back to article Microsoft’s Continuum: Game changer or novelty?

Microsoft’s Continuum is one of the spookiest computing experiences you can have. Either plug a phone into a dock, or turn on a nearby wireless display and keyboard, and the phone doubles up as an ersatz Windows PC. No more lugging a laptop around. Back in January, we described Continuum reviewers as sharing the surprise and …


  1. Richard Wharram


    Comparison to their offering?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Ubuntu?

      The shame about the various Canonical developments of Ubuntu for mobile devices and working, is that they have not released a version to market, even though the demonstration builds worked well enough on a few select handsets, to be released and to have the community progress the development.

      Because then we really could be saying that MS are playing catchup....

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Ubuntu?

        is that they have not released a version to market

        There have been two Bq handsets, the second definitely support Convergence (both now unavailable due to selling out of stock), a tablet from Bq (still available), and two phones from Meizu (none were widely circulated mass market wise).

  2. Franco Silver badge

    I like Continuum and if more apps appear it will get better and better. I've actually used it more for entertainment than business though, and I can it being a useful travel device. BT Sport works, so last week when I was at my cousins house I connected via Miracast and watched the MotoGP on her TV. Netflix isn't a UWP yet but works flawlessly through Edge. iPlayer is a UWP and works.

    1. fung0

      Cunning Stunts

      If Microsoft could have pulled this off with Win32 applications, it would have been truly impressive. Doing it with a whole brand-new type of app - essentially, with a whole new OS (UWP) - is neither impressive nor particularly useful. It's just a stunt.

      Compare what Google is doing with Android N. With expanded mouse-and-keyboard support, and the ability to display multiple apps simultaneously, Android will soon be able to do what Continuum promises. But it will be bringing along the entire gargantuan galaxy of existing Android apps. Hence, much more than just a stunt.

      Bottom line: Google is steadily expanding the reach of Android, increasing flexibility in device support. Whereas by pushing a whole new type of app (ironically named "universal"), Microsoft has decreased flexibility and user choice.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Cunning Stunts

        "Android will soon be able to do what Continuum promises."

        and 'stunningly' so. I look forward to an Android desktop, so long as it lets me use my favorite desktop manager (like Mate or Cinnamon) with a 3D skeuomorphic theme.

        of course, Android DOES look a bit more skeuomorphic than does Win-10-nic, even on a phone. They weren't compelled to change everyone to flatso 2D FLUGLY.

      2. MarkElmes

        Re: Cunning Stunts

        X86 apps can be converted to UWP apps?

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I've actually used it more for entertainment than business though

      Colour me unimpressed.

      I can already connect my S5 to any HDMI device with a cheap adapter and I recently used Miracast / WiFi share on a friend's TV the other day. Fantastic for entertainment.

      Samsung have been experimenting with this kind of thing for years (my Galaxy Tab 8.9 came with a "multimedia" dock) including support for multi-windows and alternative input methods. It wouldn't surprise me if they aren't the first with some kind of phone / TV / Chromebook setup. And we can assume Apple won't be far behind with its own extremely dedicated market.

      Microsoft is going to pull something extremely remarkable out of the hat for this get any real traction. Otherwise UWP apps on Android might be the best they can hope for.

  3. EvilGardenGnome

    The dock is the key

    I said it in other venues, but I'll add it here. Sell docks with desktop CPUs (and SKUs with GPUs) and use the phone for storage. With some tricky engineering you should be able to get the device to run desktop apps ONLY when connected with a dock. Until that happens, Continuum is all potential without anything to show for it.

  4. kryptonaut


    Is an octocre chip sixteen times better than a mediocre one?

    1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: 16x

      > Is an octocre chip sixteen times better

      Generally, an Octocore has 4 fast cores (for speed) and 4 slow cores (for battery life) and switches between these sets so that only maximum of 4 run at any one time, and some of those cores are shut down if not required.

      As it only runs one UWP at a time, plus the UI, it may be that not all 4 cores are kept active.

      1. Benno

        Re: 16x

        Correct, but do take note of the deliberate spelling errors next time. You ruined the joke :)

  5. David Tallboys

    I think this should have been Microsoft's ace (at least for those of us for whom boring spreadsheet and document editing is what I want rather than social media stuff), so it seems silly to me that they go and kill Windows Phone just as they've got this to work well enough.

    I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and a Windows Lumia 640. The Samsung not surprisingly has a much better display and all the apps; but whenever I have a marginal signal or aggro sending emails I have found the cheapo Lumia 640 more reliable and with longer battery life.

    But am I going to pay the price for the last Windows phone just because of this now? No. (Not sure if the 640 will get the software update - anybody know?)

