Microsoft's exploration of x86 emulation for ARM processors has been well documented this year. A report now suggests that this ability will be baked into Windows 10 in 2017. However, users will have to wait until “Redstone 3” is launched before seeing it.
According to ZDNet, Microsoft is already deep into development on the x86 emulation. The company will hold it back from Redstone 2 and will instead release it in the fall of 2017. We'll explain what exactly that means shortly, but first it is worth noting why x86 emulation of ARM processors is important.
Microsoft has expressed the importance of its Continuum solution. This is the technology that lets customers use their Windows 10 Mobile device as a full PC. CEO Satya Nadella has said this feature sets Windows 10 Mobile apart from its rivals.
I have often argued that Microsoft should make more of Continuum, really push it as a service. However, the company has been limited from doing that. At the moment, it allows users to run the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). The problem is, it does not support full x86 applications.
A potential solution to this problem is an emulator that runs x86 apps through an ARM64-based device. We have discussed this before, most recently with Dell's Intel-based smartphone that has leaked recently. A device running an ARM processor would be able to support x86 apps through emulation.
While this is not possible right now, Microsoft has been working on this emulation. Indeed, such an implementation would make Continuum and Windows 10 Mobile devices more appealing. Especially to businesses, an area of the market where Microsoft could conceivably challenge iOS and Android.
Microsoft tipster, WalkingCat weight in on the subject last night. A leaked image of what is described as a “Windows Hybrid” device running “x86-on-ARM64 tech”. This suggests Microsoft's development is well under way. In the ZDNet report, Mary Jo Foley points out that the HP in the device name could literally be HP the company working with Microsoft.
This is obviously an interesting development, but users should not expect end progress yet. As mentioned, Microsoft will not launch x86 app support until the release of Redstone 3 for Windows 10 Mobile.
At the moment, we are still on “Redstone 1” or the Anniversary Update as it is known to consumers. Microsoft is currently developing Redstone 2, while will arrive in spring 2017 as the Windows 10 Creators Update.
Microsoft has previously stated that it will launch two Windows 10 feature updates per year. That schedule will get underway in 2017 and Redstone 3 will be the second update and will arrive in the fall.
Future of Windows 10 Mobile
The ability to run full applications and turn a Windows mobile device into a full-fledged PC could have a wide impact. It would make the Windows 10 Mobile platform a very enticing option for organizations. Microsoft pulled out of mobile hardware earlier in this year. It has been consistently rumored that the company will one day return to making mobile devices.
Actually, the company has confirmed as much on numerous occasions. The terms under that arrival back on the mobile hardware market could largely depend on the ability to run ARM-based processors. Microsoft's development of x86 app emulation would fit perfectly with the company coming back to smartphones, maybe with the oft-rumored Surface Phone.