When Microsoft® CEO Satya Nadella announced his Mobile First, Cloud First initiative in 2014, it marked the beginning of that which some would call a kinder, gentler Microsoft. The notion of making Microsoft products available on competing platforms was a radical change from the traditional Microsoft strategy of “Windows® or nothing”. Making Microsoft apps available on competing platforms such as Android™ or iOS™ has achieved varying levels of success, but in most cases, the user experience, which is typically on a mobile device, has been a subset of the desktop experience users have grown to expect. That’s about to change.
Microsoft is developing functionality for Windows 10 which will run on ARM processors. This is reportedly not simply a scaled down version of Windows such as the disappointment that was Windows RT. Instead, Windows 10 on ARM promises full x86 functionality on mobile devices, providing the robust desktop capabilities users have been demanding.
This introduces many new opportunities for Microsoft, including a market for OEMs to develop Windows based mobile devices, and an exponentially larger market to sell Microsoft applications. If they can deliver as promised, users will have full access to 32-bit Windows and Windows applications on devices which are much thinner and lighter than we have today. ARM processors are typically smaller, cheaper, and more energy efficient than desktop processors, and they even have cellular communication capabilities.
Before we get too excited about tossing our desktop or laptop in favor of a smartphone with a docking station connected to a monitor and keyboard, it’s worth noting that ARM processors aren’t nearly as fast or powerful as their desktop counterparts. Additionally, Windows on ARM will not run natively, but will be emulated. This emulation will require resources from an already weaker processor.
The first devices will be running the next generation of Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ chips, which promise increased performance over what we see today, but it will be interesting to see the result. Regardless, if Microsoft can successfully run Windows on ARM chipsets, it could finally make them a legitimate contender in the mobile space.