Microsoft is showing off software that could let you use a next-gen Windows Phone as a desktop computer. Windows 10 includes a feature called Continuum that allows the same device to be used in different modes.

Microsoft had previously shown Continuum working on 2-in-1 tablets, allowing apps to switch from notebook to tablet mode when you detach a tablet from its keyboard dock.

Now the company is also showing Continuum on phones: allowing you run Office or other Windows apps on a big screen.

continuum for phone

Just hook up your phone to an external display and connect a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and your Windows 10 phone becomes a desktop computer.

Universal Windows apps such as Outlook, Word, and Excel can run in a full-screen environment and you can use standard Windows shortcuts such as Ctrl+c or Ctrl+v to copy and paste, or Alt+Tab to switch between apps.

w10 continuum phone

What happens if you get a text message or phone call? You can take that call or read that message on the phone without interrupting the action on the external display… and you can even copy data from your phone using the tuchscreen and paste it into a spreadsheet or email message (or anything else) with a Ctrl+v.

Dual-screen features will even let you use Office on a big screen while your kids watch videos on the phone screen (or vice versa).

You’ll only be able to run apps that are available through the Windows Store — so Continuum won’t make a phone into desktop computer capable of running classic desktop apps (unless their developers convert them to Universal Windows apps). But if Microsoft succeeds in getting more developers to bring apps to the Windows Store, that might not matter much.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore says Continuum for phones won’t be possible on existing devices… it requires next-gen hardware that’s capable of driving dual displays. But I doubt Microsoft would have spent time developing this software if there wasn’t new hardware on the way that would take advantage of it. After all, the company does make its own smartphones these days.

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45 replies on “Some Windows 10 phones can also be PCs (just add a display, mouse, and keyboard)”

  1. I like this idea a lot! And I was wondering — maybe there’d be a use for a “dumb tablet” also to work with a phone in a similar way? A touch screen, super slim and light and cheap, that uses your phone as its brain? I often need to carry both my phone and tablet because only one of them has cell service.

  2. One of the important elements in smartphone video out is resolution. My experience with Android and BlackBerry video out has been cartoon size icons and text that don’t make efficient use of screen real estate. An excel optimized for smartphone viewing, output to a monitor, isn’t nearly as usable as the same one opened on a desktop OS.

    1. Also looks like in the video they are using miracast for video and I wonder what device they are using and when they will introduce another flagship class device…

    2. As far as I understand, the idea is to get a desktop interface when you connect your phone to an external screen. That way, your get the same experience than on real desktop PC.

  3. * a Windows RT desktop… which is like a cool party trick to brag to your friend once, and then hoping nobody ask questions and realize how lame in reality that is. You pretty much get the same functions connecting an MHL enabled Android phone to a screen (even alt+tab works!), which has been around since the dawn of time (or at least Android 4.0).

    1. They mentioned a lot more keyboard shortcuts than just Alt+Tab! While Android doesn’t have any apps that can function like they should if they were actually designed to work on a desktop system… Using a app made for a phone on a desktop is a much different experience!

      While RT was far more limited… you couldn’t add any other desktop apps than what came with the system! This solution at least is only limited to universal apps, which can be added to and isn’t locked down… and you could also use those same apps on the actual desktop Windows 10 as well giving for far more overlap than RT ever had…

      The only question is whether or not the developers will jump on board or continue to wait and see… but this clearly has a lot of potential and is more than anyone else is really doing…

      Ubuntu Touch is the closest right now but it’s limited too and doesn’t provide a direct bridge to the traditional desktop… and is presently limited to an even shorter list of apps…

      1. Actually a lot more keyboard shortcuts work on Android too. Copy-paste, Win button mapped to the app list, special keys to bring up the calculator or music player, etc (I have a foldable BT keyboard and tried to use my phone like this for a few weeks). But that’s besides the point.
        The new W10 universal apps are really nice, but don’t replace the classic desktop apps. It’s now easier for a developer to build an universal app, that’s running on a phone just as well as on a desktop. But the thing is, ‘modern’ apps are frown upon, if a developer have the choice to build a ‘modern’ app or a classic desktop app, 99% will choose the desktop, even thou both would run on a classic desktop PC and the modern has the benefit of running on the phone too. Reason is most people view ‘modern’ apps as fancy widgets with inferior functionality (and sometimes they are right, like Evernote touch vs classic Evernote), and rarely ever ventures to the start screen let alone launch some fancy full-screen widget from there. Win 10 might change that in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on it in the short term. For now, ‘modern’ apps are really just widgets, and who would like to work on a platform where _all_ your apps are like that?

