Yesterday, Microsoft announced they are bringing Edge to iOS and Android devices, in order to create a more seamless experience between your computer and your phone. But who cares? That seamless experience already exists through Chrome, the app you already use for everything on your PC.
Microsoft’s Android Integration Is Mediocre, and Nobody Is Biting
Last year, it seemed that Microsoft finally accepted that Windows Phone is a flop. So instead, they’ve turned their attention to existing mobile operating systems—Android in particular. With the Anniversary Update, Microsoft announced notification syncing with Android through the Cortana app. That’s nice (and we’ll come back to that in a bit), but Microsoft’s other Android integrations—which are slow to appear—are not nearly as good. You can make Cortana your default assistant on Android, but why would you when Google Assistant is so much more powerful? The Creators Update introduced Shared Experiences, but very few developers are taking advantage of it—Microsoft hasn’t even added it to their own apps. The “Timeline” feature they announced for the Fall Creators Update never appeared in preview builds, and appears to have been delayed. And today, Microsoft released Microsoft Launcher, a less powerful Google Now for Android, and mobile Edge, which can sync your tabs between machines…if you’re one of the 5% of people that use Edge.
So it’s been a year, and Microsoft’s “seamless” Android integration is severely lacking. Meanwhile, Android already works pretty well with your desktop through your PC’s most-used app: Chrome.
Most Stuff Happens in the Browser These Days
Think about how you use your computer. Where do you spend most of your time? For most people, it’s probably the browser: it contains your email, your calendar, your social networking accounts, the news you read, the videos you watch, and maybe even the documents you collaborate on.
Sure, there may be some exceptions—graphic designers may spend a lot of time in Photoshop, and many office workers may still need to access email through Outlook or documents in Office. But more and more, the time we spend is focused on the browser, especially for anything cloud-focused, which is what most of this “seamless integration” relies on in the first place.
You may not use a Chromebook, but Chrome is, for all intents and purposes, your OS—the hub through which most of your computing work flows. You may have a few Windows apps like Photoshop, but those are the exception, not the rule: Chrome is your home base, the platform for the majority of your apps. So if you want a seamless experience, just use Chrome on your computer and Google apps on your phone: the tabs you were browsing, the locations you searched for in Maps, and the files were working on can all be picked up where you left off.
Microsoft is just playing catch-up, trying to do to Android what Google has already done to Windows: Android and Chrome are so integrated that Microsoft’s attempts are too little, too late. (And thanks to Apple’s walled garden, neither company will probably get the integration they want on iOS—if you want a seamless experience on iOS, you’ll need a Mac.)
What About the Things Chrome Doesn’t Do?
There are, of course, some things Chrome still doesn’t do natively. But there are still better solutions than Microsoft’s slow attempt at integration with its own services.
Your phone’s notifications, for example, don’t all sync to Chrome. Many of those aforementioned services (like Gmail) may already have notification support in desktop Chrome, but things like text messages don’t.
Thankfully, for everything Chrome can’t do, there’s Pushbullet: a fantastic Chrome extension that fully breaks down the barrier between your phone and your PC. It can push your phone’s notifications to your PC (and let you respond to text messages), share file and links between devices, share text you’ve copied, and more. It may not be made by Google, but it’s a heck of a lot better than Microsoft’s mediocre attempt at turning Android into Windows Phone Part 2. (And frankly, it’s surprising Google hasn’t bought Pushbullet and just made it official yet.)
Plus, Chrome is always adding new features. Google Assistant, for example, is more powerful than Cortana, but it isn’t built in to Chrome on the desktop yet. However, they did just add it to their newest Chromebook, and Chromebooks have often been a testing ground for features that eventually come to Chrome—so I’m willing to bet we’ll see Google Assistant on Windows computers in the near future.
And if and when that does happen, Microsoft will still be trying to get developers to make apps for the Windows Store that integrate with Android. I know where I’ll be placing my bets.