How Does Microsoft Edge on Mobile Change Things?

Posted on October 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile, Windows 10 with 50 Comments

How Does Microsoft Edge Mobile Change Things?

I’ve received a lot of feedback about Microsoft’s decision to bring its Edge web browser to mobile. And while I may have solved this problem a bit differently, I do feel that Microsoft is at least bringing Edge to mobile correctly.

As you may recall, Microsoft on Thursday announced that it would release mobile versions of its Microsoft Edge web browser on Android and iOS. This announcement was a surprise, though Brad, Mary Jo, and I, and many others, have been debating the need for such a thing for many months. Probably for a few years, actually.

You may likewise recall that I’ve struggled to embrace Microsoft Edge ever since it was first released with the initial version of Windows 10. The reasons I couldn’t—still can’t—use Edge are many and easily described. But as I documented for the last two Windows 10 versions, version 1703 and version 1709, the list of reasons has continued to fall.

For Windows 10 version 1709, which ships publicly later this month, my major stated issues were a lack of support for web apps, a lack of configurability in the Favorites Bar, the lack of any form of mobile sync, lackluster developer tools, and its sad support for notifications.

That’s a big list. But in bringing Microsoft Edge to Android and iOS, the firm is at least addressing one of those concerns: the lack of any form of mobile sync.

“Because Microsoft Edge only works in Windows 10, it is incompatible with the Android phones and iPhones that everyone uses,” I wrote back in August. “And that is a non-starter: When I sign-in to Chrome on my iPhone or Android handsets, all of my bookmarks, settings, and saved passwords come along for the ride. Edge still can’t do this.”

To be clear, Edge still can’t do this.

As of today, Microsoft Edge is available only on iOS—actually, only on iPhone; there’s no iPad version either—in preview form. If you’re on Android, you can sign up to be notified when that preview is available.

Worse, the preview is not feature complete, and won’t be for some time. Several readers have noted the lack of obvious features like tab sync (which is coming) and even a dark theme. It will improve.

Microsoft has been quiet, so far, on the timing of the “final” release of Microsoft Edge for Android and iOS, but I think the Windows 10 version 1803 release—e.g. March 2018—is about right. Also, I think after the embarrassment of over-promising and under-delivering with both the Creators Update and the Fall Creators Update, they are a bit shy about mentioning any specific dates. This is fine.

Also fine is the way that Microsoft is bringing Edge to Android and iOS, though I’m confused by some criticism I’ve seen to this regard.

That is, Microsoft is obviously not porting the underlying Edge rendering engine to mobile; it cannot do so on iOS (because Apple) and the engineering effort this would require on either platform makes it a non-starter nonetheless. And yet, some are pedantically trying to claim that these mobile versions of Edge “are not really Edge.” They’re just shells around the native browser engines on each platform (Chrome/Blink and Safari/WebKit).

Right. And that is the right approach.

Those two browsers and their underlying rendering engines are both excellent, fast, and standards-compliant. What Edge users on Windows 10 really need is sync. And that is exactly what Microsoft is providing. They are doing this correctly.

That said, returning to my initial complaints about Edge, none of them will be fixed this fall, and those issues I raised about Edge in Windows 10 version 1709 will remain unfixed until at least early next year. At that time, I expect mobile sync and web app support to appear. And who knows what else? But whatever it is, I’ll reexamine Edge yet again.

And who knows? Maybe someday I can actually use this browser.


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