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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Comments (53)

53 responses to “How Does Microsoft Edge on Mobile Change Things?”

  1. Avatar

    Bats

    The thing that I have problem with Paul's blog post where he quotes himself stating, - "Because Microsoft Edge only works in Windows 10, it is incompatible with the Android phones and iPhones that everyone uses," - Isn't Chrome compatible with both Windows 10 and Android? If that's the case, why did Paul make it seem like Edge to Android was almost impossible?


    I said this before and I'll say it again. Microsoft Edge had no SHOT in the browser market, none whatsoever, unless it has a presence in mobile.


    With Microsoft saying it will, it now has a fighting chance.


    One more thing, why is Paul using the word "firm?" Microsoft is a corporation and not a partnership.

  2. Avatar

    lprell

    Given Joe Belfiore's latest statement on W10 Mobile, I wouldn't be surprised if MS lauching an Android phone with a bunch of MS Apps.

  3. Avatar

    prettyconfusd

    I genuinely do think this is good news. It astonished me when Microsoft said they didn't have any plans to put Edge on other platforms - so tone deaf that they wouldn't even say it was on the roadmap - it's great to see them finally realise they were wrong.


    Clearly they've only realised this in the past few months/weeks though, with the state the app is currently in. It's just a wrapper after-all, and not even basic features are complete, let alone anything more advanced.


    But once it's on Android and has full sync with Edge on W10 desktop it will make my life better as I do use Edge on PC (I have Opera and Chrome installed too, but Edge is my daily driver and in the past year I've not had any problems with it - for *my workflow* - and things look to improve further by the end of the month with 1709).


    So sure, there may only be 25K active Edge users right now, but it will make most of those users' overall web experiences better, and may drive adoption more once it's available. 10K people are already using the beta so that's a good sign. Just hope they don't mess this up or Edge will be next on the chopping block. ?


    Extensions are definitely something they should attempt though - the Samsung browser on the S8 has extensions so it is possible without ruining the user experience.

  4. Avatar

    normcf

    I wonder if one of microsoft's goals is to get Edge onto ChromeOS as an Android app? This may allow them to extend Edge, like the did with IE 6, for enterprise customers and bring those customers back to microsoft services.

  5. Avatar

    Lyndon

    Any chance you'll be able to use an adblocker with it? That's the main reason I don't use chrome on android phone. Ads can chew up a ton of data sometimes.

  6. Avatar

    Tsang Man Fai

    Most users are just average users, they don't need so many features. The true reason why people don't use Edge is not its lack of feature, but the reputation of MS/Internet Explorer. Sadly many people thought Edge=IE. Some even don't know its existence.


    I personally love using Edge. I like its simple and clean interface. I'm not a fan of extensions except ad blockers which work fine in Edge. Well, Edge occasionally cannot display some web pages properly, but it's fine, I just switch to Firefox/Chrome... or IE... temporarily.


    As for bookmarks sync with Google/Apple accounts, perhaps Google and Apple don't want MS to support this??? It would be too stupid if MS choose not to support this if it can be easily done technically.

  7. Avatar

    harmjr

    I think this is a 5+ year project. If they fully invest themselves this can compete. Having it sync from PC to phone + Outlook app, plus 0365, One Drive. When your powers combine...

  8. Avatar

    Daniel D

    Edge on Android and iPhone is a solution to a problem, no one had. This is such an extreme use case as to be irrelevant.

  9. Avatar

    jwpear

    I think this approach is a smart move. MS has demonstrated it can be innovative at times. I think it is one of the areas where the Edge team can truly shine and be successful if they stop letting Windows hold them back. If they're going to walk lock step with Windows releases, Edge will be as much of a failure on iOS and Android as it is on Windows. If they can innovate on features, they can potentially win some users over with this.

  10. Avatar

    Kudupa

    I have one simple problem with edge, that some day Paul mentions might not arrive at all. Also, no clear dark theme like opera or Firefox. Edge Dark theme on windows 10 is a joke.

  11. Avatar

    RM

    I think if Edge fails on Android, they will put the synch capabilities into the Microsoft Launcher and synch Edge on Windows with Chrome on Android.

  12. Avatar

    maethorechannen

    And yet, some are pedantically trying to claim that these mobile versions of Edge “are not really Edge.”


    Same thing is (or was) said about Chrome on iOS. While I don't really care (especially on iOS because those are the rules of the platform) when I comes to Android, I don't know, something doesn't feel right. Blink runs everywhere, why can't EdgeHTML? It might be a "huge engineering task", but Firefox managed to do it.


