the app differently on a large display. It will always look like a phone app on a big screen, which is a big disadvantage for them. It's why people need a PC to be truly productive. It's why people use an iPad for light stuff, and pull out a PC or Mac for real-world heavy work. It's why Microsoft is in the best position to usher in a new era of ultra-mobile computing that the others are just not in a position to accomplish, and won't be for a number of years. By the time the others start down that path, Microsoft will have already got it rolling and be building the "phone app" side of the business.
  • Man, what a mind job! So, let's see, we have a shrinking platform that have been losing developer support to the mobile space, but somehow that won't matter.  Let's not even mention all the big investments and technologies are currently going into the mobile space.  That's before you take into account that's where the consumers are which translate into where the money to be made are.  Intel just cut 12.000 jobs because that platform is shrinking and there is no reversing it. The beautiful thing about all this is that those folks will get old and be replace with new generation of folks that does not have any tie to the pc space.  Not saying it's going away, just that it will be a niche outside of the corporate world.
  • Lol, "I'll have what those folks are having."
  • ...
  • "May you live in interesting times" - it seems this wish has been granted.
  • I enjoy articles like this but I have the attention span of a hamster... can you guys make these more like a video blog ? This way I can do stuff in the house and listen to what you have to say.
  • Hi, Not a bad suggestion. :-) In the meantime have you tried this app Share to Speech?
    It will read the articles to you while you het things done in the house! I use it quite a bit! Here's the store link: https://www.windowscentral.com/e?link=https2F%2Fclick.linksynergy.co...
    -------------------------------
    Jason L Ward @JLTechWord
  • This is one amazing app. I use it all the time on the road. Similar feature is available in Poki app, if you add the article to Pocket app.
  • @SiwikKiwis How does that feature in Poki compare with Share-to-Speech? I paid for Poki, I really must USE it!
  • @SiwikKiwis I don't suppose you could spare min. to address this post directed at you: http://www.windowscentral.com/smartphones-are-dead-part-ii-evolve-or-die... Any experiences are very much appreciated... Thanks again!
  • Jason, I don’t think you release how far MS are behind on this? What with three reboots of their mobile OS they really don't have much. I'd be happy if my phone could print let alone work as a PC. Had MS turned the phone into a PC then that would be great, the fact is they have created windows RT again, Don't get me wrong. Continuum is clever but it is not a replacement for the PC and judging by MS rate to date they are about 5 to 10 years away from it being a PC. You forget what a PC is to some? A workhorse capable of great things, support of many peripherals, USB scanner, serial printer etc etc. It’s really not just about apps or programs. Now for some the phone or the tablet can replace a PC because someone writes and app and in some cases adds some proprietary hardware e.g a point of sale terminal. Suddenly the old faithful PC is not required anymore because guess what! I can use an Iphone or and android to make sales and I have scanner jacket that I can put the phone into and swipe a credit card. You may remember windows had this with their pocket Pc but they dropped the ball many years ago. So phones are here to stay. PC will decline but will still be needed. The next big thing is in true wearable tech like HoloLens or a true smart watch that works without a connected phone.
  • Maybe wearables are the future (and of course MS has the Band and Hololens), but I think that's less likely than the direction Jason describes MS is heading. Wearables are doing well now, largely due to the surge in interest in fitness devices. They are not used, at least not yet, for any of the big tasks computers and phones are used for: productivity, communications, and entertainment. On the other hand, it's easy to see how users would like to have simpler tech that can do more with a single device, where that device takes advantage of growing availability toward near-ubiquity of keyboard-mouse-screen sets (touch-down stations) for gaining bursts of real productivity with their mobile device. For Enterprise, this is especially easy to see, because it's an instant way for them to save huge amounts of money -- buying and supporting just a phone, instead of a phone + a laptop for each roaming employee. With success in Enterprise, it's a pretty easy segue to consumer space, thanks to XBox, Groove, etc. Unlike Blackberry who never had a viable feature set to transition beyond Enterprise, Microsoft does.    
  • What about those who want mobile productivity, not bound to a fixed place that may or may not have compatible peripherals laying around?
  • You must not be on Windows 10. My 950XL prints just fine. I can even scan to it from my HP OfficeJet over the network. I can hook a hard drive up to it too. My phone is way more PC than any other platform out there.
