Your Phone outage highlights flaws with Microsoft's approach to PC companion apps

Your Phone companion
Your Phone companion (Image credit: Windows Central)

In May 2018, Microsoft announced Your Phone – a PC companion that lets you keep your smartphone in sync with your Windows 10 device. The ambitious project mirrors what Apple does between its macOS and iPhone, but with the caveat that Microsoft's vision must work across all Windows 10 PCs, Android, and iOS. While the overall concept of Your Phone is excellent Microsoft's approach has some flaws that keep it from being perfect. Yesterday's cloud outage shows how vulnerable it can be, and the Samsung partnership departs from the original goal.

Phone companions and differing visions

Dell Mobile Connect

Dell Mobile Connect (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft is certainly not the first to attempt a PC-phone companion app. Many PC manufacturers have been making similar apps for a few years now including Dell with its popular Mobile Connect system. Dell's approach relies on Wi-Fi Direct with Bluetooth only involved for initial pairing and reconnecting to the smartphone. Mobile Connect's connection is always local (device to device) with no cloud interference. That connection allows for instant file transfers and even the ability to handles phone calls through the PC letting users keep their Android phone in their pocket.

The downside with Dell's vision is it can only run on modern PCs with the right Bluetooth and Wi-Fi stack. Luckily, Dell makes PCs, so anything after 2018 mostly qualifies. The company can also make a custom driver for their own PCs to make it all work. The app is also a bit more restrictive, requiring Android 6.0 and higher. Still, the beauty of Dell's strategy is Mobile Connect is very fast, reliable, and it can handle SMS, phone calls, notifications, contacts, screen mirroring, and file transfers.

Microsoft's Your Phone, however, is based more around Bluetooth. Because of that, it works on most Windows 10 PCs and any Android or Apple smartphone. The downside is obvious: it's often slow and not nearly as reliable as Dell Mobile Connect.

Microsoft though had the goal of hitting more users than Dell, hence their approach. That's to be commended, but this Samsung partnership turns some of this on its head.

Samsung gets the preferential treatment

It turns out, Microsoft too can play the quality card. Its recent coziness with Samsung and the Note 10 let Your Phone (dubbed 'Link to Windows') works much better than everyone else's Your Phone. Instead of a pure Bluetooth connection, it relies on some form of Wi-Fi connection. Even in our early testing initial feedback it's said it's a massive difference in the experience for the better. As our senior Windows reporter Zac Bowden commented:

I've been using Your Phone for just a couple of hours, and the connection between my Surface Studio and Galaxy Note 10+ has been better than it ever has been on other phones. Notification sync is instant, as is sending messages. In addition to this, the ability to use screen mirroring is functional without the need for Bluetooth.

There's even hope that other Samsung phones may get the same "better" Your Phone experience.

What if you have a phone by OnePlus, LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.? We don't know. For now, however, it looks like there's a two-tier system. Samsung phones get the best; everyone else gets mediocrity.

Your Phone on the Google Play store has over ten million downloads, with an average rating of 4.3 – not bad. Dell Mobile Connect, by contrast, sits at just 500,000 downloads with a lower 4.1 rating. Microsoft's strategy is paying off if you go by usage.

Make a Surface-only Your Phone experience

Microsoft Surface logo

Microsoft Surface logo (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft controls the entire stack of the Surface. Hardware design, drivers, even the OS, is all up to them. Your Phone is too good of an idea to let it float around the generic Windows experience. Microsoft should have a similar option as Dell offers with its Mobile Connect – a Wi-Fi direct, non-cloud-based performative companion.

The Samsung partnership was a smart move by Microsoft – Samsung makes up a large percentage of Android phones, ensuring the chance for more widespread adoption of Your Phone. But Microsoft should not neglect its Surface brand either. Dell proved you could ship a better version of Your Phone (and it is). And it's one that works with their premium PCs and almost all modern Android phones (and iOS too, but Apple is still very restrictive).

Moreover, what is up with the Microsoft 365 outage that knocked out Your Phone for nearly 14 hours? Should users now expect that their phones may not work if Microsoft's cloud is not working? Again, the beauty of Dell's Mobile Connect is it doesn't rely on external services or servers – it can't go down. That lack of a middleman also means Dell Mobile Connect is very secure as nothing goes to the cloud.