    Incidentally I tried using the Samsung dock for projecting to an external screen, this does give some of what I wanted but is a bit clumsy,

    1. Def Silver badge

      Windows 10 on the Lumia 640

      Microsoft says it's available, with the following caveat: Windows 10 Mobile features may vary by device. The availability of Windows 10 Mobile as an upgrade for existing Windows Phone 8.1 devices will vary by device model, country or region, mobile operator or service provider, hardware limitations, and other factors. 1.4 GB or greater download required. Wi-Fi internet connection required to install the upgrade; internet access fees may apply.

      (Edit: There's an upgrade app in the store you can try out. Link on the above page.)

    2. jrwilheim

      They haven't killed Windows Phone, only rebranded it as Windows 10 Mobile. I doubt Microsoft would go to the effort of developing something like Continuum if their intention was to kill of the mobile division altogether.

      1. Preston Munchensonton

        Tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to

        They haven't killed Windows Phone, only rebranded it as Windows 10 Mobile.

        I think most of us would say that this is splitting hairs. Also, there's probably a better argument over whether Windows Phone was ever "alive" to be killed off in the first place.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

    Samsung had their smart dock, qualcomm had a dock system, others have done it wirelessly.

    Never really took off despite some very impressive solutions.

    It just wasn't popular and a Chromebook is cheap enough that you don't really need to have a single unit as the brains.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

      Also, is this a solution that is looking for a problem? If one has to have access to or carry the extra hardware around why not just carry a laptop instead? Fewer bits to keep track of and the weight is not that big an issue.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

        When I recently bought a 950XL, it came with the free dock. Now it's sitting in a cupboard, unused. Nice idea, but involves carrying a bunch of cables and power supply to make it useful. Easier to just carry a tablet.

        1. mildy bemused

          Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

          That's an odd comment about a laptop vs. the docking station. The docking station is small and very light, it only needs two cables, one to monitor and the other to the phone although I'll concede that's three with a wired keyboard. And the power supply? Well, turns out I need that to charge the phone anyway and when I use a laptop, a bigger one for that.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

        I'm quite sure the answer is "the cloud". If they can make your primary device one with little storage (it's interesting the HP device has battery but no storage), they can force you to store everything where they can peruse your data to extract precioussss info to resell. If you carry a laptop you may have plenty of local storage and even connect external one. Does Continuum supports USB?

        After all, it the same approach used by Chromebooks.

        1. Franco Silver badge

          Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

          W10M supports USB OTG, and as of the Anniversary Update also supports USB Ethernet Adapters

      3. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

        >Also, is this a solution that is looking for a problem?

        I suspect here's where USB3 /Thunderbolt come in.

        One cable for charging and connectivity to the screen, which has a hub for other USB devices.

        I do something similar at the moment. My laptop has USB2 and DP connectors to my screen which also has DVI to my desktop. Only the USB cable needs switching to go from laptop + big screen to desktop, taking keyboard, mouse, DVD and webcam with it. USB3 would do it better, thunderbolt would be even better (higher-res, wired network).

        The trick is to make the dock cheap and hide-able-behind-the-screen... and to have a phone which can do something useful on the big screen which you can't do on the small one. That's going to be the tricky one, unless Linux on ARM takes off. I can't see Android on the desktop being much of a thing - slightly easier emailing with a keyboard perhaps.

    2. jrwilheim

      Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers

      The difference being the vast software ecosystem that exists for Windows. The point of this tech, as I see it, isn't just to be cheap but to free you from the problems caused by keeping all your stuff in the cloud and having to have it move between devices.

      1. Mandoscottie

        Re: This has been done with Android by many manufacturers


        Sorry what? you realise Continuum only works with UWP written apps right? (so 15 apps if your lucky!) x86 apps do not work or supported by design.

        the rest of your post is spot on, just replace Windows for Android and a truer word has never been typed :P

        yet another idea with MS, watered down i still cant find that reason for the feature (yet)

  7. John Styles

    Oooerrr HP

    "making the beast with two docks" - is that some kind of euphemism?

    1. hplasm Silver badge

      Re: Oooerrr HP

      Happy-Like a dog with two docks?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Does it run Crysis?

    ducks for cover

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But..?

      No, but if any OEM ever does make an x86 processor based Windows phone it "could" run Crysis ...... for a few minutes till the battery runs out.

    2. Robby-O

      Re: But..?

      On a serious note, if they got Steam to develop their in-home-streaming for ARM that would be pretty cool...

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: But..?