  • I don't think Android will be able to copy the UWP, not fully at least. Their apps is not meant to be in a desktop environment (ie you can't run adobe cc suite on an android device). Apple can definitely leverage their "MacOS" desktop environment and copy Microsoft. 
  • Apple doesn't NEED to -- they just sell more iPhones - more fans will come...
    soon you will also join the iBorg...Resistance is Futile - you will be Applimilated!
  • That Acer package deal looks and sounds amazing! Posted from Windows Central for Windows 10
    Using the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL for Windows 10 (Redstone)
  • in the price tag of the Lumia Smartphones that support Continuum you can make a pc with 10x the power of the phone and still have money left for a smartphone
  • You're thinking about the consumer space. That's not true with phones and PC's used by enterprise. Enterprise doesn't buy (in general) those $200 PCs, because they change every few weeks. They buy stable platforms that have a development roadmap. These tend to come from Dell, HP, and Lenovo and not change much over a period of about 18 months. That way, they can be supported and maintend by a central IT department with a standard upgrade path. Same with phones -- they don't generally buy the $200 phones that come free with a consumer phone plan. For enterprise, an $800 Continnuum phone is a substantial bargain compared with the alternatives they are forced to spend to buy today.
  • maybe for enterprice but here its say Smartphones are Dead
  • That's totally missing the point. As explained in the article, Microsoft is playing the long game here. Microsoft is no more dead in mobile than Apple was dead in electronics a few years ago (when Microsoft made a $400M investment in Apple to keep them afloat at the time of Steve Jobs return). In order to grow back into consumer space, MS needs a beachhead market, one where they can be dominant. The term comes from the Allies taking Normandy beach during WWII -- a hard fought fight, but with control of that beach, they could spread across the rest of Europe. Microsoft has selected enterprise, because that's where they already have the greatest strengths. If they get enterprise, that means millions of people using MS phones. Those enterprise employees are also consumers. From there, microsoft has the user base that will help it grow and reclaim market share in the consumer space. In other words, enterprise is the path to consumer over the next 2-3 years. It's not a substitute for it.
  • Personally I want a Mobile that can run full fat desktop apps OR apps with the same functionality at least.  I have 8 email addresses using MS Exchange.  I have 4 different email signatures with linkein profiles, facebook, skype icons and links etc.  Using the mobile version is impossible as it stands today, continuum or no continuum as the software is limiting.  The view given in the article is one mans opinion, I believe that technology and chips will get to the stage of running x86 software before continuum is 'ubiquitous' and/or wanted/required by the majority in the business world.
  • Centennial doesn't make a Win32 program into a UWP app. It also doesn't make the program work on any more device types than it already does. What Centennial does is open MSFT up to taking a cut of Win32 program sales.
  • Is this true (the first part)? It was also my understanding that Centennial didn't help creating UWP, just a way to put Win32 on the Windows Store. But I've not seen anything clear on what it does or doesn't do. If Jason is right, it looks like it would help with porting or converting Win32 apps to UWP apps with a touch UI. Note that even if it just about putting Win32 apps on the Store, that's still good for Windows Phone users -- more apps in the store makes the store more of a destination, which in turn makes it more attractive to all app developers. And if starting from scratch, it's presumably easier (especially with the Xamarin acquisition) to build that new app as a UWP, rather than as a Win32 then use Centennial to put it on the store. And of course with more UWP apps, that's more apps for Windows Phone.
  • Yes, it's true. Centennial takes an existing Win32 program, the binary not the source code, and repackages it for distribution through the Store. The repackaged Win32 program is then run in a virtualized environment of some kind to keep it contained for easier uninstall. Converting a Win32 program to UWP requires massive changes in the source code. Centennial has nothing to do with touch (which already works fine in Win32 and is what WinRT uses to interface with the touch hardware).