        1. Mapping buttons is not the same as native support, nor are all the shortcuts the same as Windows desktop on Android, which leaves those used to the desktop with a learning curve, which W10 mobile pretty much promised they won’t need… MS specifically stated users can use all the familiar shortcut commands!

          While Modern/Metro apps are only frowned upon because no developer has yet really gotten serious on creating any really good ones… There’s lots of features developers have yet to use but it didn’t help that they could only market them to a limited market with Windows 8, which still kept the mobile separate!

          Windows 10 finally changes this and opens up the market for developers to a much larger potential user base that’ll make developers much more likely to take the platform more seriously…

          Sure, the comfort zone for traditional desktop developers are still gong to be desktop Win32 apps but not all these mobile devices will be limited to just the mobile Windows 10… Tablets like the Surface 3 are finally opening up to the full desktop now that they finally getting rid of the locked down and limited RT, just to name one example…

          While developers for mobile platforms can now look beyond just the small market share WP has managed up till now and Universal apps means a developer doesn’t need to develop separate versions of their app for each platform range anymore… giving them more bang for their effort…

          The main thing to warn users about is that it still won’t change overnight… early adopters shouldn’t expect all the benefits right away but this definitely is starting to look like the start to a game changer and opens them up to some real improvements over the next year or two…

          It also helps that they’re also going to make it easy for developers to port their Android or iOS apps to this platform as well, which in turn can get them to stick around long enough to more seriously consider developing directly for the platform…

          There’s still a question of how good the economics of the system will be but as long as MS doesn’t impose unreasonable demands on the Windows App Store then the developers should finally start coming and that’s what the platform really needs to improve…

    1. Most people did see it, yet it never happened. No budget. MS has its own budget and have no problem making it happen, if the want to. Still this feature is just speculation and might not be on their roadmap.

  4. If you are a developer, there are three platforms, iOS, Android and Win Universal App. Which one will you choose? I think the chance is 60% iOS, 38% Android and 1 to 2 % for Win Universal App.

    1. I wouldn’t put the Win so low… remember that universal apps will also work on the desktop PC’s and will eventually even include the XBox One, etc. and that’s a much larger market share to appeal to developers than WP alone ever had…

    2. As an app developer, you should develop your app for iOS and Android at least. Windows Phone is usually not worth the work (user base is too small).
      If Microsoft keeps the promise to make Android applications easily ported to Windows, it may become interesting.

      1. Phones will not make people port apps. Desktop will. And when that happens, guess what. Same apps show up in the phones as its same ecosystem and OS. Its a good idea to passivly get apps to the phone too.

    3. Actually iOS first is not even the case nowadays, some apps are Android first.
      And depends on country too. Seems US is the only country where iOS almost same as Android, elsewhere Android usage is much higher (upto 70% vs <20% iOS) and there are also countries with 8-15% WinPhone.
      WinUniversal would even be much bigger with ANY Win10 device being supported incl. desktops, laptops, tablets AND XBOX.

    4. As an app developer, I ignore ios due to the fact it is faster to develop for android, more support for developing in that system, cheaper to develop (free) for android, and the market you reach out to cannot even be compared to the much smaller ios market. Apple is the largest mobile manufactor, but not that much larger than say Samsung, which is just one out of maaaany android manufactors. Thus Android is the best market, for now.
      With Windows10 and astoria, I can hit an even greater market than android, by targetting all win10 desktop PC with metro apps without learning metro. Those apps will work for their phones too while I at same time have the app on the android market.

