Surprise: Windows 10 on ARM isn’t coming to existing phones


Windows 10 on ARM is set to launch in new devices powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors later this year. But Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore recently confirmed that it’s not coming to existing phones. And unless you were actually expecting to be running full Windows 10 on an existing phone, this shouldn’t be surprising at all for obvious reasons.
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore explained that the Windows 10 on ARM is about enabling the full PC experience on devices that offer great battery life thanks to ARM processors. The experience Microsoft is building is a full PC experience, which effectively means it won’t really work if you load it on any existing Windows Phone devices. Belfiore went on to detail another important part of ARM, which would require quite a lot of investment from the company. Considering that more and more Windows Phone users are moving to other platforms, the investment required, understandably, isn’t justifiable.
Here’s his full statement:
“The Windows 10 on ARM effort is about enabling the PC experience on devices that are built on ARM so that they’re connected all the time and have great battery life. So the experience is a desktop PC experience, it’s not a phone-like experience. For phone-like experiences on ARM, we have Windows 10 Mobile. What Windows 10 on ARM is, is a desktop-like experience so that you get the battery life that ARM processors tend to have.
The other thing that’s interesting about this is that in all cases where you build ARM software, it’s not so easy to just put it on another device. The OS intermingles with what’s called the BSP (board support package), and that’s how the software talks to the SoC. There’s special work that has to be done to get the OS talking to the BSP, talking to the SoC, so it’s not like the PC ecosystem where we write an OS in the same binaries that run on lots of different PCs. With ARM devices with SoC, you have to more closely target it. So that is often the case why it’s more challenging for us to get updates to a wide range of ARM devices. They’re all quite different, which adds delay, and as the number of people using those devices gets smaller, it unfortunately makes less sense for us to invest more time and energy in that.”
For full Windows 10 to actually work intuitively on a phone’s screen, Microsoft would be required to make significant changes to the user-interface of the OS. You can’t just put a desktop OS on a phone screen and expect it to work properly, especially when their displays are so small when compared to a full-blown PC. The full PC experience would, however, make a lot more sense on Continuum for phones and Microsoft has already started heading towards that with the company’s CShell project.
I am told that Microsoft is actively developing prototypes for its next flagship smartphone. The company experimented with a lot of 3D Touch related technology on some of its prototypes, which initially appeared on the canceled “McLaren” phone. Redmond tested some of the features from McLaren on some of the Lumia 950/XL prototypes, but that was later removed from the final product. Microsoft even tested these features on its “Northstar” phone (aka the Lumia 960) which had an aluminum unibody, but that also never saw the light of the day. Recent patents suggest that Microsoft is working on something entirely different for its next flagship mobile device, which could potentially have a foldable design.
Microsoft is working on some really fascinating things for its mobile business internally — both on the hardware and the software. Whatever Microsoft does next will be crucial for the company, as most of its previous efforts have failed miserably, despite Windows Phone 8.1 bringing some hope for the Windows Phone community. But that’s no longer alive.

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