Today’s Windows 10 Insider Preview build includes our first peek at the PC/smartphone integration functionality Microsoft showed off months ago at Build. It’s a small step forward.
A few weeks back, I openly wondered what had happened all the great Fall Creators Update features we were promised months ago at Build 2017. Key among them was a set of smartphone integration features, including Phone settings, a cloud-powered clipboard, Timeline, and Pick Up Where You Left Off. None of which had appeared, to date, in any preview versions of the Fall Creators Update.
Well, today that changed. A little bit. As I noted in Microsoft Ships Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 15235 to the Fast Ring, this most recent preview build does finally include that Phone settings feature, which lets you link your smartphone to your PC. (Really, it links your smartphone to your Microsoft account, which likewise needs to be linked to your PC.) And … then there was something else too. That is not quite Pick Up Where You Left Off. It’s called Continue From Your Phone.
Here’s how Dona Sarkar describes this additional feature.
“After you’ve linked your phone, just go to your phone and start browsing the web,” she writes. “When you are at a website you want to view on your PC, simply invoke the native share experience on your phone and share the website to the ‘Continue on PC’ option … the website will magically open on the linked PC.”
I’ve cut out a bunch of explanatory text there for brevity’s sake. But the way this works in the real world is actually quite ponderous. And it’s one-way only, from phone to PC: You can’t “pick up where you left off” on the phone if you start on the PC. (Not yet?) And to be clear, this is for browsing a single website only. The Pick Up Where You Left Off feature is supposed to work bi-directionally and for a wider range of tasks.
So it’s super limited. I’ll explain why this is ponderous in a moment. But before getting to that, let me explain how I’d do this now.
I’m on my iPhone. Or Android phone, it doesn’t matter. And I’m reading a website that I’d like to open on my PC for some reason. Since I’m using Chrome, it just works: I go to my PC, open Chrome, and select More (the “…” menu) and choose History. All of the recent tabs from all my devices are right there.
The Chrome approach works because it’s Chrome on both sides, and the history is synced through your Google account. Microsoft does the same thing—you need to be signed in to your Microsoft account on each device—but the process isn’t as seamless because you won’t be using the same browser (probably) on each device. For example, this would work with Safari on the iPhone and Edge on Windows 10.
Anyway, here’s how it works.
First, on Windows 10, you open the new Phone settings interface (Settings > Phone) and click Add a Phone. You need to be signed in with your Microsoft account, and if you are not, you will be prompted.
Then, you enter your phone’s phone number so that Microsoft can text you the install link for the Microsoft Apps mobile app.
Two things about this app.
First, this currently works only on Android, but an iPhone version of the app is coming soon.
Second, you may recall that the Microsoft Apps mobile app used to be just a lame promotional thing the listed all of the apps Microsoft made for Android. Well, it’s been updated to do more stuff. For example, it adds a “Continue on PC” item to the Share pane in Android (and will do so soon on iPhone too).
OK. On the Android phone, the text message arrives.
And when you tap that link, the Google Play Store opens and navigates to the Microsoft Apps page. So you install that. And sign-in with your Microsoft account.
OK, now you’re ready to start reading a web page on your phone and then continue reading it on your PC. So obviously, you load a web page on the phone. In your browser of choice.
Next, choose the More menu (“…) and then Share.
In the Share pane that appears, select “Continue on PC.”
A pop-up appears with two choices: “Continue now” and “Continue later.”
If you choose “Continue now,” you will be presented with a grid of the other devices that are connected to your Microsoft account. (And I assume you could, in fact, push this page to a browser on a phone, but I haven’t tried that.) To be clear, this is any PC connected to your Microsoft account, and not just the one you linked via that Phone settings interface.
Select the PC you want and Microsoft Edge (and not your default browser) will open on that PC and display that page.
If you choose “Continue later,” a notification will pop-up on your linked PC (and, I assume any other linked PCs) indicating that the page has been saved.
You will see it in the “Continue from your phone” section in Action Center too. So you can select this notification later to open the web page on your PC.
Obviously, this isn’t as seamless as just using Chrome everywhere. And I really don’t like that Microsoft forces you to use Edge on the PC-based receiving end. But a step forward is a step forward. And this is pretty interesting and possibly useful. I assume bi-directional sharing is coming soon too.