x86 apps mixed with ARM’s power efficiency could be a computing holy grail. Brad Chacos reports
When the HP Elite x3 launched earlier this year, we lamented its likely legacy as the last great Windows 10 phone. It stood alone as the embodiment of Microsoft’s PC-as-phone vision at a time when the ﬁrm was ruthlessly burning its mobile hardware division to the ground and gutting what few Nokia remnants lingered. But now it appears that the HP Elite x3’s highlight feature – the ability to run PC software on a phone – may actually ﬁnd its way into Windows 10 Mobile’s core at some point in the future.
Frequent Windows sleuth WalkingCat dredged up hints of Windows 10’s ability to emulate x86 (read: PC) software on ARM (read: mobile) processors, via a ‘CHPE’ designation in code. Mary Jo Foley, a Windows reporter with impeccable sources, followed up on the report. She says that CHPE refers to Microsoft’s plans to introduce x86 emulation to Windows 10 in a ‘Redstone 3’ update in autumn 2017. The ‘C’ stands for ‘Cobalt’, Microsoft’s codename for x86 emulation, according to her sources ‘HP’ literally stands for the company HP and ‘E’ remains unclear, but potentially stands for ‘emulation’.
So why does this matter? Because native x86 software support would dramatically improve the utility of Continuum, Windows 10 Mobile’s ﬂagship feature. Continuum allows you to use your Windows phone like a PC when you connect it to an external display and keyboard—but right now, the only software that works in Continuum mode are Universal Windows Platform apps, which are limited in number and don’t include many key programs demanded by business users and hardcore PC enthusiasts. Even the Elite x3 runs its x86 PC apps in a virtualised cloud environment, rather than on-device. The idea of emulating full-ﬂedged PC applications on mobile devices sounds challenging, especially since much of the software that professionals rely on tends to be resource-hungry. Avoiding performance or battery-life penalties could prove difﬁcult. But working x86 apps mixed with ARM’s legendary power efﬁciency could be a computing holy grail if Microsoft manages to pull it off. “Technically, there are really two things that are unique about Windows Mobile,” Window chief Terry Myerson explained in an interview with ZDNet late October. “One is cellular connectivity and the other one is the ARM processors that are there. So we’re going to continue to invest in ARM and cellular. And while I’m not saying what type of device, I think we’ll see devices there, Windows devices, that use ARM chips. I think we’ll see devices that have cellular connectivity.” So sure, this x86 emulation – if true – keeps the dream of the fabled Surface Phone alive. But reading between Myerson’s words, Windows 10 Mobile’s future may not even necessarily include phones.