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article imageOp-Ed: Samsung DeX and Microsoft Continuum: Mobile productivity compared

By James Walker     Mar 30, 2017 in Technology
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+ yesterday. 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 and Continuum
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.
Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX
Samsung
From the outside, both systems are practically identical. The phones connect to a docking station that in turn is linked to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The smartphone's processor is then used to power a desktop interface on the display, creating a mobile workstation.
The interface
In the case of Continuum, a specially adapted version of the traditional Windows desktop is used. Naturally, this isn't an option for the Android-powered Galaxy S8 as the platform doesn't include any native technology to enable this kind of system. Samsung has had to build its own specially-optimised Android interface, adding to the growing numbers of Android distributions supporting windowed apps.
Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX
Samsung
Samsung's "completely redesigned" Android UI is built from the ground-up for use with a keyboard and mouse. It uses familiar desktop controls and supports multiple resizable windows and right-click context menus. There's also a special web browser for browsing while in DeX mode.
Apps
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.
Continuum for phones
Continuum for phones
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.
Samsung has partnered with companies including Adobe and Microsoft to ensure key productivity apps work seamlessly from the outset. However, the company's reference to "enabling" DeX "compatibility" for apps suggests developers will need to take action before their products can take full advantage of the DeX interface.
"Convenient and flexible"
Samsung is using DeX as one of its hero features for the Galaxy S8, aiming to attract professional users who may formerly have looked elsewhere. It's possible the company is trying to sway enterprise buyers who currently purchase Windows 10 Mobile devices, one of the remaining strong audiences for Microsoft's mobile platform.
Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX
Samsung
Samsung said it build DeX to evolve the smartphone and affirm its "hub" position. For many consumers, the smartphone is the centre of their digital lives, used to interact with others, control their home and get alerts from every facet of society. With DeX, the phone takes on another role, condensing the office PC into an 8mm chassis.
"The smartphone has become the central point for the modern mobile professional, and when giving a presentation or editing documents remotely, it means they can work effectively using just their smartphone," said Injong Rhee, CTO of the Mobile Communications Business at Samsung Electronics. "We developed Samsung DeX with the highly mobile worker in mind, giving them a convenient and flexible desktop experience."
Continuum or DeX?
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.
Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX
Samsung
"Samsung’s own browser, Microsoft’s Office apps, and Adobe’s mobile creative suite all work fine, but the vast majority will look like stretched phone apps on the big screen," wrote The Verge after hands-on time with the system.
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.
Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile - when connected to a display  the phone powers a Windows 10 desktop ...
Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile - when connected to a display, the phone powers a Windows 10 desktop experience via a dock
Microsoft October 2015 Live Event
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.
"Building excellence" – back to the desktop
It's not the first time Microsoft has innovated first only to be outdone by a rival. Samsung recognised Microsoft's role in the development of DeX, noting the companies share a vision for "building excellence" in mobile productivity.
Microsoft has collaborated with Samsung to help promote its successful Android apps, recognising it currently makes more sense to follow the users than keep pushing Windows 10 Mobile marketing campaigns into an echo chamber.
Samsung DeX
Samsung DeX
Samsung
"Our collaboration with key partners such as Adobe and Microsoft was essential in the development of Samsung DeX, as they share our vision for building excellence in mobile productivity," said Injong Rhee. "Samsung DeX redefines what a smartphone can do to keep mobile professionals productive."
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.
Samsung Galaxy S8
Samsung Galaxy S8
Samsung
This is in stark contrast to Apple's ongoing iPad promotional campaigns, claiming a tablet and mobile-first interface suffices for the average user. DeX is essentially the opposite of this, conceding that the physical practicalities of mobile hardware don't yet transfer to usability concerns.
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 opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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