Feb 28, 2017 3:00 AM

Windows 10 wants to make Android its iPhone

Unlocking your PC from a Samsung Galaxy smartphone is the next step in Microsoft's journey to replicate Apple's Handoff ecosystem

TechOne3

One really addictive facet of Apple’s device ecosystem is how they work together. AirDrop lets you move files and other data from a Mac to an iPad to an iPhone, in any combination of directions. Your Apple Watch can unlock your Mac. Any Apple device can control a Keynote presentation on any other Apple device. Apple’s Handoff lets you start work on one Apple device and pick up where you left off on another. Bookmarks, contacts, email settings, passwords, and even credit card details can be synced automatically across all your devices.

Windows 10 was supposed to do the same, relying on Windows Phones to be take the role of the iPhone in this fluid ecosystem. But Windows Phone (renamed Windows Mobile) is in cryogenic suspension, waiting for a future miracle cure to bring it back to life. Thus, Microsoft’s ambitions to copy Apple’s liquid computing have gone unrealized.

But now, Microsoft is looking to Android to fill that mobile gap.

Microsoft has already implemented some Apple ecosystem features into Windows 10: It uses a Microsoft account to sync bookmarks and other settings across all your Windows devices, which Apple does via its iCloud accounts and Google via its Google accounts. (Google has also implemented some Handoff-like capabilities between Android and Chrome OS, but Chrome OS has a tiny market share.)

But the direct handoff of Apple’s other liquid computing capabilities requires direct device communications over Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi Direct, not a cloud-mediated sync. Apple’s devices all have this capability in their hardware and operating systems, which is why it can work so naturally.

Both Google and Microsoft are now bringing similar technology to their operating systems and devices to help create a Windows 10-Android ecosystem alternative to Apple. It won’t be as seamless or consistent as in the Apple ecosystem because the devices comes from different manufacturers and often need special drivers installed. But it’s at least coming.

Android users can already install Microsoft’s Office Remote app from the Google Play Store to remote-control a PowerPoint 2013 or later presentation on a Windows PC, as long as you’ve also installed the Office remote plugin on your PC.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update brought authentication via other devices in its Windows Hello Companion Device Framework, which so far has seen little uptake. But Samsung says it will use the technology to allow its Galaxy S smartphones’ to unlock compatible Windows 10 PCs via the Samsung Flow app, which uses the smartphones’ fingerprint reader to transmit the stored password for the PC. You’ll also need to install a companion app on your PC for this to work, however—Windows 10 can’t yet do this out of the box. Some rumors suggest that the forthcoming Windows 10 Creators Update will make such remote unlocking a native Windows 10 capability.

Longer term, there’s Microsoft’s Project Rome, a series of Windows 10 enhancements and both Android and iOS apps meant to create an Apple-like ecosystem with Windows 10, not MacOS, at its center. A year after Microsoft announced Project Rome, it now has an Android SDK available at GitHub for developers to start using it. (Although Microsoft has described Project Rome for both Android and iOS, Android is the platform that it currently supports.)

At Microsoft’s current pace, we’re probably a good two years away from Windows 10 having Handoff-style functionality comparable to what Apple delivered to its ecosystem two years ago. But it’s coming.