How Microsoft is turning Android into the mobile OS for Windows users

The fact that Microsoft didn't play nice with its major competitors has been in the rear-view mirror for years. With Microsoft apps filling the Google Play Store and Apple's app store today, it's easier than ever for users of Microsoft services to jump ship to other mobile OSes. Even Bill Gates is on Android.

While most of Microsoft's services are available on both iOS and Android, the open nature of the latter means that Microsoft can create strong links between Android phones and Windows 10 PCs in both looks and functionality.

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Apps and services

Between customizing the look of an Android device with Microsoft Launcher, continuing to browse a page from your Android phone to your PC on Edge, and a variety of other Microsoft apps and services, Microsoft has a strong presence on Android in the apps department. And with Edge coming to the platform in preview recently, there's reason to expect Microsoft's support of Android to continue.

There's reason to expect Microsoft's support of Android to continue well into the future.

For users, this means that they don't have to switch away from products they already are accustomed to using on PC, such as Office, if their work shifts away from Windows hardware. Even if an entire company switched from Windows to Android, they could still use most of Microsoft's services.

And Microsoft's support on Android, including specific versions of Android, isn't half-hearted. When Samsung unveiled the DeX Dock, which provides a Continuum-esque experience, the Office suite was used to show it off. Microsoft has made a concerted effort to have a first-class experience for Microsoft services on Android.

On top of Microsoft's support for Android, Google's mobile OS also lets users select default apps for a number of functions. A person used to the Windows 10 ecosystem could use Cortana as their default assistant, Edge as their default browser, and Bing as their default search engine on their Android phone.

Though there are many Microsoft apps available in the Google Play Store, there are some missing services. Two notable exceptions are the Photos app, and Movies and TV. You can view photos and other content in the OneDrive app, but that isn't the same as using apps built for viewing content.

The best Microsoft apps for Android

Continuing the experience

Plenty of apps work across platforms. And using Microsoft apps arguably makes a device into more of a "Microsoft phone" than a phone that's specifically for Windows. But Microsoft has pushed the phrase "continue on PC" for a reason. They want users to be able to do a task on one device and then jump over to finish it on another. While this isn't available in its final form on Windows 10, Timeline is set to be released as part of RS4, but there are already some ways that users can continue their experiences across devices.

The feature is quite literally at the center of Microsoft Edge on Android. You can continue your browsing with the tap of an icon. And Microsoft has also included continue on PC in Microsoft Launcher. It's clear that as these features are fully fleshed out and Windows 10 continues to be developed, this process will become even more streamlined.

In addition to Timeline, Microsoft is planning to release a Cloud Clipboard that will allow you to copy and paste across devices, including Android phones. That inclusion of Android phones is a trend that's very apparent in many of Microsoft's efforts. If a feature can be used on Android, or iOS for that matter, Microsoft seems keen to make it work across as many devices as possible.

These features bridge the gap between a phone running Microsoft services and a phone for Windows by forging a connection between Windows 10 and Android and continuing the user experience across devices.

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A 'phone for Windows' isn't a Windows Phone

All of Microsoft's work to bring its services to Android, while also continuing the user experience between Windows 10 and Android phones, is very useful for users but that doesn't make an Android phone into a Windows phone. And it's not just about Live tiles or user interface, though those are a factor. Windows is about more than Office, apps, transparency, and continuing things on Windows 10.

Windows 10 is about a complete unified experience across devices. It's about unifying OneCore across devices and bringing a single OS to a variety of form factors through CShell. It's about UWP apps being able to easily scale between devices with very little extra coding for developers. To a large extent, that vision is being fulfilled with PCs, Windows Mixed Reality, and Xbox One, but without phones, there is a gaping hole.

So while many Windows users can, and do, use Android phones to extend their Windows 10 and Microsoft experiences to their hands, it isn't the same as having a completely unified experience.

What do users really want?

How much do end users care about the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), OneCore, CShell, and other deeply unified aspects of an OS? It's likely that many readers of this site appreciate the efforts that Microsoft is making to unify Windows on different form factors but it's also likely that many users don't care.

If a user can create a Word document on their personal phone, continue it on their PC at work, embed photos from OneDrive that they had stored on their home PC, share the document through Skype or Microsoft Teams on a work phone, and then check off an item on their to-do list using Cortana or Microsoft Launcher, will they care how many OSes were involved or what code was used?

This scenario is an example of the mobility experience that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella often speaks about. And it's how a device can be a phone for Windows without actually being a Windows Phone.

Your thoughts

What do you think? Is Microsoft turning Android devices into phones for Windows? Or does Microsoft need to have its own mobile OS to extend the Windows experience to people's hands?

