2020 has been a big year for the Windows on Arm (WoA) ecosystem. The new ‘third generation’ of devices reached the market, including the world’s first ever 5G laptop – the Lenovo Yoga 5G – and Samsung Galaxy Book S. However, it is not just the hardware, the WoA developer ecosystem is continuing to advance with some significant developments.
As part of the Snapdragon 8cx gen2 5G chip (which is built on Arm technology) launch at September’s IFA 2020, Qualcomm were joined by Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay. He announced that the Microsoft App Assure team is working with companies to get their apps running on WoA laptops. The aim, according to Panay, is “to light up so many applications for both consumers and commercial customers alike.” This will make the overall application development and transition process for WoA easier for developers, with Microsoft providing the necessary support when needed.
Weeks later in a blog post, Panay officially revealed that Microsoft is working on x64 app emulation support for WoA devices. Up until now, the lack of x64 emulation has limited the number of apps that can run on WoA devices. This means that WoA devices have only run native Arm apps, alongside emulated 32-bit x86 apps.
The x64 app emulation support is something that I believe will provide yet more incentives for developers to target their applications for WoA devices. Alongside the excellent performance benefits of WoA devices, such as all-day battery life, instant on and always connected, users will now have ALL the available applications to choose from. This will improve the overall quality and depth of the user experience on WoA devices.
This commitment to the WoA ecosystem and benefits for developers and users were reinforced by Arun Kishan, Technical Fellow at Microsoft, in his ‘Microsoft: Building for an Arm Ecosystem’ keynote at Arm DevSummit. He stated that Microsoft were making significant investments to ensure that all WoA devices can run any application. Marc Sweetgall, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, struck a similar positive tone in his ‘Building Apps for Windows 10 on Arm’ DevSummit talk (see previous video). He explained that now is a great time to be building applications for ARM64, with a range of devices to target and no big complications for developers.
Alongside the recent commitments from Microsoft, more applications are now being targeted for WoA. One significant development has been Adobe releasing a version of Photoshop for WoA devices. This beta release means WoA users can now run Photoshop natively on their devices, bringing a completely new user experience to WoA devices. This also encourages a brand-new base of users to start using WoA devices.
For the past year, Arm has been working with and supporting developers that are porting their applications to – or even building them specifically for – WoA. The big takeaway from our engagement with these developers is how easy the process was to target their applications for WoA devices. Alongside the ease of the deployment, many of these developers are reporting positive results for the performance and UI of their applications.
One such company is LiquidText, which uses a highly visual and innovative touch user interface to allow users to actively review and annotate one or more documents at any one time. With the tools and support provided by Microsoft and Arm, the port from UWP Windows 10 to Arm was quick and painless for LiquidText. The whole process was less than two months’ work. As Craig Tashman, the founder and CEO of LiquidText, said at DevSummit (see previous video), “nothing ‘just works’ but the transition to Arm came very close to that.” LiquidText’s decision to port to focus on WoA devices was due to the thin, lightweight form factor, all-day battery life and ultra-powerful touch and ink-based features of the devices.
Another innovative application feeling the benefits of WoA devices is StaffPad, a music notation app designed to make the process of writing and performing music easier and more natural. The app benefits from the pen and touch capabilities of WoA 2-in-1 laptops, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro X built on an Arm-based custom processor.
Similar to LiquidText, StaffPad had a pain-free transition to WoA after it was built on UWP. As David William Hearn, Founder and Director at StaffPad, says: “Once the toolchain is set up, the process of building for Windows on Arm is painless and low-effort.” On performance, the WoA version is already outperforming other versions of the application, delivering the snappy, glitch-free performance needed during complicated music scores.
Composing music with the StaffPad app for WoA
Microsoft’s announcements should accelerate the porting of apps to WoA. We are already seeing performance and UI benefits for applications that are targeting the growing range of WoA devices. This alongside the ease of deployment makes WoA an attractive proposition for many application developers. Our advice to developers is to look at the deployment process and see how Microsoft and Arm can help. Porting to WoA will open up their apps to a whole new world of users and devices that will only benefit their applications in the future. Our WoA section on developer.arm.com has some useful guides and information.
I firmly believe that Microsoft’s x64 app emulation support for WoA devices is one of the most significant developments to happen to the WoA ecosystem. Ultimately, it means more apps on WoA devices, making them an even greater proposition for the end-user.
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