Microsoft is setting itself apart from Apple in a big way

Daniel Howley

Microsoft (MSFT) knows that you love your iPhone. And it understands that you don’t want to give up your Android device. But that doesn’t mean the company is going to sit on the sidelines of the smartphone wars.

Instead, the Windows maker announced at its Build developers conference on Thursday that it’s going to meet consumers and developers halfway, by ensuring its software and devices play nice with competitors’ offerings.

“We’re focusing on making Windows work great with all of the devices we have,” said Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in the operating systems group at Microsoft.

“If a Windows PC is the best way for you to be productive in companion with your Android phone or your iPhone, then that’s good for our customers and good for Microsoft,” Belfiore added.

Microsoft’s move toward a more open approach can easily be contrasted with Apple’s (AAPL) style of walling off competing devices and apps.

From PC to iPhone

Of course, Microsoft’s AI voice assistant Cortana is already available on both Windows 10 PCs and Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android and iOS devices, as is the company’s OneDrive storage app. But this new push ensures that you can seamlessly move between using an app on your Windows machine and pick it up on your Android or iOS device and vice versa.

To do that Microsoft is launching its two new features, Timeline and Pick up Where You Left Off with Cortana. Timeline allows you to start up your Windows PC and jump back into apps or other programs you were working on today, yesterday or a few days ago.

Where You Left Off, meanwhile, lets you startup another PC and get suggestions from Cortana or check your Timeline to jump into the apps you were using on your original device.

With Where You Left Off for iOS and Android, you’ll be able to open an app on your Windows PC, then jump into the Where You Left Off on your phone to pick up where you were using it on your PC.

Microsoft demonstrated this with its new Story Remix app running on a PC and then an iPhone and back to a PC.

“The announcements we are making today are great for companies that are deploying and writing apps for the cloud, they are great for companies and users who use Office in the cloud and it just makes all of your devices more useful,” Belfiore said.

Fighting for the cloud

Microsoft isn’t doing this out of the kindness of its heart, though. The company doesn’t have much skin left in the smartphone wars, and has seemingly all but given up on its Windows Phone devices.

With the realization that the cloud is the next major tech battlefield, the Windows maker is working to ensure it’s one of the leading names in the industry.

It also doesn’t hurt that with users able to bounce back and forth between their PCs and smartphones, they’ll inevitably engage with the Windows machines more often. And if you can use Windows with an iPhone more effectively, then what’s the sense of ditching your PC for a Mac?

In fact, Microsoft went so far as to announce an iTunes app for its own Windows App Store. Apple already offers a version of iTunes for Windows that you can download with ease, but this new iteration is meant to run on Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S operating system.

Will Microsoft’s big interoperability push pay off? We’ll have to wait to find out.

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