        They probably already are. nVidia has already released one "proof-of-concept" streaming console based on their ARM platform. The graphics chips in the newer phones are probably capable of most of the work already so some kind of combination is probably possible whether it's a box with the latest and greatest GPU that syncs with the phone or details are rendered "in the cloud" is probably just a matter of bandwidth. The economics would seem to favour streaming over selling discrete units.

  9. LDS Silver badge

    HP made a Foleo???

    It will have the same fate of its predecessor (which wasn't so dummy either). Well, if it is HP to raise the chances of Windows 10 mobile, it's already more doomed than it was.

  10. MAH

    This is pretty much the Motorola Atrix solution.

  11. Shane Sturrock

    I don't get it

    I have a phone, tablet and laptop and thanks to cloud storage I have all my docs wherever I need them. Sure, there's some apps that work well on a laptop and don't have equivalents for the tablet or phone, and some which work well on a tablet and not the phone or tablet, and finally there are phone apps. It all works, and best of all I have days of battery by carrying three devices all of which can communicate. I don't want everything in one device. Heck, in this case you have a phone and then a dumb laptop style display and keyboard. Why not just have a laptop which can do so much more? I could probably live without my tablet and just have a phone and a laptop, but living only with my phone? Nope, no thanks MS.

  12. DougS Silver badge

    Intel killed its potential

    If they hadn't dropped their mobile SoCs, Continuum could have been a game changer for Windows Phone as it would be able to run ANY Windows application. Restricted only to universal apps that can run on ARM, it is merely a novelty.

    I think Apple would have best shot at making this work, as OS X already has the infrastructure for making fat binaries. If they added the ARM64 ISA as an automatic compiler target, it wouldn't take long for developers of major OS X applications to jump on board and the iPhone could provide a viable desktop experience. Not sure if Apple doesn't think this is a viable direction, or if they do but are afraid it would kill OS X hardware sales. OS X is already a niche, if they cut the hardware sales in half the platform's viability might be compromised before the iPhone 'continuum' could take off.

    Yeah yeah, I know Android has done this too, but it is also a novelty since Linux has almost no presence on the desktop (and I say that as someone who has used Linux as my primary desktop since the late 90s) The primary market for a feature like this, at least at first, would be business users which means the ability to run major commercial applications is a must.

  13. ecofeco Silver badge

    The future of computing will be in your hands

    Eventually, your computer WILL be your phone. Monitors and keyboards and mice will be commodity and ubiquitous. Your home and work peripherals will be the custom kit.

    The phone will have the power of any modern day average business laptop of today. It will have the core OS and the virtual OS. One will run desktop workstation apps and the other the phone.

    This should happen within the next 10 years. Technical hardware wise, it's already all over but the shouting.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: The future of computing will be in your hands

      NSA & friends, and crooks, will be very happy about people using their PCs connected to "ubiquitous" devices not under the user control... are you going to trust any keyboard when you type a password or other sensitive information? Are you going to trust any monitor that displays them?

      While "ubiquitous" has still some limits.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: The future of computing will be in your hands

        And you know the keyboard/monitor you use at work isn't bugged, how exactly? You checked that the keyboard you bought at Best Buy or Amazon for your home computer didn't have any additional chips in them that couldn't be explained?

        Your worry already exists for people who have a real reason to worry about it, but those who think they should be concerned about this but aren't taking steps to verify the integrity of the equipment they're using now are fooling themselves.

        Besides, why bug your keyboard and leave behind physical evidence when it is so much easier to hack your PC or phone via software? That's how the NSA will target you today, and that's still how they'll target you even if you connected your phone to random keyboards in semi-public places.

  14. Updraft102 Silver badge

    No, it's not

    "...yes, your phone really is a PC."

    If it can't run Win32 programs, then no, it's not. It's a phone that can run phone apps from a typical phone UI or a more traditional PC UI. That's all.

    I've long held the opinion that a touchscreen is inferior to the traditional mouse and keyboard (and a laptop's touchpad counts as a mouse here). The touchscreen is convenient and compact, which are necessities for a portable device like a phone, but it requires compromise in UI design that is a serious step backwards compared to the traditional desktop environment. Specifically, a mouse has separate point and click events; this makes hover effects possible, and the user knows exactly what UI element is receiving the click event before that click even takes place, because he can see where the arrow is pointing.

    That gives the mouse or touchpad significant utility and precision that can never exist in a touch device where the point and tap events are combined into one event. Complicating things worse is the nature of human fingers-- they're huge (relative to a mouse pointer), they're squishy, and they are opaque. UI elements must be quite large to compensate for this lack of precision, and that in turn means hiding UI elements (which would otherwise take up valuable screen space better used for the content itself), less top-level on-screen options (often in favor of a "junk-drawer" style hamburger menu that has everything thrown into it), and other such things that are correctly considered as terrible UI practice on traditional desktops.

