Microsoft and Qualcomm have finally showcased the long promised full-fledged Windows 10 PCs powered by Snapdragon 835 mobile platform. The announcement marks a new beginning for both Microsoft, which lost out on mobile device segment and Qualcomm, which never had any presence in the PC industry.
The promise of Windows on Snapdragon is an always connected PC that boots instantly and lasts days and not hours on a single charge. It’s the vision Microsoft first envisioned with Windows RT nearly four years back, but failed to turn it into a reality. Windows RT failed due to its inability to run traditional desktop applications. Meanwhile, Microsoft says it has learnt its lessons.
With Windows on Snapdragon, Microsoft says users will be able to run programs such as Google Chrome and Adobe Photoshop without sacrificing on portability or battery life. In order to make it possible, Microsoft is building an emulator right into the operating system. This is an approach different from Windows RT where the entire operating system was repackaged to support the ARM platform.
The Qualcomm-based Windows PCs will ship with x86 instruction set architecture (ISA) emulator capable of running win32 applications. It essentially sounds like running full-fledged Windows on a mobile platform in virtual PC mode. The success of this experience has such industry-wide implication that Intel has even publicly challenged Microsoft-Qualcomm duo for shipping the x86 emulator.
This will turn Qualcomm into a major Intel competitor in the PC space where it continues to hold monopoly. It will also lead to transition of PC buyers who would pick a lightweight device with long battery life over a bulky machine that will last only for few hours. Qualcomm is at the heart of most active smartphones and it now wants to be the heart of connected computers as well. On the other hand, Microsoft wants to be taken more seriously in the mobile computing space.
However, there are looming questions whether Microsoft is willing to make a transition from Intel-centric platform to a Qualcomm-centric platform. The success or failure of Windows on Qualcomm depends primarily on how better the experience is compared to traditional PCs powered by Intel’s processors.
Qualcomm is focusing on a experience that centers around an always connected environment where you are connected via an LTE network and your data rests on a cloud platform. With the significant transition happening in the enterprise segment around cloud infrastructure, it makes sense but the real Windows experience is one where you’re able to use suites such as Adobe Creative Cloud, or services such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop or similar suites such as AutoCAD and do some work and unwind with some games.
Neither Microsoft nor Qualcomm have showcased how these processor-intensive programs will function on a Snapdragon-powered device. Microsoft, itself is focusing on core Windows 10 functions such as Touch, Inking and Hello security functions rather than support for the vast pool of x86 programs that we are so used to seeing and using on our computers.
The promise of an always connected PC leads to a persistent question whether the experience will be just another mobile device capable of connecting to web and not functioning as a full-fledged computer. There is also a larger question of whether it is too late and too little for the PC industry, which has seen a decline in shipments for twelve consecutive quarters.
A mobile PC running Windows should be capable of doing things beyond playing Netflix, which works equally well on iPad and most smartphones. It should create new ways of interaction and experience different from existing devices and this ARM-based devices don’t seem to offer that just yet.