  • I would live MS to allow Chromebooks like the Samsung Chromebook pro to access the office apps via the play store instead of blocking them. If they're really interested in making the Android ecosystem the system for MS users, allow them to connect that data to other devices.
  • Nobody cares
  • About Chromebooks
  • He cares
  • A lot
  • I agree with you here 100% I've been waiting on Microsoft apps on my Chromebook Pro for a while now..
  • If Nadella would have put even half the effort into supporting Windows Phone/Mobile than he did peddling his risible book then it might be a viable platform still.
  • Viable for the 1000 users? I think they are all on Windows Central
  • Windows Phone 8 was a promising OS. The store sure did lack traction but with some amped efforts and a steady Marketing Campaign, they could have reeled in a lot more users. I so miss the darn Live Tiles!!!!!
  • Try Launcher 10. Pretty reasonable approximation of Live Tiles on Android.
  • That's like putting some rims on a Camry to make a Porsche. Those launchers are just window dressing and don't carry any of the helpful features of Windows Mobile.
  • Yep.... So much for his "Mobile First, Cloud First" promise. Pretty much like other promises from Microsoft as of late.
  • I haven't used WIndows Phone since the Nokia 1520 with 8.1. It was one of the best experience I've had with an OS. And the way MS apps was integrated made it work extremely well. On Android, they are just apps. Extra apps I don't need.
  • They should release a surface phone with a forked Android version on it.
  • Exactly what I think
  • See my comment a couple of post down
  • I am exactly the user you are talking about. Windows Fanboy from 2003 till 2015. I had to switch to Android. From an UI perspective ... well, I still prefer Windows Mobile/ Phone and you can't make Android look like it as far as I know. Just recently I thought about switching completely to the Android world. I still use Office 365 and my Outlook Exchange account. My "mail account" never worked under Android, that is contacts is not syncing properly. I can only add and edit contacts on my laptop, otherwise they are only stored on the phone, huge pain, and I already tried to fix it, yes. OneDrive integration is a joke IMHO. Try to listen to an audio file or watch a movie and turn off the phone because you just want to listen, it stops. Try to copy files from OneDrive to your SD card, I wasn't able to do it. #smh This was just three clicks on my Blackberry... Maybe I'm just not getting it, as I dislike the whole Android UI, very user unfriendly and complicated if you ask me. If you have better solutions for me, feel free to share. I am more than happy to improve my Android experience. Greetz
    mH Update: You can now play a song from OneDrive with VLC, one song at a time. Well at least this some improvement.
  • Ever tried SquareHome 2 launcher? I use it on my phones and tablets from time to time to imitate the look of Windows Phone and it works quite well.
  • nope I am stuck with Nova so far, but will check it out, thanks, mH
  • Have just switched from windows phone to android a few weeks ago. I initially hated it. I think I have finally hit a good compromise. Squarhome 2 did not do it for me however. Am using Launcher10 however which took care of the UI. Finding the right widgets to implement live tiles. It mostly works, including the right swipe for access to alphabeticall list of apps. I just wish contact sync worked better with Microsoft, and Cortana implementation just isn't there yet.
  • wow, this launcher app wants access to basically everything, that's not for me 😔 mH
  • Well the launcher needs those permissions to do things that it does for the live tiles like showing you your calendar events, contacts, photo slide etc. I recommend actually trying the app to understand why it needs those permissions.
  • How else is it suppose to work properly?
  • I understand that. Nova launcher doesn't need as many permissions and I am using widgets instead, to make it work properly. I gave the MS launcher a try for the last 30 minutes (yeah I know, same permissions issue, but they already have all my data). Felt like being sucked into the MS world again and realized I don't wanna go there anymore. I am moving on. And I am trying to use Google services on my laptop instead. Maybe that would be a great follow -up article? 😉 Or maybe I should give Apple a try. Maybe I will do that in the future when they start putting real batteries in their phones 😁 mH
  • Well you did say that you prefer the look of Windows Phone so I presented you a solution but that solution needs those permissions to work. Just because it asks for those permissions doesn't mean that the developer is stealing your data, only shady devs does that. I also use Nova for a very long time now and even purchased Prime version but it doesn't have the features of SquareHome 2 as they cater for different audiences and that's why it requires less permission. But heck, you're using arguably the best launcher for android so you can just keep using that.
  • lol, yeah you are right 😉 And thanks for the alternative solution, I bookmarked it. Let's see, maybe I change my mind about the permissions, I am cautious there. Greetz mH
  • Just downloaded it. Pretty cool so far....
  • What launcher is shown in the third photograph with those blue tiles? That one looks good. Thank you in advance for your help.
  • That's not a launcher for Android. That's Windows 10 Mobile. 😉 There is a reason a lot of people preferred to use Windows on their phone despite the lack of App Support.
  • It may look similar, but it's not the same. Kind of like getting a Ferrari body kit for Volkswagen. It's not the same thing.
  • The Groove app and the default music player on my LG V30 has OneDrive integration
  • Thx, Can you send a list of songs to the player and listen to them or only one song at a time? mH
  • You can listen to them all at once and even add them to a playlist.
