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Desktop apps on ARM chips is Redmond's new mobile trick


Microsoft is bringing a full version of Windows 10, complete with desktop app support, to ARM chipsets. The software giant demonstrated Windows 10 running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip today, complete with HD video playback, Adobe Photoshop support, and Microsoft Office. Microsoft expects ARM-based laptops to be the first to adopt this new version of Windows 10. Traditional x86 desktop apps will be emulated, making the experience seamless to the end user. Laptops might be the first, but it’s easy to see past that and realize that this means Microsoft is about to turn a phone into a real PC.

Microsoft surprised everyone with Continuum for phones last year, a feature of Windows 10 that lets phones turn into a PC. Continuum makes use of Qualcomm chipsets and Windows 10’s new universal apps to scale from a phone screen up to a monitor and includes features that make it feel like a full-blown PC. While it might look like a PC, you can’t currently run apps like Chrome or Photoshop, and it’s reliant on developers creating universal apps. Microsoft is making Continuum a lot more powerful next year, thanks to desktop apps.

I’ve used Continuum many times, but its lack of apps mean I always end up switching back to a real PC if I need to do anything more than basic web browsing or Word documents. It feels like a gimmick right now, but a suite of desktop apps that I’m used to using could make it a lot more appealing. There have been persistent rumors that Microsoft was working on an Intel-powered Surface Phone, but Intel’s cancelation of its Atom processors put those rumors to rest. It now seems likely that any Surface phone or mini tablet that Microsoft may create will have an ARM chipset and the emulated desktop apps required to turn it into a PC.

Turning a phone into a PC is something that the industry has explored before. Motorola attempted it with the Atrix, Asus created a variety of PadFones, and Canonical has experimented with Ubuntu phones turning into PCs, but Microsoft’s dominance in PCs means it’s the only company likely to pull it off at scale. Microsoft isn’t discussing its exact mobile plans for Continuum with desktop apps, but the company is ready to support ARM processors for devices with small screens, large screens, and no screens at all.

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