The biggest operating system on PCs will soon work with silicon from the biggest chipmaker for mobile devices. Microsoft and Qualcomm just announced that Windows 10 will run on Qualcomm’s newest chips, starting with the upcoming Snapdragon 835. Details are a bit scarce, though: Qualcomm says only that Windows will run on “cellular PC devices” running on its ARM-based chips instead of Intel’s and AMD’s x86-style processor architecture. Qualcomm expects the first gadgets to arrive in the second half of 2017.
New phones wouldn’t be exciting: Windows Phone edition devices have flopped going against Android and Apple—with less than 2% market share. But cheap, power-sipping desktops or laptops, or entirely new types of gadgets—all with Snapdragon’s gigabit cellular radio and artificial intelligence capabilities—could be in the works. (Microsoft already has a version of Windows for “internet of things” devices, such as home-automation systems, that runs on ARM-based chips including Qualcomm’s current versions.)
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has ported Windows to ARM devices. In 2012, it introduced Windows RT, which looked like regular Windows, but couldn’t run standard Windows software—leading to confused and peeved customers. Microsoft’s Surface tablets using Intel processors and a full version of Windows have done okay in sales, though nothing like the rival iPad. Building Surface-style devices on ARM chips could get Intel and Qualcomm to compete for Microsoft’s business. It’s a potential win for Qualcomm, too. While the PC market isn’t booming, it’s still an extra source of revenue for a company trying hard to not get pigeonholed into the mobile phone and tablet markets, which are no longer proceeding at a gallop, either.