Microsoft's Continuum turns Windows 10 phones into tiny, full-blown Windows PCs

continuum phones

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Windows 8 wanted to turns PCs into tablets and vice versa—and it failed spectacularly. But with the help of universal Windows apps and a page from Ubuntu Linux’s playbook, Microsoft aims to turn Windows 10 phones into full-blown PCs when they’re connected to PCs.

Microsoft’s universal apps use the same basic code base across devices and scale to fit the screen they’re being used on. Continuum is Microsoft's solution for shifting among various form factors.

Thus far, Continuum’s been discussed in terms of convertible devices—shifting to a touch-friendly tablet interface when you rip the keyboard off your Surface, and back to the desktop paradigm when the keyboard’s reattached. With Windows 10 phones, the devices will perform similarly to a traditional PC when they’re connected to an external monitor, along with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

Why this matters: Windows Phones have suffered from a terrible app gap. Microsoft hopes its universal apps will eliminate that roadblock to user adoption. Continuum is the other key part of the equation, because it should remove bumps in the app experience as users shift from one device to another. 

Any screen can be your PC

The first glimpse Microsoft provided of Continuum for Windows 10 phones during its Build keynote on Wednesday already looks spectacular. "With Continuum for phones, we believe any screen can be your PC,” Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore proudly exclaimed. 

continuum phones mail app

Windows 10's Mail app running on a Windows Phone connected to an external montior, using Continuum. It appears identical to the app being used on a PC.

Even desktop-centric stuff will work just fine. Belfiore displayed seamless copying and pasting between mobile-centric apps, and yes, even the legendary ALT-TAB.

"Imagine this effect on mobile-first countries,” Belfiore said.

It’s powerful stuff, and exactly the same goal as Canonical has with Ubuntu for Android and its attempted Ubuntu Edge smartphone, which failed to meet its Indiegogo crowdfunding goal last year. But Microsoft’s version is already real, unlike Ubuntu’s ambitions—with a few caveats. Continuum for Phones requires developers to embrace universal Windows apps to truly work, and the technology needs new hardware to function. Fortunately, Microsoft plans to demo some of that hardware at Build on Thursday.

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