  • sounds great, how do you do that? 🤔 mH
  • Ditto after reading an article or two trying to figure out how to use Dex on my Display Dock or pick up a NexDock or something similar for my 950xl. Still a great phone and from an integration standpoint WP was top notch.
  • I resorted to using Google Play to play my OneDrive music. I can play it with the screen off. Not exactly great, but it works. I, too, am like you and was forced to switch.
  • I agree about the Android UI. Once you get hooked on the Windows live tiles, everything else seems like a waste. I miss them, but I got used to just apps.
  • How long before we see a Surface Phone running android with Microsoft Launcher?
  • I honestly don't see it happening. It's not viable for MS to make another phone that forked Android, slap MS on there and call it a Surface Phone. MS is not going to want to make an Android phone that has NONE of Google services on let alone the play store. It's going to be a failed attempt again to make a mobile phone device. That has failed with the Amazon phone and Nokia and even Tizen. You can't fork Android, not have Google services, and expect it to sell well. MS has clearly shown outside the Surface tablet and laptop, their focus is on software and cloud.
  • I'm also the person that this article talks about. I was so into the Windows Phone as my primary device. Didn't care about a lack of apps because the mobile IE opened full websites which a lot of apps re-direct you to for things anyway. It's when they started pulling apps and nerfing other apps that I had to move back to Android purely for business needs. The Microsoft Launcher and all of the apps really helps me a lot. I use ALL of the M$ apps at one time or another and am really happy to see the support they are throwing to Android.
  • Title this article correctly. "How Google is making Android the mobile OS choice of Windows Users". Trying to give credit to Nutella's idiotic firebombing of his own OS and products cannot be spun as if this was the tactic he was going for. Stop giving this clown this much credit.
  • Thank you for this comment 😀 mH
  • Nah. Microsoft abandoned and alienated its phone users, so I'm out. I have Office 365 because of my laptop, but I'm off everything else Microsoft on my Android. Wait, I use SwiftKey that got bought my MS, but that's it.
  • It's a pretty good idea. I like this approach cos nothing gives. It's a win-win.
  • It's brilliant for MS. They make money on every Android deice that is sold. Why would they not want to steer people to Android?
  • Have just switched from windows phone to android a few weeks ago. I initially hated it. I think I have finally hit a good compromise. Squarhome 2 did not do it for me however. Am using Launcher10 however which took care of the UI. Finding the right widgets to implement live tiles was tedious however . It mostly works, including the right swipe for access to alphabetical list of apps. I just wish contact sync worked better with Microsoft, and Cortana implementation just isn't there yet. I look forward to getting edge for Android. But really, Cortana please. Especially while driving... They need to find a way to have a real full integration, including for voice texting.
  • Just got a note 4 as my 950 was messing up and shutting down for no reason. Recent articles showing Bill Gates using Android prompted me to try it again as previous android experiences were not good. I am after 2 weeks with it still not comfortable with it. I really miss my camera launch button. I do not like the android text messaging.Although there are several things I like with the note ,mostly screen size.I am going to get the 950 repaired and use it till I have no other choice for me Windows is much easier and smoother.
  • Try the Microsoft app for messaging 'SMS Organizer'. Have been using it for a while. Very cool.
  • at the very least you should've gotten a note 5. I switched last Nov to a galaxy s7 and love it. there is a slight learning curve, but not enough to think windows is easier and smoother. at some point you'll realize all the devs are supporting android and ios.
  • I'm using my old 950 while my S8 gets repaired. I once shouted praises on Windows Phone from the mountain tops, then Windows 10 Mobile happened. I thought my 950 was doing just fine, and stayed convinced until I had to use it again. It's not just apps, they keyboard has some features I prefer, but is ultimately slower and less accurate, notifications are almost nonexistent(that's always been an issue). Yesterday my phone completely froze when I tried to answer it.
  • While I think it's a very smart idea for Microsoft to port their apps over to Android and Apple, they are making a major mistake walking away from Windows Mobile. I recently read a security article saying that people use their smartphones an average of FIVE HOURS per day! Why in the world would Microsoft not want to have a Windows-based device in our hands so much of the day?!?! If I use Android on my phone, why not migrate all of my computers from Windows to Linux (which Android is based on?) Yea, I know it's not quite the same as Windows Mobile being based on Windows PC, but I can see the various Linux distributions doing more integration with Android phones. Now, I fully understand that Microsoft doesn't want to have a "me too" device, but at one time, Microsoft had a serious share (%) of the smartphone marketspace while Android was almost non-existent. They've just lost their way and Nadella needs to "Hit Refresh" instead of "Alt + F4." In some ways, Nadella's actions reminds me of IBM's failures. On a personal note, I've been helping non-technical family transition from Windows Phones to Android and every single one of them prefer Windows over Android. The last person I helped transition called Android a "major downgrade" from her very old Windows 8 phone (even though the much newer hardware is so much better.) While Microsoft is making major strides in Android versions of their software, their apps work so much better on Windows.