While Microsoft’s support of iPhone is first-class, the software giant has been working to close the gap on Android as well. This makes sense for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Android is the most popular mobile platform on earth. Plus Microsoft offers some unique apps on Android that you don’t see elsewhere.
Yes, the iPhone—and by extension the iPad, and iOS in general—is currently the number one mobile platform supported by Microsoft, as I pointed out recently in Microsoft + iPhone. But Microsoft’s mobile app library for Android is quickly catching up, no doubt as the company gains more expertise in this quickly growing platform. Over time, I expect Microsoft’s support of Android to equal if not surpass that of iOS, and even today we already see several offerings that are unique to Android, most often because the system is more extensible than is iOS.
Sign up for our new free newsletter to get three time-saving tips each Friday — and get free copies of Paul Thurrott's Windows 11 and Windows 10 Field Guides (normally $9.99) as a special welcome gift!
"*" indicates required fields
There are also theories that Microsoft is trying to infiltrate the Android world through Cyanogen, which is trying to create interest in an Android platform that ignores Google apps and services. This strategy is debatable, and while I do agree that Android is a Plan B of sorts for Microsoft, it’s not clear that a Google-less Android resonates at all with consumers. (Amazon does this as well, and has seen limited success with its “FireOS” devices.)
But that’s a story for a different day. For now, I’d like to discuss the Microsoft apps I have on my own Android handset, a Samsung Galaxy S5. There are of course others, and there are also Microsoft apps that make more sense on tablet-class devices, though I have yet to find a modern Android tablet I really like. (And I have tried.)
Next Lock Screen. This is the first thing I see when I wake up my Android phone, and it’s a great replacement lock screen, plus a great example of where Microsoft can add value on Android that it can’t add on iOS. Next Lock Screen provides both PIN and pattern unlocking, and on PIN, you don’t need to tap ENTER at the end, which drives me insane on stock Android. You get quick app launching with location (home, work, on the go), tons of at-a-glance features (calendar, messages, weather, more) and truly excellent customizations. This one is a keeper. (Picturesque Lock Screen is another Microsoft lock screen app.)
Microsoft Account. This is the other unique Android app—it’s not available on iOS or Windows Phone, which is inexcusable—that I use regularly. And it’s awesome. It’s a new take on the dual factor authenticator app, but instead of sitting there generating codes that you then need to enter elsewhere before a timer runs down, this app simply pops up a confirmation dialog whenever you need a code. So you just need to approve the request on your phone, no typing of codes required. I can’t believe this app is still only available on Android.
Office Mobile, plus Keyboard for Excel. The separate and new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps have not yet appeared on Android phones—there are versions for tablets—so I’m stuck with the old but serviceable Office Mobile hub instead. Microsoft does, however, provide a Keyboard for Excel replacement virtual keyboard that is optimized for numbers.
OneNote. As on iOS, OneNote has only gotten better and better over time, and it works seamlessly with notebooks on OneDrive (consumer), SharePoint or Office 365 for business.
Outlook. With the acquisition of Accompli, Microsoft finally has a real Outlook mobile client with integrated email, contacts and calendar management (plus cross-platform cloud storage). This app is so good it will form the basis for Outlook mobile apps on Windows/Phone. And over time it will replace previous Microsoft mobile email apps, like OWA for Android, as well.
Office Remote for Android. Another Android app you can’t get on iOS, at least for now, this lets you remotely control Word, Excel or PowerPoint on your PC.
OneDrive. Now updated to support OneDrive for Business as well, this app has become a crucial part of any Microsoft user’s mobile device strategy, regardless of platform. I use this to back up my photos to the cloud too.
Skype. Microsoft’s hugely popular IM, presence and audio/video chat solution.
Lync 2013. This will soon be replaced by a Skype for Business client, but for now it works well with Lync and Skype for Business infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud.
MSN News, Money, Health & Fitness, Sports, Food & Drink and Weather. MSN’s amazing content apps are all available in full-featured form on Android, including Weather, which his MIA on iPhone. They used to be a key differentiator for Windows Phone.
Xbox Music. The music service I use is available on Android phones, though this one is a curious exception to the rule where the version of this app is much less full-featured than the version on Windows Phone. If I were actually an Android (or iPhone) user, I’d almost certainly use another service. Probably Google Music.
Xbox 360 SmartGlass and Xbox One SmartGlass Beta. These great companion apps for Microsoft’s consoles let you remote control your Xbox, including media playback and the web, and access second screen experiences. (There is a non-beta version of Xbox One SmartGlass as well.)
My Xbox LIVE. Arguably the first version of what is now called the Xbox app in Windows 10, this app lets you access and customize a ton of features related to your Xbox Live profile, including your avatar, played games, achievements, and more.
Microsoft Remote Desktop Beta. In addition to a non-beta version of this app, this version provides an early peek at the new UI and can work with multiple remote sessions. Take that, iOS!
Microsoft Health. This is the companion app for Microsoft Band, and it works the same on iPhone as it does on Windows Phone (though Band does support a handful of Windows Phone-specific features, like Cortana integration).
Bing Search and Bing Rewards. As on iOS, the main Bing app does work with Bing Rewards, but there is a separate Bing Rewards app on Android that has a ton of unique features. But it’s also US-only, sorry.
Beyond these apps, Microsoft also supports Android Wear. For example, the OneNote app integrates with Android Wear, and the Bing Torque search assistant lets you flick your Android Wear watch to search, with no need to say “OK, Google.”
Keep your eye on Android. The Microsoft app selection is already excellent and I bet it just gets better moving forward.