During the Microsoft WinHEC keynote held earlier today in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft confirmed it was not yet done with the mobile market. Its plan to team up with Qualcomm and offer new "cellular PCs" using Qualcomm's SnapDragon processors is a clear sign that Microsoft's thinking about how to build out a tech experience that envelops the user at home and work.
How do we know this? Consider this feature from another of the keynote announcements, Project Evo: it's promising "far-field speech communications so you can ask Cortana a question or play a song from across the room."
Now combine that feature with these new hardware devices that will be built on Qualcomms SnapDragon processors. Imagine form factors like small 4-6 inch screens that can sit in your living room, kitchen or bedroom and be ready to perform different functions such as play music, look up an appointment or check on traffic to work.
Since Cortana knows about you based on what you share with her, this functionality is only limited by what information you choose to share with her in your Cortana Notebook.
Take this a step forward and think how this might combine with the rumored Home Hub for Windows 10. This small form factor device, combined with Home Hub can directly take on Amazon Echo or Google Home and Microsoft does not have to build one piece of consumer hardware to do it because it would all work with these new ARM based devices, running the full version of Windows 10, and any other Windows 10 hardware.
Microsoft has not had a good experience in building consumer products just look at the aforementioned Surface RT/Surface 2 and more recently the poor history with Microsoft Band.
This new partnership opens up unlimited possibilities and, since it is based on Windows 10, the interface and functionality, is familiar to any Windows 10 user. Right now that consists of over 400 million users.
In fact, with yesterday's release of Build 14986 for Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring, we are seeing even more Cortana commands that would allow easy system management by voice than ever before. Add that to all of the skills Cortana already has in Windows 10 and those possibilities continue to grow with this new range of devices while retaining backwards compatibility with older Windows 10 hardware.
Does this mean Windows 10 Mobile is saved from the chopping block? Not quite however, if this new hardware can run full Windows 10 and run desktop programs doesn't the introduction of Continuum make a lot more sense? I mean if these small form factor tablets could be paired with a keyboard, mouse and desktop monitor to increase productivity through Continuum then it is not a far reach to see that happening on a device that also had cellular voice support.
It was no accident that Terry Myerson referred to these new ARM based devices as cellular PCs during the WinHEC keynote. Using a technology called eSIM, users will be able to get themselves a cellular based data connection without actually needing a physical SIM card from a carrier in their device. Now flashback to the introduction of WiFi Sense in Windows 10 and those options to connect to Hotspot 2.0 networks or paid WiFi services with your Windows 10 device. That is just one small step form utilizing this eSIM technology to grab a quick data connection and pay for it through the Windows Store.
Take it one step further and you now have a mobile device, running the full version of Windows 10, that can also make and receive phone calls.
As for timing on this new hardware and capabilities, my contacts tell me it is likely to be seen in late 2017 - maybe around the time that Redstone 3, the fourth major Feature Update for Windows 10, is expected to arrive.
As much as we like to analyze Microsoft for their failures, it is now clear they have been heading down this path and laying the groundwork for it in many ways.
It is good to see the innovation and partnerships to deliver the ultimate Windows 10 experience on any and all devices across the ecosystem.