Ever since I got to play with my dads Nokia 9210i Communicator back in the early 2000s I’ve always been searching for the mobile experience that could evolve upon request. That could be a small phone, but when you needed a little extra it could adapt. The 9210i Communicator was something like that and I’ve been searching for an upgraded experience ever since.
Upon this day I have been through phones running Windows Mobile (or was it PocketPC Phone Edition of some sort?) and the last phone I bought that was anything like the 9210i Communicator: Nokia N900. I loved the device. It had a full keyboard and ran Linux. I could use the package manager and download more hardcore software, and it had pretty much (at that time) every possible way of connecting to people, networks and devices. Eventually I had to switch it with something more modern that allowed me to run the apps I had started developing for Android.
The market had been quiet for quite some time, then Microsoft showed up with their Surface and Surface Pro tablets that ran Windows 8. The Pro being a fully fledged computer running on Intel chipsets, with full USB port and a 10,8″ multi-touch screen and add the Type or Touch Cover and you had a laptop. Finally I thought; now we’re getting somewhere. In fact, I own Surface, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 3 and a Surface 3 to this day. It has really come to be the type of device I’ve wanted for many years. It is a beautiful tablet that can evolve into a laptop (attach the keyboard) or a desktop (dock it) and the experience adapts for its usage.
The Surface is a great step on the way for the experience that I’ve sought for all these years. It’s still not quite there, but Microsoft seems to be heading in that direction. At the Xamarin party the night before the Build 2015 conference started I talked with a Microsoft employee, and I got to talk about this concept with him. After I told him my story, he smiled and said “It’s not quite ready, but it will come”. I was intrigued.
The next day at the keynote Joe Belfiore showed us Continuum for Phones. Continuum is already known in Windows 10 as the feature that switches the Windows experience from PC mode to tablet mode and vice versa. Continuum for Phones will allow you to dock your phone or connect to a wired or wireless screen and it will adapt to become a desktop. The only downside with these phones today is that they run on ARM architecture and that means the only software you can run must be built for ARM.
Down the road Microsoft hopes that the majority of mainstream apps will be Universal Apps that run across the Windows 10 device family, but until that time there’s still a bunch of classic Win32 apps that one would want to run. At least that I would want to run. Until phones come with an Atom chip or some other x86/x64 chip there’s always Remote Desktop to the rescue.
With Windows 10 the phones have access to the same HID support so mice, keyboards and all the other USB peripherals will be able to work with it. Marvelous. When you connect your phone to a dock or a screen, you can still use your phone normally, so it will be like having dual-monitors where one screen is really tiny.
I am genuinely excited about this feature, and is a major step towards the experience I’ve been seeking. It’s still not quite there.
My hopes going forward is take the same concept and introduce a Surface Phone and bundle it with empty Surface tablet shells and other formfactors. Why empty? When we get there, it will no longer be necessary to bring your laptop or tablet with you. The phone is your PC, and you can dock your phone in to the Surface shell. The phone can adapt to become a touchpad if you want (imagine docking it where the touchpad would normally be) as we all know that the only ones that have great touchpads for laptops is Apple. The shell can contain extra batteries instead to increase the longevity of your session. There’s many possibilities, and I would love to one day just carry a phone with me. That’s at least the first step, then we can talk about more complex interfaces as we’re getting closer to realizing them.
The other company that has been making the same kind of progress is Ubuntu with their Ubuntu Phone, so if you’re a Linux user (as I once heavily was) then you should totally check that out. It’s exciting times that’s for sure!
One last thing: Microsoft should drop the Continuum for Phones name and just go with Continuum. Please.