  • Exactly. Which is why I have still to understand why ANY desktop program developer would actually bother with Centennial or even the entire UWP. Microsoft has yet to present a single truly compelling reason. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Continuum is cool, but is it practical?  Expecting people to carry around a portable keyboard, mouse, docking hub, and calbes so they can plug their phone into a TV is kind of a non-starter.  Might as well carry around a laptop.  So, we really need ubiquitous availability of a docking station like the Jade Primo above.  But do we really expect people to leave a non-functional dock sitting around taking up space when for little or no additional cost it could be a low end workstation?  With the cloud, you shouldn't need to carry your stuff around on your phone and plug it into a docking station.  Implemented right, any workstation, tablet, or other device should be able to instantly transform into your customized desktop/tablet experience using the cloud.  With virtual portability you don't need physical portability.  As much as I hate to say it, Continuum is kind of backward looking rather than forward looking.
  • Continnuum isn't about lugging around the screen and peripherals. It's assuming they are already sitting at the "desk" locations (the "ubiquitous availability of a docking station" you mention). It expects that when you are at a desk, you have access to those, when on the move you just use the phone/tablet without them. That is why Continuum is mainly appealing to enterprise at the start -- those touch-down stations (desks with all the equipment in place and shared by various users based on who's there at the time) are common in many enterprises. For them, Continuum is actually more cost effective that placing a full computer at each station or providing a heavier laptop in addition to providing a separate mobile phone like they are already doing for each staff member.
  • But what do you need the phone for?  Enterprises can just provide shared workstations, and when the user logs in all his documents, settings, and preferences are instantly pulled from the cloud.  The phone is unnecessary, and adds cost and complexity (phone plus dock costs more than cheap workstation).
  • For the target enterprises, a single high-end phone is much cheaper than a laptop plus a phone, which is pretty standard issue for many medium-to-large companies with highly mobile workforces or sales teams who spend a few days on the road and 1-2 days in the office each week. Enterprise does not buy $200 computers, because those are constantly changing to get the cheap parts needed to achieve those prices. Enterprise IT departments select computers on a product roadmap, generally with a minimum lifespan of 18 months, like the business models from from HP, Dell, or Lenovo. Those start at about $800+. They also provide their mobile users with a phone, for another several hundred dollars. For these kinds of enterprises, Continuum is a slam dunk win -- there's nothing else that comes close in terms of value. That's a very smart and reasonable beachhead market, from which Microsoft can then re-enter the consumer space.
  • Or just bring a Nexdock (nexdock dot com) with you. Light, a powerful battery, ports - all in an easy "luggable" form. Your phone becomes the brains of it all.
     
  • If you have to carry one, why not carry an actual Laptop/Ultrabook... It can do much more than a phone can do...
  • Good article and I hope that Microsoft's plan does succeed for owning a WP has made me the laughing stock among my friends(sad but true) and its articles like these that give me hope.
  • Maybe it’s an age thing? None of my friends laugh at my choice of phone. We each choose our devices according to our needs and respect each other’s rights to use whatever suits each of us best. My friends don’t need the integration that using a PC, Surface and Lumia 950 offers me and they choose Android instead. That’s there choice and I respect it in the same way they respect the choice I make. When I reached my 40's and 50's I found that the need to fit in with my peers mattered a lot less than choosing devices that did what I needed them to do on a daily basis.
  • Jason is eloquent at saying the NEAR future promises devices that are shaped and sized similar to what you now call your smartphone, but will literally be packing the computational prowess of your Surface Pro. ("Near" means far too long for most of todays A.D.D attention spans, but for the old folks we are talking months\years.....not decades) While I agree with much of Jason's POV, it's really not hard to since Microsoft has openly revealed MUCH about where they are currently at in this natural strategy. But I am convinced that their competitors are much farther along than they have revealed. Very smart people work at all these places, regardless of what the consumer might think. We do live in remarkable times.
  • Could not agree with you more. Apple and google are still 'trying' to build something like a UWP and continuum but the problem for them is the exact opposite of MS. They have a huge mobile phone share but negiligible PC presence in terms of market shares. Moreover a company like Apple is still more concerend about today's revenues than tomorrow's market shares. So I don't really see them coming up with a competing solution till a time that are forced to. Much like micrisoft with 'smartphones'
  • Enjoyed the read.
  • "Ultra-mobile PCs are a natural solution to a declining PC market and natural evolution to a plateauing smartphone market." why not use old PCs and then jump to smartphone and skip ultra mobile PCs?