Microsoft has the right idea with Your Phone, but the generic approach and reliance on Bluetooth-only should not be the only way forward. While the improved Samsung Note 10 "Link to Windows" is even better, it still divides the user experience. That's why Microsoft should think of a way to use Wi-Fi direct and deliver a premium phone companion experience on modern PCs. Anything less than that will leave users frustrated and disappointed.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

  • Article is not entirely true, the Your Phone app works over wifi or mobile data, screen mirroring requires Bluetooth. The Dell app requires Bluetooth to be on for it to work
  • What is true is Your Phone is not very good compared to other options.
  • Seems like snarky way of ignoring a point that the article gets wrong. Yes, Your Phone seems to be the less reliable option compared to Dell's option. However, it is reaching more people, so if MS can improve its solution, then it all works out.
  • I agree. I've noticed an uptick in snarky responses in the last several months.
  • So DR, maybe you want to clarify the language? "Microsoft's Your Phone, however, is based more around Bluetooth." It's not based on Bluetooth, and (though YMMV) it's not slow. Your Phone targets a much wider audience than Dell Mobile Connect and has succeeded in that. Plus, there are pros and cons going with Wi-Fi Direct/BT rather than local networks. This article is like that article suggesting changing the update cycle for Windows: It sounds like a product of you and Zac Bowden talking, and talking with no one else about it, then writing up an article as if your point is just so obvious.
  • Outside of screen mirroring, Your Phone definitely based around Azure/the Microsoft Graph, rather than Bluetooth or any other local connection. Daniel, this is a factual error in your article, something your readers would think/expect you would want to actually correct, instead of trying to protect egos.
  • It pains me when things that feel like they should be a standard aren't; like wifi direct, 1080p, or even having at least one USB-C port on a device.
  • I use KDEConnect on Linux. It's free, open source, and I can see notifications, send and recieve SMS/MMS, Ring my phone, send files and links from phone to computer, and computer to phone, with 2 clicks, and execute commands on my PC from my phone. I can use my phone as a keyboard or mouse for the computer, and they both simply need to be connected to the same WiFi network...and the phone must be Android.... I don't say this to disparage any of these other solutions. Naturally, KDEConnect is not ideal for people on the go who need a bluetooth solution, and it doesn't support screen mirroring. But what amazes me is that the open source community can do something so well that seems so clunky from a software company like Microsoft. Are they just too ambitious? Are they outsmarting themselves? It seems strange to me
  • You can actually install KDEconnect on windows, UI is not great but it works well 😄 Cloud should not be used for this app except on a laptop in a public WiFi, local network is the way to go, why wifi ? Plus it should be easier to develop..
  • While give those that can use the best approach the best way to connect, and everyone with devices not able to use that approach, use a secondary approach. Harder for Microsoft to maintain, but that would give the best overall experience. Seams they are testing the waters so to speak with Your Phone connectivity. Hopefully they move quickly to improve the situation.
  • 1. Your Phone most certainly does *not* rely exclusively (or even in the main) on Bluetooth. 2. Where is the evidence that Microsoft's experience is cloud-based? Undoubtedly there is some orchestration logic in the cloud (hence why there can be a service outage), but the whole thing would likely run much better if there *were* a real sync store in the cloud, the way that Google Messages for Web works. I think the variable nature of the experience is due to over-reliance on real-time peer communication.
  • It's not very good. That's the point. It's all works better if they took just Dell Mobile Connect (tech by Screenovate) and just re-branded it and called it a day. Why invent a worse wheel?
  • "Why invent a worse wheel?" That's a reasonable point. MS have a habit of doing this. WM, Edge and Cortana were all poor imitations of the competition.
    I really do believe MS had a 'if we build it they will come' attitude to everything which led to these second rate products being released. Thankfully, under Nadella MS have changed course and have a more realistic outlook of today's computing needs.
  • They never intended to invent a worse wheel. They intended to create a solution that was more universally usable, which they did. Sure, they could just buy the tech (we know ms is more than happy to do that) but neither you nor I know what the behind the scenes details are. Maybe it was impossible at the time. Maybe they end up doing just that later. Either way, MS could also just improve this service, they are capable of that. So we will see.
  • An internet connection is something that Microsoft can bet pretty much every user will have, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct connections not so much. Hence, the point was to build something that *only* requires an internet connection in order to work for the most amount of people (Screen mirroring over Bluetooth not withstanding), and for it to seamlessly roam between your PCs. Microsoft has a strength in its Azure platform, and has spent a lot of time building up the Project Roam SDK, so it would be pretty silly to ignore those and build something only a limited number of people can use (and even then, only use with a limited number of their PCs). That's not a worse wheel, just a different goal.
