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Continuum for Phones: The Coolest Feature Release From Microsoft No One Is Talking About Yet

Imagine this scenario. You have in your hands a device that’s about five and a half inches from the top-left corner to the bottom right. It’s fairly thin, maybe a quarter of an inch. And it has a couple of ports and a decent battery life, yet it contains the entirety of your electronic world. You dock it when you need to get things done. You remove it from the dock and slip it in your pocket or handbag when you are ready to go out and about. 

It might sound like I’m referring to a smartphone, but Microsoft’s vision of phones is morphing in concert with the release of Windows 10 to the point where a phone is not just a phone; it is a full-fledged computer, capable of everything your desktop or laptop could do with all the convenience and mobility of a smartphone. We got a preview of this at Microsoft Ignite and, frankly, I think it is the future of personal computing. It is called Continuum for Phones. 

Continuum is the feature within Windows that changes an interface to fit the current form factor of a device as it is being used. On the desktop, it refers to attaching or detaching a keyboard or mouse, and Windows automatically switches between the traditional Windows desktop and the modern touch-first app environment, based on what is connected. Continuum for Phones, however, takes this one step further: If a monitor is attached via a mini HDMI port on the phone itself, the apps on the phone will take over the entire usable monitor space just as if you were using a regular PC. You can also connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for a more productive experience. 

But it is actually more than that. Continuum for Phones relies on the fact that new Windows phones will actually be running a full-fledged copy of Windows 10, not a smaller version of Windows 8 or the hobbled Windows CE editions that old Microsoft phones used. Windows 10 is Windows 10, regardless of the device, and this means the Office apps used on the phone could be the same code that runs on your touch-enabled Windows 10 laptop. Your Remote Desktop Connection client on the phone could be the same code that runs on your desktop. So when you launch an app on your phone and use Continuum to connect a keyboard, mouse, and high-definition monitor to it, you are actually using a complete, real personal computer. It is not just a phone. Your Word documents, your Excel spreadsheets, Outlook mail — all of these are the same apps you get on a PC and are available with the same fidelity as if you were not using a phone.

So with Continuum for Phones, we enter a world where your PC is on you whenever and wherever you are. This could truly be the computer you always have with you: the laptop that fits in your pocket, the corporate device that can be your desktop when you need it to, your mobile device on a plane or a train and an entertainment device on your off hours (since Windows Phone will soon support compartmentalization of corporate data and applications from personal data and apps). Traveling on business? Just check in to your hotel room and use the hotel’s HDMI cable to make the nice TV in your room a desktop computer. No longer would you need to juggle a bunch of different devices or suffer a subpar experience using a temporary traveling notebook when your day-to-day work is on a desktop. One device, one experience, used anywhere. I think this is the future.

However, there are some caveats to be aware of:

  • As you might expect, you will have to purchase new phones to enable this. No current phone on the market will support Continuum for Phones, so there will be some investment involved to begin taking advantage of this feature.
  • You will not be able to use this technology with an iPhone or an Android phone. This will be specific to Windows. Many folks will not be satisfied with the Windows Phone platform and its limited app selection, even as Microsoft brings iOS and Android apps on Windows.
  • It’s going to take a while to get to that utopia I outlined above. The modern Office apps have to be functional and useful for, say, 80% of the business audience’s needs. The phones will have to improve, and you will probably need to embrace the cloud on at least a document-sharing level in order to realize the benefits of working anywhere.

I am very optimistic about Continuum for Phones, and I think you should be, too.

What are your thoughts on Continuum for Phones? Please share your comments below!