Full Windows on ARM: Suddenly the Client World Is Very Different

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    One of the interesting products in market is the HP Elite X3, largely because it is the only phone that tries to make Microsoft Continuum actually work. But for those who have used the device, it falls short of its promise, due to low performance and poor application support. This is because Windows Mobile has not ever been able to provide full Windows support on ARM. Well, that is about to change. Microsoft just announced full Windows on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 platform this week. This will provide two very distinct advantages. One is that notebooks using this technology will be thinner, lighter, have longer battery life and a built-in LTE radio. The other is that products like the HP Elite X3 will have comparable performance and capabilities to these new notebooks. Continuum, at long last, will be able to meet its promise. HP, because it already has a product that is fully fleshed out, and Qualcomm, the maker of the Snapdragon 835, are most likely to initially benefit from this change, but so will users who favor portability over performance.

    Trying to Please Two Distinct Classes of Mobile Users

    You can divide mobile users up in several ways: type of job, age, and even gender. But they tend to most differentiate on two vectors: those who demand high performance and those who demand high portability. In the two groups, other elements have made it difficult to particularly address the high portability group. This group also tends to favor very thin and light products, making for an ugly trade-off historically between making a notebook thin and giving it enough battery to address users’ needs to be able to work off power for at least a full day. The result has largely been compromised products that are either unattractively fat and heavy, or lacking the critical battery life needed.

    Performance users have been far easier to address, given that they generally are on power and anything smaller and lighter than a full desktop, which they still often prefer, is a plus. This class is actually reasonably happy with the notebooks as they currently exist, but it is the mobile users who have largely been dissatisfied with the ugly choice.

    More Targeted Mobile Solution

    So, with this announcement, a Windows laptop targeting a mobile user can be both very thin and have all-day battery life because it is designed much more closely to a smartphone model at the start. In fact, given the far lower power requirement of a typical ARM part, this should allow even the thinnest notebook to have the all-day battery life the mobile user wants. An additional advantage comes with the Snapdragon 835 part, and that is the included built-in LTE modem, which is often either not offered or comes with a $100 upcharge in existing notebooks. With the 835, LTE is built into the part so you effectively get LTE capability for free, making for always-connected Windows products more of the norm and less of an exception. This suggests that, next year, we will get some incredible thin and light notebooks with massive battery life and smartphones that will be, in terms of application support and use, largely indistinguishable from notebooks.

    Wild Card Apps

    What is also interesting is that Microsoft’s big shortcoming in smartphones and tablets is app support. On ARM, it would be far easier to emulate Android and at least do what Amazon does in terms of app support. Given that Microsoft has always argued that Android infringes on its patents and (likely to prevent such a move) Google has indicated it is going to change the Android kernel, there is a real opportunity to steal the app base from Google on the transition.

    What I mean is that if Google does change the kernel, it will break most existing apps in the process, much like Apple did when it moved to OSX. And if those apps suddenly work better on Microsoft’s emulator then, at least for a few months, Microsoft, not Google, will have the better app library, ironically Google’s. And if it plays that smart, it could take a ton of market share with its Pocket PC that could run Android apps better than an Android phone. That is a long shot, but so was the iPhone, and look how that turned out.

    Wrapping Up: Things Just Got Interesting with Windows Again

    With one announcement, Microsoft made Windows fascinating again. By allowing the platform to move to a different processor, something it hasn’t allowed since the 1990s, it has suddenly created the possibility of a smartphone that can perform the same breadth of services as a laptop. That could be incredibly compelling for some, and if the company aggressively ties it to cloud services, which can meet the needs of performance users, it could have something that addresses the needs of both mobile and performance users in one thin, sexy, product with incredible battery life and a persistent connection, even if Wi-Fi isn’t available.

    I expect the full extent of this change, and designs that fully make use of it, won’t happen for several years, but next year, expect some really interesting devices that work like laptops but don’t look anything like them. We certainly live in interesting times.

    Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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