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WinHEC

Mobility

Mobile has been a disruptive technology for almost a decade now. It shifted the fortunes of a number of companies; turning some into kings while making others paupers. Mobile devices have overtaken personal computers as the way most people compute.

Think about it; all the task we have associated with computing; gaming, doing bills, watching movies; is now done on devices we keep in our pockets. The mobile market grew exponentially faster than the PC market and has in many ways made the PC look like the mainframe; a relic for the back office.

Given the changes it becomes clear why Microsoft did a reboot with Windows Phone and also why despite failing to catch on Windows Mobile is still with us.

Continuum_Concept

Continuum Machine

Back at the beginning of Windows 10, Continuum was a feature that simply described modal use; tablet mode/pc mode and mobile/desktop-like experience. The Phone side of Continuum was always more intriguing because it was an adrenaline shot to a platform that had/has been given up for dead.

However as a feature Phone Continuum  lacked features to make it’s desktop truly functional. The feature resembled Windows RT; only one app can be seen at a time along with the additional restriction to apps built to UWP guidelines. This changes with the next update for Windows 10. The Creator’s update will allow for windowing so multiple apps running on screen along with improvements for wireless connections. Add to this new reports of x86 emulation, allowing users to natively run desktop applications, and the idea of a phone replacing a computer for periods become feasible.

I have to say these latter features have shown up faster than expected given the last update to Continuum was around the Xbox controller. I should also note this makes the case for accessories like HP’s Lap dock for the Elite X3.

Design in Neon

Right after the Thanksgiving holiday it was reported that Microsoft was working on a new design language for Windows 10 codenamed Neon. While details are scarce Neon appears to a effort to improve and streamline the overall look and behavior of Windows.

For Mobile this will most likely mean improvements to the Start Screen and Continuum desktop experience. Neon may also pave the way for new devices like tablets and Chromebook style notebooks.

Focus on the Enterprise and Services

The last two years have seen Microsoft retrench its mobile efforts (much to the acrimony of users). It has been a period of slumping sales and write offs as Microsoft moves the mobile focus toward enterprises. Much of the announced and known information around Windows Mobile drives this home; x86 emulation and Continuum are primarily feature sets businesses probably asked for.

Microsoft is also continuing to push UWP to be the replacement for .exe and pure x86. Initiatives like Project Centennial are trying to put Windows developers on a platform path toward the Universal Windows Platform. They are also working on features to make UWP as powerful as x86 without too much baggage.

So what does all this mean?

Well right now little.

The Continuum features will arrive sometime in the next year and a little before for those using the Windows Insider program. Any additional features, especially something like Neon, are coming in another update codenamed Redstone 3 in late 2017. And with what we know there are still questions. For example what will be the consumer facing features? Will there be new partners for hardware and software?

According to reporting done by Mary Jo Foley Microsoft is working with Qualcomm on getting the emulation feature working on their newer chipsets. Which is fascinating and proves the company is still committed to mobile. However this work is happening on a platform with no real pull in mobile (and statically no real share of the market). So where does it go from here?

2017: The Slow Return of Windows Mobile

Recently both Microsoft’s CEO and it’s head of Windows have been asked about mobile. The questions follow the usual script in which Microsoft acknowledges it missed mobile and that yes, they are committed to Windows Mobile and mobile hardware. Now Ms. Foley asked the million dollar question: Why bother?! I mean Windows Phone is dead and most want Redmond to follow the list of the former mobile leaders on the path to wherever Android is going. Or why not quit and restart like Nokia.

“When you stop investing in these things, it’s super hard, super, super hard to restart. And at Microsoft, we have a few of those examples where we stopped.” This was the response from Windows chief Terry Myerson. He also cited the ARM chipset and cellular as additional reasons for mobile continued existence.

In my opinion I think Microsoft understands where it is in mobile. I remember an interview done with Microsoft’s Chief Marketer in which he talked about needing to create something that would be truly compelling for phone buyers. His statement was echoed by Myerson and Nadella. This acknowledgement that whatever is coming needs to be truly compelling and groundbreaking to overcome Windows Mobile shortfalls.

So in 2017 expect to see features and functionality added that 1) closes some feature gaps with iOS and Android 2) Bring parity between mobile and pc 3) Entice more hardware partners to join and 4)Provide better user experiences. This will occur alongside updates for the PC so don’t look for a mobile specific update, yet.

Now beyond that I feel like long term Windows mobile’s future will be in helping Microsoft define the future of mobility. I’m talking about something that may go beyond the best guest work around mobile’s future form; or maybe just move the needle to where most think its going. This includes Windows mobile finally running on tablets and possibly laptops similar to Chrome OS. And even then this is leaving out aspects like AI, bots, mixed reality, and inking.

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This week Microsoft re-launched it’s hardware conference, WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Community), in Shenzhen China. WinHEC is aimed at PC and Phone makers along with companies working on software and drivers.

In the past WinHEC was a showcase for hardware collaborations between Microsoft and its partners and new initiatives that the software company wanted to push. WinHEC’s return comes as Microsoft prepares to launch Windows 10 across phones, tablets, and PCs and the company needs to get makers on board. Microsoft finds itself having to hustle in mobile and recalibrate in the PC market.

The choice of Shenzen is appropriate as its one of the key manufacturing hubs for almost all the tech we purchase. This conference will be one of four held across Asia aimed at getting companies on board for Windows 10. So what was shown at this WinHEC? Well here are the biggest stories.

New Hardware

At the opening session Windows chief Terry Myerson announced that Lenovo would be launching a series of Windows 10 phones later in the year. The phones will be sold in China as is most of Lenovo’s branded phones. The bigger news (which was tempered) was a pilot program between Microsoft and the hot Android maker of the Xiaomi. The two companies are working on porting a ROM of Windows 10 to Xiaomi’s Mi4 phone. Xiaomi’s VP Hugo Barra called the announcement an experiment between Microsoft and the Mi community. According to sources if this becomes popular Microsoft may offer this option to others. Either way running Windows on an up and comer like Xiaomi is a big deal.

Save the Date

So we now know when Windows 10 will launch; sometime this summer. Myerson revealed that summer is the end goal for the release. Windows 10 will launch in 190 countries and in 111 languages. The only question will be can Microsoft achieve delivering the new OS in time. Right now the company is in the middle of testing Windows 10 across phones and PCs taking user feedback and one has to ask if doing this will delay release.

The Percision TouchPad

With Windows 8 Microsoft introduced native support for multitouch not just for screens but also for touchpads. A few companies got on board like HP to integrate it. The Percision touchpad was introduced with Windows 8.1 and added additional support. With Windows 10 Microsoft is going all in on making touchpads work like Apple’s with more options and gestures.

USB-C

There was a number of sessions on support for USB-C, the successor for current USB technologies. USB-C is faster than current USB technologies and also easy to plug in. USB-C has been in the news lately because it will be on the new adjectiveless MacBook and the refreshed Chromebook Pixel. USB-C is part of new docking initiatives that include Intel’s WiGig (a form of wireless docking).

Log On with your FACE

Last week, before WinHEC, Microsoft announced Windows Hello. Hello is a new way to login into Windows using facial recognition and (I think) fingerprint. Microsoft also announced Windows Passport which allows programs to use Hello as way to securely sign into websites and apps.

There was plenty more announced but for now these are the big headlines.