The Industry

Microsoft Is Finally Making Windows Better for Smartphone Users

Cross-platform functions on computer and phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Microsoft.

Cross-device management is a must in 2018. Having calendar alerts, notifications, and messages synced across devices ensures you never miss anything important—even if you forget your phone at home or if you’re in transit away from your office desk. Proper cross-device management also ensures files and photos are easily shareable regardless of the gadget you’re using. But as mobile use has proliferated, Windows desktop users have had a harder time with some of these things.

Unlike iOS, which syncs smoothly with macOS products, or Android, with its robust and easily accessible cloud-based services like Gmail and Google Photos, Windows users have had a more fragmented and sometimes time-consuming experience ensuring notifications and photos are shared between devices. With an app announced at its Build conference this week, Microsoft hopes to eliminate that pain point.

Microsoft introduced a new iOS and Android app called Your Phone on Monday. The app ties the contents of your smartphone to your Windows PC, so you can easily access your phone’s photos, text messages, and notifications. With Your Phone, you’ll be able to do things like drag and drop photos on your phone into documents on the desktop. While it doesn’t sound like much, if you’ve ever had to walk someone through the process of backing up their device and photos with iTunes on a PC, this simple cross-platform functionality will be much appreciated.

It’s also an interesting turn for Microsoft. Until recently, the company had no major incentive to offer such inter-OS compatibility because it was fighting for smartphone buyers to opt for the Windows Phone ecosystem. In October, Microsoft officially gave up those efforts, and now we see the company actively trying to ensure its desktop products are compatible with the two dominant mobile platforms, iOS and Android.

Microsoft has slowly come to terms with iOS and Android’s dominance over the past few years. It was big news when Microsoft Office first arrived on these smartphones in 2013. It’s only been since 2017, however, that Microsoft has truly begun trying to make things like file sharing between Windows, iOS, and Android less of a headache. Microsoft announced compatibility with iOS 11’s Files app for its cloud-storage service OneDrive last June, and the feature rolled out in January. It also debuted an app launcher for Android in October to intertwine your phone and PC—the launcher makes it easier to resume editing documents, viewing websites, or editing photos when you switch from the desktop to your Android device.

The new Your Phone app does much of what these separate solutions offer, but all wrapped up in one place. For someone who doesn’t use OneDrive or isn’t nuanced in the ways of custom Android launchers, it’s a simple, straightforward way to ensure mobile users are able to swap between devices with minimal headaches.

While Microsoft seems to be slowly pivoting away from consumer services and focusing more on enterprise-related products, it recognizes that smartphones are an integral part of both experiences now. If the company wants to stay relevant in the “post-PC” world, it needs to ensure that its software and apps play nicely with the operating systems customers use on a daily basis. Many industries and companies have switched from PCs to Macs over the years—one 2017 survey found that 25 percent of Windows users planned to switch to macOS over the next six months. In the education space, Google Chromebooks have surged in adoption for their affordability and ease of use. Additions like the Your Phone app could help stem the flood of users switching to more mobile-friendly desktop operating systems.