How Continuum will work on your next Windows 10 for Phones handset

Introduction and interfaces

For years, Microsoft has put the Windows name on phones because it’s a familiar brand, but with Windows 10, it’s also the name of the operating system you get on the phone. Most of the time it doesn’t look like Windows 10, because the interface that looks right on a notebook or large tablet is hard to see on a small screen.

But because Windows 10 for Phones is Windows 10 underneath, with the same operating system core (Microsoft even calls it OneCore), you can plug in a keyboard or a mouse and even a screen to your phone – and when you do, the same Continuum experience that switches a notebook into tablet mode switches the phone into PC mode.

What we’ve now seen in multiple demos, is that Continuum for Phones changes the interface on the screen it’s connected to and gives you extra tools on the handset as well. Microsoft’s Keri Moran calls it a “PC-like experience” and what you see on the big screen you connect your phone to isn’t exactly like a normal Windows 10 PC screen.

Control windows touch

Trackpad duties

When you first connect your phone to a keyboard and screen using the new Connect button in the Action Center (which Microsoft also refers to as ‘docking’), a notification at the top of your phone screen asks if you want to use the phone as a trackpad to control the cursor on the other screen – that’s an app that gives you an experience very like controlling an Xbox with the SmartGlass app on your phone. (It helps to turn the phone sideways, so it looks like a trackpad, and to put it down in front of the keyboard).

Or you can keep using the handset with the usual phone interface. Apps you launch by touching the phone screen stay on the phone screen – so you could project PowerPoint for a presentation but keep your email and personal text messages off the big screen. There will be a gesture to move an app from the phone screen to the big screen and back, a Microsoft spokesperson told us, but that’s not in the builds we’ve seen so far.

Right click customise

Intelligent interfaces

Apps you launch from the Start screen that appears up on the big screen – which mostly looks like the Windows 10 Start menu – open on that big screen. If they’re universal apps, the interface you get is the PC interface rather than the phone interface (because the app is actually the same code and has multiple interfaces within, and which one you see depends on the size of your screen).

If what you’re running is a web application from the Windows Store, it will give you a different interface if it uses responsive design. But if it’s an Android app packaged for Windows 10 for Phones (or an iOS app that the developer hasn’t added extra features to), you’ll just get the standard phone app interface, only bigger. (And of course Win32 apps packaged for distribution through the Windows Store won’t run on Windows 10 for Phones handsets at all).

Miracast and wired dock

The Continuum Start screen keeps the indicators that you expect to see in the top right corner of your phone screen – you can see the network strength indicator, the clock and the battery indicator there (rather than in the bottom right where they’d be on the desktop). You can scroll up and down, open the All Apps menu or right click with your mouse to customise the PC Start screen as usual.

Watch video and do work

There’s a simple taskbar with a back button, because so many phone applications expect that to be in the interface, but it doesn’t show thumbnails or pinned apps. When you launch an app from the Start screen, it launches full-screen, so you can only work in one application at a time on the big screen (although you can work in a second app on your phone, for example copying text from a message that you can then use your mouse or a keyboard shortcut to paste into PowerPoint).

Currently you don’t even see the clock, network and battery icons at the top of the screen, just the app. When you want a different app, you launch it from the Start menu, or use Alt-Tab to switch to it.

Miracast issues

When you connect wirelessly, Continuum for Phones uses Miracast technology, which explains the slight confusion about whether you will or won’t need new phone hardware to use it – some recent Windows Phone handsets have Miracast support (although in Windows Phone 8.1 we’ve found it tricky to get Miracast working with devices like the Roku Stick, but with the Windows 10 phone preview Miracast has worked for standard screen projection without these issues).


New handsets will definitely have Miracast support, but you’ll also need a Miracast adaptor for the HDMI screen you’re connecting your phone to. We’ve seen Continuum demos running on standard Miracast devices that are already on sale, with a standard Bluetooth keyboard and mouse paired to the phone.

Because it’s Miracast, you can connect to any Miracast-connected screen, not just a monitor. That means you can stream a movie from your phone (including streaming video from the web) onto a Miracast-connected TV using just a wireless dongle, which is when the SmartGlass-like Continuum control app is particularly useful.

Docking station

Continuum will also work with a wired dock that lets you plug in a monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse, plus it also charges your phone (and if you prefer, you can plug your phone into a wired dock so you get power but still pair a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse). Presumably that’s the prototype hardware that Microsoft has said it’s still working on.

Having a phone and a keyboard, mouse and screen means having a bag of gadgets to carry around, and in the longer term, Microsoft is also thinking about screens and keyboards that look like a notebook but have no processor in. That’s an idea we’ve seen from Android device makers in the past that’s never taken off, but with universal apps that give you more functionality when the screen gets larger, it could make more sense.