  • Your New Continuum 2 Smartphone *IS* you phone & PC
  • I remember in 2007 or 2008, HTC had a ultra-mobile PC that dual booted Windows Mobile and XP.
  • Jason, I had thought that the Centennial bridge was about putting Win 32 apps on the Windows Store with their existing UI. The benefit to developers/software publishers with this would be improved reach to prospective customers. This in turn would help all of us because with a more vibrant, well-stocked store, more users will go to the store by default, rather than through conventional channels. And with more traffic in the store, Microsoft has a stronger case to potential UWP developers that they should put their apps out as UWP apps in the Windows Store in the first place. I had not understood that Centennial helps developers port Win32 apps to be UWP apps where they would naturally include an interface more friendly to touch. But I confess at least some technical ignorance on what Centennial really is and does. Could you correct my understanding or expand on Centennial, perhaps in a future piece?
  • I still maintain: the only way Continnum is going to be useful is if the ability to run Win32 (or WOW64, I don't know exactly how this Windows on Windows thing works) apps on Continnum. Porting all desktop apps to UWP through Centennial just to give something for Continuum is rather pointless (at least right now). If that happens, then we have a killer product in our hands.  I'd like to imagine that Microsoft is closing down the Lumia line and delaying the so-called "Surface Phone" just so that they have enough time to get in more UWP apps (making apps like OneNote, Edge, etc. as UWP) and crack a way to run Win32 on Continuum. Perhaps the Surface phone will come with Intel hardware and not Qualcomm... In any case, all the current Windows phones are quite useless (except 950/XL, Elite X3 and Jade Primo), so I don't see the point of "holding on" to these. 
  • Alcatel Onetouch (and a few others which can't be mentioned yet)
  • All of which you said looks promising though but right now I can't even print a document from my phone. UWP apps are of course required but we need functionality built into OS also. In today's age almost every person is multi-tasking and by doing certain repetitive work on my phone if I can save some time and energy it will definitely make my life much easier.
  • the article, and most of the comments, are not about 'right now' No technology has been perfect from day 1. There are always bugs, missing features, speed and reliability issues etc.  What this is article is about is the future of mobile. Look at it from that perspective.
  • A perfect piece of brainwashing work for WC fanbois and Jason's cult readers and followers.
  • And you really don't think that mobiles will move towards PCs in future? Good luck to you. But atleast 'Jason's cult readers and followers' don't go and troll other portals.
  • The next phones are Windows phones, Mac phones and Chrome phones; i phones and android phones will be dead.
  • devs are quick to ask for a universal platform with more powerful devices, however Microsoft is offering an all in one solution for virtually any device with one app model and they continue to ignore it. Apple nor Google are going to offer such progress anytime soon so move to Windows and bring the users with you, that simple
  • Devs don't "bring the users" with them. If a successful iOS or Android dev said, "I'm moving everything over to UWP", their users would switch to competing apps on iOS or Android.
  • I thought this was a great article. And clearly the comments show what your referring to when it comes to not understanding what all this means. This is how I have understood it for quite some time. The future of personal computing is moving quickly towards a future where your personal computing is done anywhere and every you are.  The PC is not the hub of computing, the phone is not the hub of personal computing. YOU (the user) are the hub.   The idea of keeping a tiny PC  in your pocket that you can deploy when and how you need is great. But I believe it will go further than that. I think that cloud computing is the end game. And I don’t mean storing your data in the cloud.  I talking about computing in the cloud. Where any terminal you can find can be your personal experience. Clearly I'm getting WAY ahead of myself here but that’s where I see it going.   I think Continuum is a fantastic start. Think of your average user. They need email, office productivity apps, social media applications, and general web browsing. A "phone" (ultra-mobile PC) with Continuum is all that average user may need. Of course there are always going to be power users and enthusiasts who want more capability.  But for the millions of folks out there who just need the basics why have multiple devices?   I know myself personally I don’t really use my laptop much at all anymore and my desktop hasn’t even been turned on in ages. I use the display dock connected to my TV when I want a better viewing experience for documents and what not.  And when I do need to access my desktop experience I just remote desktop to run my win32 apps. Yea there is a hiccup here and there and that’s to be expected.  But overall it works well and I am happy with where were at and very excited to see where were going.