      People forget who they talk about. Its Microsoft. If any company knows how to change the world and spin the market around, they do. They did so many times before.
      Im saying this as a anti-Ms, pro-Linux guy for over 15+ years now. I bought Surface Pro 3 cuz MS is the only company that could make me an usable tablet with desktop OS instead of something that should stay on a phone. They knew what people want. Now I actually am in love with win10 on my sp3, me and other Linux persons who stopped waiting for any somewhat working real linux desktop for tablets. MS, out of all companies, the one I disliked most, won atleast me back and probably others. The last weeks I have seriously considered getting a win10 phone as next upgrade. Before I got the sp3 three months ago, I would claim anyone insane who tried telling me that could ever happen.

      They are playing their cards just right and do what others dont dare to or lack budget for, because people want this regardless who makes it.
      Their app market will grow, I am sure.

      1. There is no doubt Win10 is success comparing with Win 8. My point is that it takes a at least two years before Win 10 app to have the critical mass while the app market has already been saturated. If we want some to run on win 10, probably a HTML 5 app / web app instead of native app. Actually, the market is looking for a solution for cross platform app, it is very expensive for a startup to have both iOS and Android app developed at the early beginning. Having one more platform will cost more.

        1. Well, apart from running ios and android apps as if they were native windows apps, they also will support win32 programs to be ported as apps, and html5 developers wants a 2 billion user store for their apps, no problem 🙂

  5. If this was 10 years ago it would have been amazing, when local computing was the standard. But now that everything sync’s with the cloud this type of computing will be niche at best. Only those people stuck in the past will probably be interested in it.

    1. If you feel safe using cloud based applications to access your sensitive data using a hostile computer – go ahead and do it.

    2. you still need the same app/program even if your data lives in the cloud. Not much worth if you cannot use or even access it 😉

  6. If their office and outlook applications will be indistinguishable from the desktop variants, AAPL holders should start shaking now. It will take the phone market into a place Apple never dominated and in order to keep their phone market domination Apple will need to win the PC market.

    1. People want to use Office apps on their phones? News to me. It’s going to take a lot more than that to dislodge Apple from its perch. I doubt they’re even breaking into a mild sweat. Also, if you believe that Apple needs to win the PC market over MS, then I don’t believe you understand the way Apple operates.

      1. I’ll give you 2 examples:

        1. My kids need Word and PowerPoint for their school because this is what they are using at school and this is what they learned to use. What kind of phone should I buy them? The one that can help them do their school duties or the more expensive one that doesn’t?

        2. My company provides cellphones to the employees. Currently it provides iPhones. What kind of phone should my company provide if we are using Office like crazies all the time at work?

        What I’m saying is this: If MS can deliver this move correctly it will make people think that MS phones are tools while painting iPhones as expensive toys.

      2. Office is just what MS is providing out of the box… Universal Apps are basically just Metro/Modern Apps that can now function as desktop apps and can be made by any developer!

        Right now, most mobile devices limit users to a phone or tablet optimized interface but a lot of people also carry a laptop because they still need desktop for productivity but this could eliminate the need for many to have to lug around a desktop for productivity…

        What’s also nice is you can still use the phone as a phone while doing this but is one of the main reasons why it needs more advance phones than traditional WP devices… and we won’t really see this being taken advantage of until the new Premium Mobile Windows 10 Phones start coming out…

        1. So you think it’s easier to carry a mouse/keyboard/monitor than just a laptop?

          This is just another MS pipe dream. Here we are half decade later & iOS/Android/ChromeOS are fully entrenched while MS is STILL modifying and promising that Modern Metro is the future. By the time they actually get it right Google/Apple will already be moved onto something else.

          1. No, it’s easier to just dock your phone instead of carrying around a full laptop, users would already have the set up, or just carry a much lighter laptop dock!

