Microsoft is finally embracing Android and iOS. The company has launched Edge for iOS in preview, promised Edge for Android is coming soon, and launched Microsoft Launcher for Android in public preview.
Edge for iOS preview is available via Apple’s TestFlight and is limited, per Apple’s rules, to 10,000 users. Microsoft is inviting Windows Insiders in the U.S. to sign up here. Android users can also sign up at that same link — the preview will hit the Google Play Store in the coming weeks. Microsoft is hoping to release Edge for Android and iOS out of preview “later this year.”
The Microsoft Launcher is available in preview for English users in the United States on Google Play. Microsoft promises to bring it to other markets “over time” and launch it out of preview “later this year,” as well.
The apps are part of a bigger strategy Microsoft is cooking up to bring Windows 10 PCs closer to Android and iOS devices. It’s a theme we first saw at Microsoft’s Build 2017 developer conference in May, where Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in Microsoft’s operating systems group, talked about making Windows 10 computers work great with your phone. But the company didn’t launch anything in that vein at the event.
“We’re helping users perform their tasks as they move cross-device between the PC and whatever other device they’re using,” Belfiore told VentureBeat. “And, of course, we had worked on that kind of thing for Windows Phone. But now we’re focusing on a more inclusive set of work that involves Android and iOS, since a huge number of our Windows 10 PC users are carrying Android and iOS phones.”
In other words, Windows 10 Mobile is dead, so Microsoft is looking to link Windows 10 with Android and iOS.
The apps launching today all have Continue on PC functionality, which, as its name suggests, lets you send a task from your Android or iOS device to your Windows 10 PC. The feature requires the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which arrives on October 17. Windows Insiders already have it, but even if you’re not a Windows 10 tester, you can still download Edge and Microsoft Launcher and try them without that functionality.
Continue on PC is cloud-based, meaning it doesn’t send whatever you want to “continue” over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, rather it just logs what you’re doing to the Microsoft Graph. As long as you’re logged into your Microsoft Account on both devices, your data will roam with you. This is the main reason why Edge and Launcher prompt you to login to your Microsoft Account.
Edge for Android and iOS
Microsoft Edge for Android and iOS brings over familiar features from Edge for Windows, which the company recently shared has 330 million active devices. Belfiore claims that the top request from these Edge users has been to bring Edge to their phone. So Microsoft is finally delivering.
Edge on Android and iOS thus has your Favorites, Reading List, New Tab Page, and Reading View. Regardless of which device you’re using, you should be able to access your same stuff in Edge.
The user interface and the above features are what make this Edge, because on Android and iOS, browser vendors cannot simply use any rendering engine they want. We asked Microsoft how the company rationalizes not being able to use EdgeHTML.
“We fundamentally believe that a web rendering engine should be built to take advantage of its operating system platform. EdgeHTML is built on the Universal Windows platform, and takes advantage of the Windows platform to deliver the fastest, most secure, most battery-conscious experience on any device,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “In keeping with that perspective, we have chosen to build on the native rendering engine for each of our mobile platforms — Blink/Chromium on Android, and WebKit/WKWebView on iOS.”
In other words, Microsoft knows it is being forced to play ball, much like Mozilla before it. And similarly to how Mozilla eventually gave in, it’s clear Microsoft has also concluded that the tradeoff is worth it to stay in the game.
But the big highlight here is Continue on PC, which lets you take the page you’re looking at right on your phone and open it on your PC, or send it to your PC to view later.
But again, you’ll need to be a Windows Insider to try this feature out. Furthermore, to even use Edge, Google users need a phone with Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, while Apple users need an iPhone with iOS 10.2 or higher. Android tablet and iPad support are coming in a future update.
There are a few more limitations worth noting for this preview. Edge for Android and iOS initially only supports U.S. English, though Microsoft promises to add more countries and languages “as we expand the preview.” The Edge preview also doesn’t yet roam passwords or tabs across devices, but Microsoft is working on those next.
Microsoft Launcher for Android
Microsoft Launcher requires Android 4.0.3 or higher. It’s Android-only simply because Apple doesn’t let you customize the iPhone’s launcher. This isn’t Microsoft’s first launcher for Android, but it is the company’s latest and greatest.
Microsoft Launcher for Android is the evolution of the Arrow Launcher, which came out of beta back in October 2015. Arrow is a project by Microsoft Garage, which regularly releases experimental applications for Android, iOS, and other platforms. Belfiore boasts that Arrow has a 4.6-star rating on Google Play.
In fact, Microsoft Launcher isn’t just the evolution of the Arrow Launcher, it’s its successor. Everyone in the Arrow Launcher beta will automatically get the Microsoft Launcher today, and when Microsoft Launcher is out of preview, all Arrow Launcher users will be upgraded to it.
“We think it’s the most beautiful (based on Fluent design), customizable, powerful launcher available,” Belfiore unsurprisingly declared.
Microsoft Launcher has a few features worth highlighting:
- Put icons of your favorite people right on the home screen so they’re easily accessible.
- Swipe right for a tailored feed of your important events, top news, recent activities, favorite people, and most frequently used apps.
- Set colors of backgrounds and add gestures to customize your Android device the way you want.
And, of course, you can use Continue on PC on your recent photos, documents, emails, and so on. This is arguably more powerful with the Launcher than with Edge, as the feature can encompass many more use cases than just consuming content on the web.
Continue on PC has plenty of potential, but I couldn’t help feeling that it will only be useful when Microsoft allows the feature to go in both directions. Sure, sometimes I really just want a big screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. But other times, I want a small touchscreen so I can Continue on Couch.