  • How about something like a mini-courrier, dual-screen ultra-mobile personal computer/phone than could be used as a phone, a tablet, a notebook and a PC?
  • maybe foldable screen, which can be folded into a 4" for just mobility, expanded to be 8" tablet for reading and 12"/16" for working like a PC
  • I love this series of articles and the author's optimism. I can only hope he's prophetic. A couple of typos to fix so that the whole thing is clearer:  "Shinier" rather than "Shiner" in the link ("Evolve, Don't Iterate: Bigger, Faster, Shiner Isn't Enough"), and the call-out "I see your 1.5 million apps and raise you 1.6 million" should really say "16 million." That last change really puts the issue into perspective, because the main resistance to Win Phones is the "lack of apps." If the naysayers are going to be consistent, then when the 16 million x86 apps are available to us all, they should abandon their iPhones and Androids immediately, having only 10% of the UMPC's (ultra mobile PC, pronounced, "um PC) # of apps. ;)
  • I see the author is saying if even 10% of those 16 million apps get converted to UWP then we'll have 2 million total (the current 400k now plus the 1.6mill), but if x86 apps can run on the UMPC's, then we'll have the full 16 mill to choose from. My money will go toward a full Windows device in my pocket over a UWP device, which is limited.
  • Firstly about the articel itself: I fond it hard to remain concentrated and had to re-read a few lines two to three times to make out what exactly is being said. But other than that, I really enjoy readin Jason's analysis. Dan is also good and sounds very passionate about windows too, but Jason takes it to a different level altogether. I really like the way you bring together different peices and then stich them together to bring out the big pitcure. It all fits in perfectly Coming to this while talk about mobile phones, I completely agree with the assesment that taking any form factor and assuming it will be there forever is foolishness. We don't have to go back pretty long. Back in 2005 and 2006, what was the shape and fuctionality of the mobile phone. Could anyone even imagine it would look like the phones of today? Go back another 15 - 20 years and even mobile phones were treated like they are only for the super rich, and not for common man at all. As technoloyg moves exponentiially, I think we cannot even imagine the form factor it will take beyond 2020. But logically the path will very much be a form-factor agnostic one, where a single device can serve your computing as well as mobility needs. The rhetoric question I would ask is, "If there is a singly device which gives you the mobility of your current phone and productivity of your current PC (without compromising on any aspect of either), will you not want one?"
  •    
  • (is there a way to delete a comment rather than just edit it?) :(
  •   Yes, Microsoft does indeed know "Personal Computers".   But one thing that is less talked about but should be addressed is that Microsoft also knows software - far, far better than the competition.  And the key to the future is - and always has been - software.  Software is the only component of an iPhone that is truly from Apple.  Google try hard to do software but their focus as an advertising sales company frequently means their software ends up looking like a half-finished class project instead of a professional product.  Just compare Google Docs with Office. The large pat of the direction MIcrosoft has taken under Nadel is to flex their software muscles.  Look at Continuum.  Yes, Apple has Continuity.  The difference is massive.  Continuity is nothing but a bandaid solution to fix hopelessly incompatible software architectures.  everything I'm seeing from Microsoft these days is about pushing ahead with their software vision.  And if that means making hardware containers for their software (Surface et al) then so be it.  The technology gap between Microsoft (a software company), Apple (a phone company) and Google (an advertising sales company) is already wide and widening.  When Intel can do a chip with power consuption characteristics similar to ARM and suitable for phones, I'd say it's all over.  The playing field will be leveled and the only difference between the players will be their ability to execute in software.
  • I like the sentence, great article! Posted from here, 1520.
  • Whilst I am in no way a fan or user,  I was surprised to see Jason talking about phone as pc without at least a comment on Ubuntu. That has launched an Ubuntu phone which runs the desktop OS. It isn't as powerful as the failed attempt to crowd fund the Edge,  but it is another view on the phone/portable/desktop convergence. It does mean Microsoft isn't the only platform headed this way.
  • I often ask my friends, what's the use of smartphones with bigger RAMs and faster processors? The Hardware is advancing quickly, but the Software isn't. We already have a 4k display on a Sony phone. So what'll be the use of 8GB RAM etc. when a phone can't even use it? Are they going to allow 4-window multitasking on a 5-inch screen? For me, the answer is definitely Continuum.
