The future of Windows phones includes unlocking with facial recognition

Windows 10 Mobile running on a Lumia 940XL.
Windows 10 Mobile running on a Lumia 940XL. Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Microsoft also suggests small tablets not use the desktop version of Windows

Microsoft is nearing the launch of Windows 10 Mobile, and that means new smartphones running the operating system are around the corner. While the company is expected to release its own set of smartphones, it is also working with manufacturers to produce third-party devices that run the OS.

Microsoft's activities on behalf of device makers are part of an effort to build out an ecosystem of handsets after scaling back its own ambitions in the mobile market  last month. The company published a set of guidelines Friday outlining in chart form the different expectations it has for different phone, phablet and tablet devices running Windows 10. While they're not necessarily hard requirements for upcoming devices, they provide a framework for understanding what Microsoft expects the future of mobile devices running its operating system will look like. 

Smartphones are divided into three categories: value phones, premium phones and value phablets. The first category is designed for budget-conscious users and Microsoft doesn't even suggest that it feature LTE connectivity. The latter two categories appear designed for mid-tier to high-end phone users who want some of the latest features available in the company's new mobile operating system. 

One of the standout functions that Microsoft expects both premium smartphones and value phablets to feature is facial unlocking using Windows Hello. That capability was first introduced to consumers with the launch of Windows 10 this summer, and allows people who have devices with an infrared camera to use their face in place of a passcode. 

Face unlocking is hardly a new feature in the mobile market -- Android has allowed it for many years -- but Microsoft's implementation on PCs appears faster and seemingly more secure than how it works on Android. The feature could be attractive to enterprise IT managers who want to make sure that the end users they oversee are able to better secure their devices while avoiding some inconvenience. 

Beyond that, the requirements are fairly unsurprising. Premium handsets are expected to feature the new Continuum for Phones feature that allows users to hook their phone up to an external display and essentially use it as a very small PC, along with a whopping 20 megapixel camera for taking photos. 

On the tablet side of things, the most interesting component of the guidelines is that Microsoft suggests that 7-inch tablets run Windows 10 Mobile, rather than its desktop counterpart. That means people who buy the small tablets will be constrained to install apps through the Windows Store, rather than being able to take advantage of all the tablet-focused features baked into the version of the operating system built for computers and larger tablets.

Microsoft also recommends that those smaller tablets include support for Continuum for Phones, so it would be possible for users to get a desktop-like experience out of the hardware even if it doesn't support the same version of Windows 10 its larger counterparts do. 

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