Why Microsoft is playing nice with iPhones and Android

Daniel Howley

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wants Windows to play nice with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone is dead. I mean, it has been for a quite some time already, but the company essentially confirmed the platform’s end in a tweet by corporate vice president Joe Belfiore earlier this month in which he said there is no future hardware or software planned for the platform.

But that doesn’t mean the Windows maker is ditching mobile entirely. Instead, Microsoft is piggybacking on the success of Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android operating system to get its own apps and services into customers’ hands.

Their latest efforts, the new Edge browser app for iOS and Android and the Microsoft Launcher for Android aren’t groundbreaking, but they ensure that Windows 10 PC users can still access their info on the devices of their choosing. What’s more, the apps represent an opportunity for Microsoft to stay on consumers’ minds while you tap away on their handsets.

Microsoft Edge for iOS and Android

Microsoft’s Edge browser is the Windows 10 equivalent of the company’s old Internet Explorer. Except, rather than being an awful dinosaur of a program, Edge is actually pretty great. It’s fast, clean and has all of the features you’d expect of a modern browser.

It’s also devastatingly unpopular. According to StatCounter, Chrome commands more than 55% of worldwide browser market share. Edge? Just 2.2%. Getting Edge on more devices means Microsoft can expand the browser’s reach, which is good not only for name recognition, but can keep iPhone users from ditching their Windows PCs for Macs and Android users jumping to Chromebooks.

This is all a part of Microsoft’s strategy of going toward where consumers are, and working with them. With Edge, that means you’ll be able to see your Favorites, Reading View and your Reading List from your PC on your smartphone and vice versa. The company also added its Continue on PC feature to the browser, so if you open a webpage on your phone and realize that it’s just god awful on a smartphone or tablet, which happens from time to time, you can send it to your PC and view it on your full-size monitor.

I can see myself using this more often with sites that require me to enter a lot of text or with stories and articles I’d rather read at my desk than on my phone, even if it has a 6-inch display.

The Edge browser is still in beta for the iPhone, and not yet available for Android, so don’t expect a perfect experience if you download it for your iOS device. Features like being able to access tabs you opened on your phone from your PC still aren’t baked into the app, but should be in the future.

The almost-Windows phone

With Microsoft Launcher, the tech titan is bringing a pseudo-Windows Phone experience to Android handsets. Launcher essentially puts a kind of Windows Phone skin over your phone’s existing Android interface that’s reminiscent of the highly underrated Windows Phone design language.

Instead of Android’s Google Now screen, Microsoft Launcher gives you a feed of items including your schedule, regularly used apps, news, contacts you speak with most, documents and to-do lists.

More importantly, the Microsoft Launcher puts Microsoft’s own apps front and center on your smartphone. That includes everything ranging from Outlook, OneDrive and Skype to Swiftkey and Microsoft’s intelligent voice assistant Cortana. That last one is particularly important as Cortana needs as much exposure to consumers as possible to help it learn how to reply to voice requests.

Cortana is already available on all Windows 10 PCs, so bringing it to your Android phone means you’ll be able to access your information across devices. And the more people use Cortana, the better Microsoft’s chance of catching up with industry leaders like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.

Window to the future?

Everything Microsoft is doing falls into its stated strategy of working with, rather than against, consumers’ preferences for different devices.

“Windows PCs will love all of your devices,” Belfiore exclaimed while previewing Microsoft’s cross-platform efforts at the company’s Build conference in May. 

But it will take time to tell if it actually pays off. I doubt adding Edge to mobile devices will make it the most widely used browser over night, especially since Chrome has Google search baked in.

The Microsoft Launcher, meanwhile, ensures that more users will have access to the company’s own mobile apps without having to reinvent the wheel in terms of smartphone hardware or operating systems.

Will Microsoft’s efforts turn around its mobile fortunes? No. Apple and Android are firmly in the driver’s seat in terms of smartphone market share and that’s not going to change. It does, however, give Windows PC users less of a reason to leave and puts Microsoft’s software in the hands of consumers who may have ditched their computers entirely in favor of mobile devices.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.