    That's what the UWP platform gives us. Sure, it is possible to use a touch-optimized UI with a mouse and keyboard, but just attaching those two input devices doesn't automatically reconfigure the UI to remove the compromises that had to be made for touchscreen use. A Continuum device docked into a laptop "shell" still has to run phone apps with all of the built-in compromises that make it suboptimal on a desktop or laptop. It's not a PC; it's still a phone.

    That's also why so many of us are underwhelmed by the "app" capability of WIndows 10, and why we're annoyed by the presence of "app" styled bits of the UI (like the Settings app) on our non-touch desktops.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: No, it's not

      I agree completely. Touch on laptops/desktops is stupid, Microsoft really screwed up when they went that direction instead of working toward Continuum back then. Maybe Intel would have been able to sell enough x86 mobile SoCs due to Windows Phone selling better that they wouldn't have had to give up and start fabbing ARM mobile SoCs to keep their fabs full!

      I remember earlier this year a guy I know who is a long time Apple hater was complaining about how far behind the Mac is, because they didn't offer any touch screen laptops or monitors. I asked him what he used the touch screen for on his home PC "I don't have one, I just have a regular monitor, but the OS is touch enabled unlike OS X!" So I ask him what he uses it for on his laptop, since he'd demonstrated how it handles touch "well, I really don't I'm too used the touchpad I guess"

      If even people who are evangelizing touch screens on PCs/laptops don't actually use them, safe to say pretty much no one is! The main thing they do is drive up the cost of premium laptops, because you have to take a feature you don't want in order to get the higher spec display.

      1. fruitoftheloon

        DougS: No it is.... Re: No, it's not


        Until recently, we had a rather pleasant Lenovo U330 win 8.1 laptop with touchscreen. Which I liked A LOT.

        It kind of effectively croaked, John Lewis (respected UK big chain) gave us a 100% refund as it couldn't get sorted within the stated repair timeframe.

        Then bought a MBP, which I wish did have a touch screen.

        Btw one is commentarding an excellent 12" Samsung NotePro.

        Some folk DO like touchscreens!



        1. Updraft102 Silver badge

          Re: DougS: No it is.... No, it's not

          If you like touchscreens, why did you buy a Macbook instead of a Windows laptop with touch? Whatever your reason, it seems that whatever the Mac offered was more important than the touch ability. I'd want to get off the Windows platform too if Windows 10 was my only choice...

          I don't know how you used your Lenovo, but I can't imagine how touch would be of any use with my laptop. Since the screen is not hand-held, it remains in a relatively fixed position in front of you, and you have to hold your arm up to reach the screen. It's going to get fatigued pretty fast if you're doing anything more than hitting play on a media player or something like that. And that's certainly a valid use, though most people who only want that seem to go for tablets instead.

          Still, what Doug wrote is still mostly true, as far as I can tell (I've never taken a survey or anything like that). Most people I've communicated with who use convertible devices only use the touchpad and not the touchscreen when it's docked. Of course, it's not literally true that NO ONE uses touch when other pointing devices are available, but for the most part, touch on a laptop or desktop is more about "gee whiz" appeal than any actual practicality.

          I would never accept the UI compromises to make touch work unless touch was all I had (as with tablets that are not convertible). Look at Windows 7 vs. Windows 8.0-- the former was built for mouse and keyboard with touch as an afterthought, while the reverse is true for the latter. I'm told using Win 7 with a touchscreen is nightmarish; I would certainly expect it to be far less than optimal, given that the UI was not designed for touch. Windows 8, as we all know, was rejected by the PC market because it was similarly bad with non-touch PCs, though Windows tablet and phone users largely loved Windows 8.

          Touch and mouse have different requirements, and trying to make one UI that does both is a fool's errand. The best MS could do to salvage Windows 10 would be to include two separate UIs for everything, and to select the one to use based on usage conditions and user preferences. That, though, would not be one UI for both... it would, from a UI perspective, be like bundling two separate versions of Windows together and calling it one product.

          1. fruitoftheloon

            @Updraft102: Re: DougS: No it is.... No, it's not


            I am ambi-dextrous, and found using my left hand to scroll vertically when browsing the 'webs to be just right, BUT I work from home (self-employed), hence would use the Lenovo in that manner when perched at the kitchen table.

            As you rightly point out, it's of minimal use if perched on a desk.

