This year, December, we’ve been promised the first “Windows on ARM” devices. I wanted to talk about this week, just why this is a big deal for tablets and laptops.
So what is “ARM” anyway? Well it’s a kind of “system on a chip”, or SoC, which means that it has a central processor, radios for LTE and Wi-Fi, graphics processor and so on. Basically its the “whole computer” that sits inside your smartphone.
So coming later this year, is a full version of Windows, that can run on, essentially smartphone hardware. There’s a lot of little small advantages to that, but its how they add up that is important. First it means that cellular capabilities will be built in to all these devices – both voice and data. Obviously also the same GPS and sensors you find in most smartphones. But like a smartphone, this LTE cellular ability will be “always on”, meaning it still gets notifications and data, even when the device is asleep.
You are of course, in one way or another familiar with all of this! Also, ARM SoC circuits are smaller than Intel ones, and more power efficient – which means smaller, thinner devices, longer battery life and more room for the battery. A smartphone chip also has a quick wake function, ‘instant on’.
Until now, Windows hasn’t really had any of this.
Sometimes an extra module is put it for LTE data only. But this full Qualcomm Snapdragon package, is not the way Windows has rolled. Soon, like a smartphone your Laptop, or Windows tablet will be able to alert you of incoming notifications, or even phone calls, even when its asleep. And it’ll have that instant on that makes other tablets more casual to use. With all the desktop software, for full quality browsing, music, video, gaming, productivity that you expect from Windows.
Which, is pretty huge right – your PC is getting all the smartphone “stuff”. For tablet users this means a Windows on ARM windows tablet will be that highly mobile creature some users love – you’ll be able to Google maps, text and chat apps as well as everything else.
We can also expect to see some super slim devices. iPad thin stuff. Laptops that make the MacBook air seem thick (MacBook is based in intel, these will be able to be thinner and smaller). And with really long battery life, and just as importantly for my customers cheap!
ARM processors are typically cheaper than their Intel counterparts, which means, once the initial device prices come down, there will be a lot of thin, ultra-mobile, long-life laptops and tablets at killer prices. Doing what other tablets do, what smartphones do, and all the Windows stuff as well.
Which in itself would be an exciting thing. Except that’s not all we expect to see from Microsoft. There has been leaked a version of the long rumoured “Composable Shell” or Cshell for short.
So what’s Cshell?
It’s an adaptive, changing User interface that scales to its output mode. Simply put, the OS will adapt to the screen size its on, even in all likelihood offer an “entertainment” mode, like a game console interface, and a “productivity” mode like a PC interface. So if you are running it on a tiny screen, it’ll look like a mobile phones interface. On a small tablet, it’ll run the ideal interface for that. On a huge screen, it’ll adapt there too.
Which means, your small, thin, light, long life Windows on ARM tablet or notebook, will also be getting a scaling interface as well – which means a great deal for Windows as an operating system because it’s struggled to work well in smaller sizes, and nothing that small has the kind of software power Windows has. Whether it’s streaming your desktop to your phone, displaying your phone on a big screen, or any size of tablet – or even a mini PC you want to set up as an entertainment device – Windows will become more flexible.
A big screened Windows tablet IS a great experience. You get the UWP apps, like most touch platforms, with a great touch user interface, but you also get that full desktop software, with its richer, higher quality and more powerful software, whether its games like Trine 2, or software like FL Studio, or just Chrome, Opera, Edge or Firefox browser. Its a best of both worlds scenario.
However its never quite worked on a small screen. It’s never been advantaged by LTE “always on”, and certainly never come with voice telephony and GPS as standard. And laptops basically never come with these sorts of features. With the many new devices from major manufacturers coming December, and the yet unannounced but confirmed composable shell, Windows will be taking on entirely new forms, and having entirely new functions. A true hybrid OS of a computing system.
And, with the slick looking fluent design system always start to roll out ‘wave one’ late this year, it’s also going to look beautiful, almost sci-fi good looking. Watch this space, here at Tap That too, because I know China is going to do amazing things with this technology, and there will be devices beyond conventional tablets and laptops, that nobody expects. It’s going to be a very exciting time for Windows devices over the next year.