            The benefits of using the same apps across multiple devices are real, which is why they keep on trying… Really, projects like Ubuntu Touch wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a real potential market for this type of solution…

  7. This could be just huge but it will take some work and a fair bit of new hardware. The two wireless screen thing – brilliant, but of course you need displays that take wireless input. I’m a pretty solid Android person but this is something where I would have to consider a Windows phone. Ubuntu had this kind of one-device convergent brilliantly outlined and then . . . well, for the past year or two, deafening silence. This could be a killer strategy for getting back on the smartphone roadmap for whoever manages to make it work. There’s no doubt a phone is perfectly powerful enough to run a desktop, getting more so every generation, so it’s the obvious thing and someone is going to get this right eventually. MS has been moving toward converging their OS for some time, hardware ought to be the next step. Really really smart. Since Nadella has taken over, MS seems to be working in some very intelligent and innovative directions.

    Also this could make Android and Ubuntu folks get off their bums and start to erase the lines between desktop and mobile OS’s. Don’t really see Apple doing this (until they have to), as they just seem more vested in selling you more devices rather than fewer.

    1. buy a Miracast and any (HDMI) Screen is wireless, so that is not a problem I think

    2. “I’m a pretty solid Android person but this is something where I would have to consider a Windows phone.”
      I didn’t expect to be thinking this, but I am now too. This new Microsoft really is becoming exciting! What a shock that is!

  8. But isn’t Microsoft letting developers submit desktop apps on the windows store?
    If the phone had an intel processor, couldn’t it run full fledge desktop apps?

    1. They sort of zoomed past that quickly, but my sense was that developers could submit Win32 apps they would only be available for desktop-style system.

      Win32 apps will be packaged in such a way that they would install and uninstall cleanly and tap into Windows Store features such as billing… but that doesn’t mean they’ll be Universal Windows apps which can run on devices with small screens or ARM-based chips.

      I could be wrong… and wouldn’t mind being wrong at all. But that was the sense I got.

    2. The processor would have to be the type that can support full Windows… Intel phone SoCs don’t support full Windows…

      The Intel SoFIA SoC (x3) isn’t even fully Intel but mostly based on ARM technology… it’s even produced on the 28nm FAB…

      So it has to be a tablet range or higher SoC but most of those won’t find their way into a phone size device MS is emphasizing the phone to 7″ small tablet range for the mobile Windows 10 and the desktop for 8″ and larger devices…

      Though, there’s always room for exceptions but they would be pretty rare… However, there is a rumor that a designer for MS has spec’ed a proposed Lumia phone design for premium range with the new Cherry Trail x7 SoC… Similar to the one being used in the Surface 3 tablet… but it won’t be cheap…

  9. Might help Windows Phone gain share since Google for years is just watching the grass grow instead of getting Android on all screen sizes. Google needs to wake up from this coma that’s been lasting for the llast few years.
    Anyway , good job M$ for providing a useful feature.

    1. Google’s not in a coma — they just don’t happen to be following the strategy you believe they should be following. They’re promoting cloud computing — i.e. Chrome, Chromebooks and Chrome OS — as their desktop strategy. Android is not meant to be a Windows replacement.

  10. I keep waiting for someone to knock this out of the park. I’ve wanted this kind of device convergence since the Motorola Atrix with Webtop dock. Ubuntu Phone promises it but where’s Ubuntu Phone? ;/

  11. I hope this is successful and we see more universal applications that change their UI based on mode. You get the usual gimped UI on the phone and a robust desktop class UI when docked.

    1. Microsoft has really started thinking outside of the box. I never thought I’d ever say this but, “Microsoft is coming up with innovative ideas and exciting products.”

    1. Actually it looks like Continuum will be limited to Universal apps, so you can’t just take an old program, install it on the phone and use it in desktop mode.

      1. ATOM x7 is the full x86 SoC that could literally run the desktop!

        There are some indications that MS may release a phone with a x7 instead of ARM SoC and that opens up the possibility of a full crossover device…

        They would only be stuck on the mobile version if using either ARM or the lower end x3 ATOM SoCs that are meant for phones type devices only…

        1. But then it would be Microsoft wanting to restrict it. They want more apps for Universal.

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