            The reasons for getting MBP were:

            - my existing MacPro was getting a bit old, too big for my study (I needed to fit an industrial sewing machine in too), so I gave it to my lads Primary school

            - I use FCP, Aperture and Logic studio on the Mac

            - imho Apple kit is usually well built

            - on the whole I found win 8.1 fine (running VS and Adobe CC) when it wasn't interrupting me about updates or I needed to spend too long finding where a f'ing setting was...

            Ironically the MBP is now running VS on Win 7 via parallels, with the Samsung NotePro wirelessly running as a 2nd screen, it works surprisingly well!

            Ooi I am ditching CC as it is now possible to download and (fairly) legitimately Adobe CS2 from the Adobe website FOR FREE, which is very helpful for my nascent business with less than no spare cash...

            I mentioned elsewhere that my coordination can sometimes be really bad, and touchscreens are then much easier than trackpads/tablet (I can't use a mouse for long).

            Hope that clarifies! Thanks for your input.



    2. Robby-O

      Re: No, it's not

      While I do agree with your first two points (can't run W32 native code and touch interface compromise) you have missed one important element, that the author also either didn't know or didn't mention. Particularly when they mentioned it not accepting prior WinPhone8.1 apps.

      Something important and new in UWP apps, as opposed to the previous Win8/WMobile8 apps is a layer of interface tools. These were specifically implimented to allow interfaces to change depending on what they were seen on (xbox, IoT, desktop, mobile, tablet). In fact, the app doesn't even need to close to change it's skin. It happens in real time while the app is still running.

      If an app made for Windows Phone 8.1 was allowed on Continuum, it wouldn't know what to do and just mirror directly onto the screen, either giving a tiny, phone shaped window on screen akin to an emulator (which would be near useless as it would combine the worst bits of both in clumbsy big finger buttons and tiny real-estate, rather than the best of both) or simply streeeeeaaatch out the window to full monitor size, which the author DOES mention and how ordinary that approach can be.

      These tools mean you can actively adjust the layout of your app, so on the phone it has the phone interface (which is ideal for that form factor) but when it gets goes to Continuum mode, it can do anything from minor adjustments to complete overhaul. All this without changing the coded logic of the app itself.

      So, provided the developer bothers to do so; the Continuum interface can, like Excel does, completely change it's appearance to reflect the current device's capabilities. Meaning you could have W32 era size buttons and text, etc all intended for mouse and keyboard entry when those things are available.

  15. William 3 Bronze badge

    "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers"

    Just out of curiosity why didn't you use Muslims have for Women Imams instead of "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers", given there are Women Preachers and there's zero Female Muslim Imams.

    Just curious why you'd use one, but never in a month of Sundays use the other.

    Myself, I'm athiest, I'd have no qualms using whichever idiotic ideology best suited my point. In this instance, given the facts, I'd have gone with the latter, but I understand certain politically correct shitbags wouldn't.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers"

      Would be mostly a literary reference, usually considered a more refined way of expressing oneself than something that sounds like a sectarian jibe, atheist or no.

      Of course all I know about this historic literary figure is what was in that episode of Blackadder III, so I'm no more refined than the next lout.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers"

        >Of course all I know about this historic literary figure is what was in that episode of Blackadder III, so I'm no more refined than the next lout.

        Just to add to your knowledge of the man, Johnson was fond of insulting the Scottish and Scotland. I've yet to learn why.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers"

          "Just to add to your knowledge of the man, Johnson was fond of insulting the Scottish and Scotland. I've yet to learn why."

          - Some Englishmen need little excuse for that, in his time, probably only the second or third target after the french and irish.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers"

      >Just out of curiosity why didn't you use Muslims have for Women Imams instead of "Samuel Johnson had for women preachers", given there are Women Preachers and there's zero Female Muslim Imams.

      Your curiosity didn't extend to clicking the link? The alternate analogy you provide wouldn't express the nuance of the author's views.

      Johnson: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have tried Continuum using the new X3 from HP. 1) The "desktop" version is in Windows tablet mode, kind of like Windows 8, so it isn't really a desktop version. 2) As mentioned, not all of the apps work and they have to be UWP... which very few apps are. It is a novelty.

    I think Tim Cook said it well when someone asked him when Apple was going to start moving on a similar service. They don't have plans to do a converged OS because they think it will result in a compromised mobile experience and a compromised desktop experience. Jack of all trades, master of none situation. Google has the best approach I think in using two OSs, Android and Chome, but providing the same experience on both OSs with a common Chrome browser (with all your bookmarks, extensions, etc carrying over to any device) and your Play Store apps following you as well... Most people don't need the full OS to follow them, and don't really even know that it isn't, if you provide the same experience (meaning data and apps) across all devices.


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