    You end up wondering if Microsoft will do to Edge (on the Desktop) what Opera did - switch to Blink and fire people.

    • Avatar

      crfonseca

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      Well, I can see why Firefox did it, since they've always stood for being an alternative. You can't be an alternative, not in the complete sense of the word, if you use the other guy's engine.

      Microsoft on the other hand just wants people to use Edge, they're more like Opera in that sense. So they're removing any barriers that might stop people from doing it.

      Also, Windows, as an OS has to have its own HTML rendering engine, and using someone else's as such a core part of the OS is not really a thing they'll ever do. There's no way Microsoft would let someone else control an entire part of their OS. Note that Google, having started by using Apple's engine eventually moved to their own.


    • Avatar

      madthinus

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      EdgeHTML is not as feature complete as Blink. So using edgeHTML on mobile you introduce possible rendering incompatibilities which will ruin the experience for a user, turning them off Edge. So it makes sense from a hassle free user experience as well as engineering and speed to market point of view to use the defualt render engin on each of the mobile platforms.


  13. Avatar

    JacobTheDev

    The way there doing this actually makes Edge kind of interesting. I've been wanting to use it for some time now, but as you said, lack of basic syncing prevented me from doing so. Excited to give it a shot when the Android preview comes out.

  14. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Edge on Android and iOS will be using the standard rendering engines for those OSes, so nothing to distinguish Edge in that respect. As yet unknown whether Edge would be a PDF/eBook reader for those OSes. I haven't used Edge on either, but my impression of phone browsers is that their UIs don't differ much.

    This would seem to leave the main differentiators for Edge on phones syncing bookmarks, passwords, etc. with Edge on Windows 10 PCs, and passing open tabs (sessions) back and forth between phone and PC.

    Am I missing anything?

    • Avatar

      Roger Ramjet

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Maybe Bing for business access, certainly, the bundle along with Microsoft productivity Apps. Perhaps people could have some sort of partition/carve out UI for work on their phones, and Microsoft could live in it's own happy garden there, their Arrow "Microsoft" launcher could be the path to make that happen, a sort of toggle to the business side of your phone, toggle back to personal.

      But, you don't really need that many differentiators. You need 1 killer App, if that's what people need that's it. Do everything else as good as the run of the mill, and you get your audience. The continue on Windows thing seems like a good candidate for that in my mind.

  15. Avatar

    dstrauss

    So what have they really accomplished? From a basic user perspective, Chrome is Chrome whether on my phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. "Maybe" sometime in 2018 - if you're already entrenched in Chrome, what is the incentive to change?

  16. Avatar

    Jhambi

    So the answer to the rhetorical question in the title of this article is : "It doesnt change things. At least not yet....Maybe down the line?"

  17. Avatar

    Winner

    How Does Microsoft Edge on Mobile Change Things?


    My prediction is that it won't really change things much at all, only at the margins. Chrome/Firefox/Safari are too dominant.

  18. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    "They’re just shells around the native browser engines on each platform (Chrome/Blink and Safari/WebKit)."

    Which is, of course, exactly how Chrome works on iOS. In fact, it's how EVERY third party browser works on every mobile device.

    • Avatar

      MikeCerm

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      It's noteworthy that Firefox uses its own rendering engine on Android. As a result, you can have access to all the same extensions on mobile that you get on the desktop. "Browsers" that build on the built-in browser engines on iOS and Android are far less capable, because they are not extensible in any way. A wrapper like Edge (or Chrome on iOS) change the interface, and sync passwords and stuff, but you aren't able to tweak the content on the page.

      • Avatar

        maethorechannen

        In reply to MikeCerm:


        Edge on Android isn't actually a wrapper around WebView. It's actually running top of it's own copy of Blink. So Microsoft could do more with it, in theory.

      • Avatar

        tboggs13

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        I agree, on iOS they don't have a choice. On Android they do and should take a chance at bringing the Edge engine to Android, at some point. What they definitely need is to offer the full version of Edge to OSX. Not because every one will download, but because it would increase the likelihood that a developer would download it to test their websites against Edge, which would decrease the issues Edge experiences.

    • Avatar

      Waethorn

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      You're wrong. Firefox on Android uses Gecko.



  19. Avatar

    rmac

    OMG don't tell me MS are going to bring out an Android phone?!

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