  • It's not worse. You're just making that up. It is debatable at best. Plus, as you have already shown, Google Play users give Your Phone a higher rating than Dell Mobile Connect and there are far more downloads. Your article is running on fumes.
  • I always knew this whole internet thing was a fad!
  • Microsoft had the perfect mobile solution.
    It was Windows 10 Mobile / Windows Phone.
    It's a doggone shame that they didn't have the stamina to stay with it despite low market share.
    Corvettes have a low market share, but they're a pretty good ride.
    Microsoft should get back in the phone business and create something unique.
  • Amen. I doubt it'll happen but I would drop my Android phone in a heartbeat if I could have a new Windows Move phone. The PC connectivity was infinitely better than the trash that is Your Phone and I loved buying an app once and running it on everything.
  • Microsoft wasn't making a Corvette. They couldn't sell a Civic.
  • I think Windows 10 Mobile on my Lumia 950 parents greatly with my laptop running Windows 10 Pro. I also think that MS has to go on with the OS W10M. Even the hackers have almost running Windows 10 completely on a Lumia 950(XL)! I'm hoping that they are coming out with a new device before Christmas! My Android phone has annoying questions all over it's OS settings and when your limited Google to much it stops working of the most rarely items!?!
  • I've never used Your Phone with BT. I have an older phone and BT drains the battery quickly, so I keep it off. To be honest I spent almost all of yesterday in front of my PC and I didn't notice the outage. The point of the article - that Dell Mobile Connect seems to do a better job and has more features - is not lost on me. Then again, the one feature that I care about - calls through your PC - is coming to Your Phone. Beyond that I have little to complain about with Your Phone. Your Phone has a 4.3 rating on Google Play (about 55k reviews) so others also seem to think it's doing fine. Dell Mobile Connect has a 4.1 rating with 3k reviews.
  • Agree 100%. I had enough problems with Your Phone whenever I would try it, that I've just decided to wait a year or two (and hope) that eventually they do it right. Like a lot of things Microsoft, it seems somewhat of a half-hearted effort, or the effort isn't being put into the right areas. Disappointing.
  • If I could just get it trigger tethering like it did on my Windows phone that would be great. I hate having to manually turn it on.
  • And this is coming from a software company!
  • I agree it can be improved on, but it has improved a lot in the short time it has been out. Much faster than say how long it took the to do app to get significantly better.
  • Hi All, this might (hopefully) be as good a place as any to ask for some technical advice on Your Phone. I'd like to add the app to the start-up apps list on my laptop, and have no idea how to do this. I enjoy using the Your Phone app, but honestly, because it's not a critical app like outlook or office, I very often forget to open it up. I think I'd use it a heck of a lot more if it just auto-opened when I switched on my laptop in the morning. Same with the Whatsapp app for windows 10. It would be great for these apps to just be there, up and running, the moment you switched your machine on. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks :)
  • I don't think it's possible to do this with apps, but you can pin apps to your Start Menu and/or task bar to make them more apparent. I haven't used Your Phone in a while, but maybe there's an option in the app settings. A quick Google search should let you know if launching apps at startup is possible. If it's not, Microsoft uses a service where anyone can submit and up vote ideas. I believe it's UserVoice.
  • Thanks :) yip, I've sent feedback and upvoted it a couple of times over the past year...I sense it's not a priority for MS right now. I've done a few online searches to try and figure out how to add apps to the startup menu. It's possible, but far from straightforward and wanders deep into the plumbing that makes up windows 10. It's definitely not for a non-techie person like myself :P It's pretty clear that MS isn't ready to let people just randomly add applications to the startup menu yet. Many thanks for your help :)
  • That's sort of funny, as it used be a matter of dropping the app, or a shortcut, into the startup folder. It was in the Start Menu. Unfortunately apps doing that themselves, and via the registry, was one of the things slowing down windows.
  • Partnering with Samsung for a better experience shows other companies what is possible. Instead of trying to get the countless customized versions of Android to work on day 1, Microsoft decided to work with the largest Android manufacturer to work out some of the bugs before inviting others to the party.
  • Notifications not syncing again (4:30pm EDT). Is the outage back? Should note that Photos and Messages still seem to work, but the same error as before is popping up. Chatting with MS Support now...
  • Update...MS Support (chat) told me that "The rep stated that there is still an outage with the servers...The development team is still working on getting it fixed..." I asked if there is an "official Microsoft page with updates or status on the outage" and they gave me this: but it apparently doesn't have the correct status (that the Your Phone service is going up and down.) Will keep monitoring...
  • I rarely open Your Phone app on my PC even though I have it configured. The previous implementation of integrating the mobile notifications into notification center was much easier to use.
  • I feel like I use this app daily and I didn't notice an outage... But yes it could be better and honestly why does a OnePlus 6t get screen sharing but the OnePlus 7p