Microsoft’s Continuum for phone software lets you connect a phone like the HP Elite x3 or Microsoft Lumia 950 to a keyboard, mouse and display and use the phone like a laptop or desktop. But there are some major limitations: you can only run Universal Windows Platform apps, which rules out the vast majority of Windows software. And currently you can only view one app at a time.
But it looks like Dell was working on a phone that would have solved thoseatom problems, because it was a handheld device that basically had the guts of a cheap laptop… including an Intel processor that could handle legacy Windows software.
Development of the phone was allegedly canceled, and it’s not clear if Dell or any other device maker will try again.
Update: Blass has shared more details. The device was part of a new system called Dell Stack, which would have included a smartphone with a Kaby Lake-Y processor and support for tablet, notebook, and desktop docks.
So here’s what seems to have happened: Dell was working on a phone with an x86 chip from Intel. It would have supported Continuum software… and not necessarily the stripped down Continuum for phone version that runs on today’s handsets.
Instead, you may have been able to use it more like a Windows tablet. When holding the phone in your hands you get a touch-friendly user interface with full screen apps and a full-screen Start Screen. Connect a laptop dock or desktop dock and you get a Start Menu, taskbar, desktop, and support for running just about any Windows app in a windowed mode.
And then Intel announced it was discontinuing that chip family.
While Intel has continued to produce low-power processors for tablets, desktops, and Internet of Things products, the company is pretty much giving up on the smartphone market.
Theoretically, Dell could have released a device with one of the latest Intel Cherry Trail or Moorefield processors, but the upgrade path would have looked bleak… and it’s possible that Dell may not have been pleased with the performance and/or efficiency of those solutions.
For months there have been rumors that Microsoft is working on its own Surface Phone which may also have an Intel processor and Continuum support. But it’s not clear if that device met a similar fate to Dell’s discontinued phone… or if Microsoft may still be working on that product (if it ever existed in the first place).
Right now, the closest you can get to a Windows phone capable of running desktop Windows software is a device like the HP Elite x3… which is marketed at business customers not only as a phone that can run Universal Windows Apps in a desktop mode, but which also supports an optional service for enterprise users that lets you run desktop-style Windows apps… via virtualization. Pay a monthly fee and you can login to a remote server to run mission-critical software that wouldn’t otherwise be available on a phone.
Or you could look to Ubuntu smartphones, some of which are already capable of running desktop software through a feature called Convergence… but which generally don’t have nearly as many phone-friendly apps as Android, iOS, or even Windows Phone.