  • Mobile computing requires mobility. A PC on a phone or even large table is useless for 90% of the work people currently use laptops and desktops for, mainly because of the lack of a keyboard and mouse. Touch screens just don't cut it when manipulating something like a spreadsheet, and even if you can do what you want the average person would soon become so tired reaching out to a big screen they would pass out. Many of us work 8 or more hours a day using fullsized keyboards with one or more large screens and a mouse and it would take a revolution before that paradigm is going away, so the entire point of having a PC on a phone-sized device makes no sense. For some consumers and some business people, sure, but not for the majority.
     
  • Microsoft is ahead of the game on this big time.  I think they are hedging on Intel also for the new Surface Phone/PC.  This along with continuum is a two way attack at moving you from your iphone/android mess to a Windows 10 phone/pc thingamajigy...
  • OH and MORE Universal Windows apps being annouced DAILY...
  • I want to see an operating system\platform that is designed to integrate in all facet of life - Home, Auto, Remote\Mobile with having to touch a specific application.  Dock it in the car, it augments automotive systems through an API via BT or physical connection for communication, telematics, navigation, etc.  indpendent of OS and universally compatible. Home it integrates with various appliances, HVAC, electrical, gas, water, Audio and Video systems through standard API's that are independant of OS and universally compatible. Mobile - communication voice and video, everything you can do on a PC plus, intergate with Retail and Commericial information (Sales, Coupons, Notifications, Emergency Notification, etc), environment awareness - pedestrian, transit, social. Universal enablement of this functionality that is platform independent is going to be the magic sauces.  Allow user to do what they want with what ever platform they want, that is what I am hoping.  That is inovation - personal and social enablement with minimal interaction preferrable primary - voice activation, secondary - tactile.
  • Research shows that while people browse for things to buy on their mobile phones, they typically go to a laptop or PC to complete the transaction.  Smart phones are more like a PC add-on device than a PC replacement.
  • Mobile computing ecosystem is increasing and MSFT windows phone isn't doing well. If they can push greater phones out and assuming people love this greater phones , then it'd help with the pc. With more apps coming in, I think people would begin to embrace change.
  • There's another missing part though - and it's been weird watching how people can't see this - voice is not a feature of a phone. It hasn't been for a long time. Skype calls.. Google Voice and Hangouts... a lot of us don't actually make phone calls on our cell phones anymore and not through the traditional channels (GSM). The quiet revolution is the slow realisation that voice is just data - just like any other kind of data - and that you don't need a voice + data service - you need a data service. This transition for cellcos and telcos from voice, to voice + data, finally to data is about half way now. Where computer makers are missing the boat is the insistance that there are 'phones' and 'tablets' and 'laptops' and 'desktops' when it comes to voice and data. Almost no desktop comes with cell data built in. Same with laptops. Some tablets have it, but most of them are data only. Only phones have voice + data. And they're all the same chipset. If I have a bluetooth earpiece, I should be able to make and receive a call any where on any device, no matter what size or form factor it has, regardless whether it's a GSM call, a Skype call, a Google Hangouts call.. whatever. I should be able to hand that call off to another device if it's a better choice. If I'm using a desktop system and I get a call on my cellphone, I should get a notification on my desktop. I don't really want to be able to plug my phone into a monitor and attach a keyboard and mouse. That's interesting, but for me, not very useful. The kinds of things I do with my computers need a lot of horsepower and for the things that don't, I want portability. I'd rather have a 10" dock/tablet that could extend my phone like the Asus FonePad.
  • "The ability for a "phone", via Continuum, to be a desktop is indeed not something any other phone operating system can do (yet)." Except Ubuntu mobile has done that for years. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I want my own drone.  Ala Booster Gold or Mr. Terrific. For now I'll take them making my "smart" watch...smart    A phone that could be used as a laptop?  Nothing new to see here...move along...move along 2011: http://fortune.com/2011/01/06/the-motorola-phone-that-becomes-a-laptop/ 2012: http://techland.time.com/2012/02/27/asus-padfone-phone-becomes-tablet-be... 2014: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2458832,00.asp 2015: http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/05/samsung-patent-android-phone-becomes-a-...