Software

Microsoft Lumia: Should you switch to a phone-powered Windows 10 desktop?

Do Microsoft's new handsets have what it takes to persuade firms to swap their desktops for phones?

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"We want to put Windows in your pocket" - that was how Microsoft sold the ability of its new Lumia phones to drive a Windows 10 desktop.

Microsoft's new Lumia 950 and 950XL handsets can be indirectly hooked up to a monitor, mouse and keyboard and used to run a Windows desktop OS.

At a launch event yesterday, Microsoft demonstrated how the phones' Windows 10 OS can change the look and feel of certain apps, as well as its own appearance, to suit the phone or the desktop. In the demo, the phones were shown coping well with everyday desktop tasks, such as multitasking and copying files from a USB stick.

Enterprises will likely be the target for these phone-powered desktops, says Gartner research director Annette Zimmermann, in particular sales teams who spend a lot of time outside the office and employees who hotdesk.

While other companies, such as Canonical and Motorola, have demoed phones acting as desktops in the past, Zimmermann said Microsoft was in a position to make the converged phone / desktop PC a reality.

"Microsoft really has taken a step further in not only demoing it's possible but by having a product that shows you can do that."

Hurdles to overcome

However, Ronan De Renesse, lead analyst for consumer technology at Ovum, said that while the desktop / phone convergence was interesting, it was likely of limited appeal to enterprise.

"In most businesses you've already got computers and laptops set up, so I don't think they would entirely replace that."

There is also the question of how these phones' perform relative to a desktop PC. In Microsoft's demo at the launch event yesterday the firm showed a Lumia handset powering a desktop running Microsoft Word and PowerPoint at the same time, without any visible difficulty. Both phones also feature relatively high-end processors, with the Lumia 950 packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core and the Lumia 950XL a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core. However, Renesse queried how well the handsets would handle the "very heavy applications" sometimes run on desktops.

Another stumbling block may be software, he said. Versions of Office, Cortana, Skype, OneDrive, the Edge browser, and Mail are available for the Lumia handsets. These apps can alter their look and feel to suit how they're being used - on the desktop or the phone. However, for a piece of software to adapt in this way it needs to be a Universal Windows app, rather than an application made for older versions of the Windows desktop.

De Renesse said this legacy software "would not work, and most of the applications businesses use would be legacy applications". Legacy Windows desktop software can be converted into Universal Windows apps but it can be a complicated process.

Every Lumia handset that is used as a PC will also need to be plugged into a Microsoft Display Dock, which provides the necessary HDMI and USB ports for hooking up a monitor, mouse, keyboard and memory sticks. Microsoft hasn't revealed the price of the Display Dock but De Renesse said the additional cost could also deter people from using the feature.

"If you have got to buy that phone and buy the dock as well, there are probably going to even fewer people who are going to use it."

  • The Lumia 950 and 950XL will ship in November and are priced at $549 (£499.99) and $649 (£549.99) respectively.

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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