About two weeks ago, while on a walk with my dogs, I bent over to clean up after one of them, and I heard a clack. My phone fell out of my pocket, landing screen first onto a rock. I have an impact case on my phone that's held up for years, but in this instance, a pebble made the ground uneven and knocked a hole in my phone's screen. Instead of just a crack, a noticeable black spot of dead pixels encircled a hole full of broken glass surrounded by splinters and cracks. Replacing the screen costs more than it's really worth at this point, so I started the hunt for a replacement.
While waiting to get my next phone, I still had a phone that worked, at least in terms of connectivity and all of the internal components. So for the last couple of weeks, I've mostly kept my phone charged and on a desk or in my pocket, handling the majority of my phone communication through the Your Phone app on my PC. While I don't think this situation is common, it led to some realizations about the app and Microsoft's mobile plans.
Your Phone just keeps improving
When the Your Phone app first shipped, it had somewhat limited functionality. It could sync text messages, notifications, and some photos, but it didn't even do that reliably, at least not for me. Over time, Microsoft added several notable features. Now, Your Phone can sync texts, photos, notifications, and phone calls. These features also got more reliable for me over time and with several updates.
It's the preseason for my American football team, so my free time is spent largely calling players, contacting parents, fundraising for the club, and making phone calls. I managed to do all of this right from my PC. I've known about these features, but I never had to use them. I always had my phone on me anyway, so it was never a hassle to pick it up and use it. But having to use my phone's capabilities on my PC made me realize how much more work I could get done.
Responding to text messages and notifications is actually better through the Your Phone app than using apps on Windows 10. Your Phone supports in-line notifications, so you can respond to messages directly from a notification. If you miss the notification in the tray, you can now jump into the notifications section of the Your Phone app and respond later. Windows 10 apps can support in-line responses as well, but in reality, developers implement it more on Android than on Windows 10, so it's better through Your Phone in most cases.
Using Your Phone to make calls felt like I was on speakerphone on steroids. I could jump on the call on my PC, then tap a button to take it on my phone if I needed to move (my phone still works, but I have to be careful not to crack the screen more).
Microsoft continues to improve Your Phone's feature set, and it's now to a point where I can keep a phone on a charge or in my pocket and not miss any functionality.
Developing Your Phone was the right call
We've spoken ad nauseam about the death of Windows Phone and how Microsoft retrenched its mobile efforts through Android and, to a lesser extent, iOS, but it's really on display when you use Your Phone. Your Phone is yet another reason that Android is the phone for Windows OS users.
As Microsoft adds more features like call support, syncing battery levels, and managing all of your notifications, Your Phone provides a single hub for all of your phone's content.
I think Your Phone is still generally unknown to the everyday consumer. I've told people that I could make phone calls from my PC and they've said they didn't know you could do that. Mac users are quick to point out similar functionality, but PC users seem unaware of Your Phone's capabilities. As more people find out about Your Phone and as the app gets better, I think it will be a significant component to Microsoft's success in mobile.
With several Microsoft apps reaching a billion installs or hundreds of millions of installs, it's clear that people use Microsoft services on their Android phones, but Your Phone is a new beast. It makes your PC feel like a true extension of your smartphone, and that's worth a lot.
Please Microsoft, don't keep anything exclusive
I've purposefully skipped mentioning features that are exclusive to certain phones so far. RCS messaging, screen mirroring, and cross-device copy and paste only work on select Samsung Galaxy phones right now. My hope is that these exclusive features are tested on Samsung devices and then rolled out to more manufacturers. It'd be a real shame if other Android phones can't take advantage of these features.
In Microsoft's defense, these features rely on OEMs working with Microsoft. For example, cross-device copy and paste requires special OEM access to work. That's why it's available on the Samsung Galaxy S20 series and the Galaxy Z Flip but not other phones. Microsoft's growing partnership with Samsung leads to these types of features appearing first, and sometimes exclusively, on Samsung hardware.
Roberto Bojorquez, the group program manager over Your Phone, stated on Twitter that "Any feature that doesn't require special integrations we enable for all phones."
Access to phone clipboard requires special OEM integration, hence enabling it through our Link to Windows partnership with Samsung. Any feature that doesn't require special integrations we enable for all phones, such as the new 2K photo access.Access to phone clipboard requires special OEM integration, hence enabling it through our Link to Windows partnership with Samsung. Any feature that doesn't require special integrations we enable for all phones, such as the new 2K photo access.— Roberto Bojorquez [Microsoft] (@bojorchess) February 15, 2020February 15, 2020
I just hope Microsoft can work with OEMs, so there isn't a feature gap between different Android phones. At a minimum, all flagship Android phones should be able to use these features.
I've also experienced the known issues of Your Phone on iOS. It has significantly fewer features than its Android counterpart. I don't know if this will ever improve as it would require Apple and Microsoft to work together. I don't know why Apple would allow an iMessage competitor that works with PCs onto its phones.
A happy little accident
While I'm not thrilled that my phone broke, it was kind of fun using my computer as a phone. It showed off how far the Your Phone app has come and that Microsoft has a hit when it comes to connecting smartphones and PCs. I'll still use my phone as a phone, of course, but at my desk, I'll keep it tucked away a lot more frequently.
I've stated several times that I think developing Your Phone is one of the best decisions Microsoft has made in years. Our executive editor Daniel Rubino seems to have some similar feelings that he shared when he used Your Phone with his Galaxy Z Flip.
Microsoft's addition of in-line responses and phone call relaying pushed Your Phone over the top for me. I'd love to see features like screen mirroring and cross-device copy and paste come to more devices, but I don't think they're essential for my personal workflow. At least, I never felt held back by their absence. Your Phone can now replicate my everyday phone use, which helps me stay on my PC and not to have to jump between devices.
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Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at email@example.com.