James Walker

James Walker

Web Developer

Samsung's DeX is Windows Continuum done right

Published on Sunday April 9 2017 at 12:10 in News Editorials

Samsung has officially announced its new Galaxy S8 smartphone with DeX, a pioneering mobile product that lets the phone display a desktop interface when docked to a screen, keyboard and mouse. It's an Android interpretation of Microsoft's Continuum.

After months of anticipation, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 and S8+ this week. Alongside the new products, it launched DeX, short for "desktop experience." The optional companion service for the S8-series allows the phones to be used as a desktop PC, becoming a single device for use both on the go and while at work.

DeX has been welcomed across the tech press as an innovative approach to mobile productivity. It's not the first time this concept has been developed, although it is a significant step forward for the Android smartphone industry. DeX is an exacting implementation of Microsoft's Windows Continuum technology, introduced back in October 2015 with the Lumia 950.

Continuum supports the vast majority of existing Universal Windows Platform apps in the Windows Store, including select Adobe products, Microsoft Office, the stock Windows 10 apps and most third-party services. Because Continuum is baked into the heart of Windows, apps adapt to it seamlessly, displaying their desktop interface automatically as the screen size changes.

Samsung's customised Android version makes things more complicated. The company hasn't yet clarified which apps are available and how developers adapt them to work optimally with DeX. It appears as though the majority of existing Play Store titles will run but with varying degrees of success.

As with previous attempts to get Android apps running on larger screens, DeX reportedly suffers from a series of issues that limit its usefulness. Most importantly, apps that aren't fully optimised display in small, narrow windows reminiscent of a phone screen, unable to scale up to fill the monitor. Keyboard shortcut support is sporadic and apps are likely to respond to DeX's interface in varying, sometimes unpredictable ways.

This seemingly makes Continuum the more accomplished product. However, this has its own set of issues. While Microsoft's kernel-level support for Continuum makes it trivial for apps to adapt to display changes, the Windows Store is still lacking in the number of apps actually available. While the situation is improving on the desktop side, Continuum currently only works with apps that can be installed to the phone.

Compounding the problem is Windows 10 Mobile's pitiable market share. While the more complete solution, Continuum is inevitably going to lose its leading position to DeX. With the Galaxy S8 set to ship tens of millions of units in its first few days of availability, usage of DeX will soon far exceed that of Continuum. As Microsoft keeps Windows 10 Mobile on life support, Samsung will continue expanding DeX with new features and scaling improvements, side-stepping past Continuum.

DeX represents the next evolution of mobile technology, although perhaps tellingly it actually steers development back into the past. By promoting Continuum and DeX, Microsoft and Samsung are admitting touchscreens still don't cut it for professional work.

People actually want the control of a keyboard and mouse blended with the always-present nature of a smartphone. It's this long-held vision that DeX finally realises, making the concept of a single all-encompassing device a potential reality for mobile workers.

DeX will be available alongside the Galaxy S8 when the phone launches next month. In many regions, it'll be offered as part of a bundle containing everything required to get started with the system. Pricing will start at $720, excluding the $160 display dock.

This post is heavily condensed. For the full report, read my complete article on Digital Journal.