Microsoft is ready to get back into smartphones

Satya NadellaChinaFotoPress via Getty ImagesMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft just demonstrated a full-blown version of Windows 10 Enterprise edition on a Qualcomm ARM chip, the chips that power smartphones and tablets.

This means that Microsoft hasn’t given up on the mobile market and now has a fix for the reason it keeps failing: a lack of apps.

A full-featured Windows 10 ARM phone (or tablet) will be able to run all the Windows 10 software, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson said in a blog post.

And not just Microsoft apps, like Office apps, but Adobe apps like Photoshop or PC games.

Plus, it won’t be necessary to buy special versions of Windows apps. The same actual desktop version will work (in geek speak, Microsoft has built-in x86 emulation technology to the ARM Windows 10 version).

This also means that all those companies that already manufacture ARM devices, Samsung, LG, Motorola, ZTE, HTC, Asus, HP, can much more easily add a Windows 10 device to their offerings.

And, it sets the stage for a Microsoft Surface phone. (Intel, who missed mobile alongside Microsoft, basically gave up when it ditched its plans to release new smartphone chips last May.)

Microsoft has been inching in this direction for a while, with a feature it included in Windows 10 called “Continuum.” This lets you plug-in a monitor and keyboard into certain Windows phones and run Windows 10 software, just like the phone was a desktop. The problem is, you could only run a limited number of apps that way, so it was more like a gadget feature than something a professional could really use as a true PC.

By bringing Windows 10 to ARM, Continuum gets a lot more useful.

The last time Microsoft tried to create an operating system for Qualcomm ARM devices, it failed miserably, for the same reason, a lack of apps. It was called Windows RT and it only ran a subset of Windows apps and Microsoft ultimately killed the project.

But Microsoft’s success with the full-featured Surface PC is a good omen for this new attempt to get a piece of the mobile pie.

Microsoft has brought pen technology, augmented reality with HoloLens, artificial intelligence like Cortana, and biometric security with Windows Hello to Windows 10, making it an exciting, feature-filled operating system. Plus, Windows 10 has features that allow enterprises to manage W10 mobile devices with the same software and technology they already use to manage their PCs, which is a big deal to them.

Will people ditch their iPhones and Android phones overnight for Windows 10 devices? Probably not. But over time, professionals who use Windows should be tempted to try a device that puts all the stuff they need for their jobs, plus a lot of fun stuff, in their pocket.

Here’s the demo.


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