Microsoft has two different operating systems that run on ARM-based chips: Windows Phone and Windows RT. So far Windows Phone has been designated as a smartphone-only platform, with Windows RT running on tablets and notebooks.
But there might not be as much of a distinction in the future. Speaking at a Financial Analyst Meeting this week, Microsoft VP Terry Myerson hinted that the company sees a more of a unified platform for the future, with software that can run on a range of devices.
Does that mean Windows RT and Windows Phone will merge? Or that the distinctions between the two will be trivial? It’s not exactly clear at this point. But it seems likely that Microsoft wants to make it easy for developers to write apps that can run not only on x86 or ARM devices, but also on phones.
You might still have separate operating systems for phones, ARM tablets, and x86 devices in the future — but it might not matter which OS you’re running as long as you have the same user experience across devices.
Of course — that was kind of the promise of Windows RT in the first place: It’s just like Windows, but it runs on ARM. Unfortunately there’s a big difference between Windows and Windows RT: the latter doesn’t support third-party desktop apps, which means that the vast majority of software written for Windows won’t run on a Windows RT device.
As more developers latch onto the new “Modern” style apps that can run on both Windows RT and Windows, it makes sense to extend support to Windows Phone… and to enable apps written for Windows Phone to run on devices with larger screens.
But you probably still won’t be able to run classic DOS games on your phone… not without a DOSbox emulator, anyway.
Microsoft’s vision of a more unified platform makes a lot of sense — and it could theoretically give the company an edge over offering from Apple or Google. Both companies continue to offer separate operating systems and app ecosystems for desktop and mobile devices.
But it’s still not entirely clear why anyone would buy a Windows tablet with an ARM-based processor these days, whether it’s running Windows RT, Windows Phone, or something else. The main advantage ARM-based tablets had up until recently was low power-consumption (which enabled long battery life and thin and light designs).
These days, tablets with Intel’s new Bay Trail processors can run for 10 hours on a charge and offer thin, light, and fanless designs — plus support for full Windows software. And they sell for Android tablet-like prices. So why choose an ARM tablet that can’t run legacy Windows apps?