Not the Android Apps Solution We Were Looking For … Yet (Updated)

Posted on August 27, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile, Windows 10 with 47 Comments

As I noted in my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra First Impressions post, I’m going to step through each of the Microsoft ecosystem integrations that Samsung is making available in its latest smartphone flagships. This partnership is interesting stuff, especially for those who rely on Microsoft apps and services on Windows and are looking for the best productivity experience on the go. Surface Duo is, perhaps, one route—the jury is still out on the efficacy of that solution—but I’m far more interested in the Samsung approach.

And of many the integrations that the two firms promised during the latest Unpacked event, none were more promising than the ability to remotely run Android apps from a Samsung flagship directly on a Windows PC alongside native apps. Unfortunately, the experience is disappointing in its current incarnation. The good news? There are improvements on the way.

After connecting the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review unit to my PC using a grueling multi-step process across both devices—an act that is only made slightly easier by the “Link to Windows” functionality that’s built-in to the Samsung—I quickly set off to see what it was likely running an Android app remotely on the PC.

It started promisingly enough. The Apps view in Your Phone logically lists all of the apps on your handset in alphabetical order and there’s a Favorites area at the top for those who have far too many apps and don’t want to hunt and peck.

You can even pin apps you think you’ll use a lot to the taskbar and/or Start menu.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends today.

You can only run one Android app at a time because the apps aren’t really run in their own windows. They’re run inside of the screen mirroring window that debuted last year.

This introduces a number of curious problems aside from the obvious inability to run two or more Android apps side-by-side. Though that capability is coming in an update soon and should improve matters.

Less obvious, if the phone is locked and you run an app in the Apps view, the app window will come up displaying the phone’s lock screen, not the app. The good news? You can use Google’s Smart Lock feature to trust your PC, ensuring that the phone will be unlocked while using Your Phone. But you need to configure that first.

And of course the app window itself doesn’t display the name of the app, just the name of your phone. Because, again, this is just a shortcut to screen mirroring for now. I assume a more seamless experience is on the way.

Some Android apps, like Microsoft Outlook, are tailored to optimize their own display according to the size and aspect ratio of the device on which it runs. And with Samsung flagships supporting DeX, those apps will display differently if they’re on the phone’s display or on a larger (and probably landscape orientation) external display. So it’s reasonable to assume that you can stretch out the app’s window on Windows so that it is larger and in landscape mode, and you’d get the tablet version of the app. But you can’t do this because, again, it’s just a shortcut to screen mirroring.

If you use an Android app that emits sound, whether it’s a notification beep, a song playing, or a video, that sound comes out of … the phone. For some reason. And not the PC. And while at least some apps that play video (I tested Google Play Movies & TV) will at least correctly switching into a landscape mode during playback, the app window can get stuck in landscape mode after playback is over with certain apps, like YouTube. Manually twisting your phone into portrait mode can fix that.

As bad, when I ran and closed an Android app, it hung the Your Phone app. I’ve had to force-quit Your Phone using Task Manager every single time. That’s irritating, but when I relaunch the app, it comes up in a small window sized and shaped like a phone screen, not like the main app window. Doubly-irritating.

Curious about this, I tested Your Phone on a different PC and it worked fine. I’m not sure what went wrong on the PC I normally use—an HP Envy 15 laptop these days—but the problem persists, unfortunately. I sent a bug report in to Microsoft.

Put simply, I had high hopes and, I thought, reasonable expectations. I knew, for example, that you could only run one app at a time. But having now experienced this, I realize that my expectations were not reasonable at all and that the reality of this solution is even worse than I’d imagined. And that … sucks. I really wanted this to work. But I know it’s going to get better, too. So I’ll reevaluate Your Phone’s apps feature when that happens.

Note: This article was significantly updated with new information on September 1, 2019. –Paul

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Comments (54)

54 responses to “Not the Android Apps Solution We Were Looking For … Yet (Updated)”

  1. nbplopes

    What about the other integrations. messaging, voice call relay, copy and paste, we browser history ..., notes and reminders ...

    Do they work well?

  2. jgraebner

    Keep in mind that this is an initial release and not all the integrations are available yet. Microsoft's blog post announcing the new features specifically said that running multiple Android applications at once would be coming later this year. Hopefully some of the other limitations will be addressed over time as well. I definitely agree that it would be a huge improvement to allow apps to be resizable and run in tablet mode, when available.

    Despite the current limitations, I'm still finding the feature to be incredibly useful. I didn't previously have a phone that supported the screen mirroring features, though, so I know this is probably not as big an upgrade for those that did.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yes. But it's there now and this is what it's like now. As with a lot of things, maybe Microsoft should have just waited until it was ready.
      • jgraebner

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I agree. I was just noting that improvements are promised, but it definitely is a lot less capable than they implied in the promotional materials.

        The announcements used way too many "coming later" notes in tiny print for my taste. Until I got the phone and tried to find how to set it up, I had overlooked that syncing Samsung Notes to OneNote is also something that isn't coming until later in the year.

  3. rmlounsbury

    I'll have to double the "sucks" sentiment. I really thought we'd see an evolution to the screen mirroring concept to something more robust and flexible. Alas, it seems the only way to achieve that would be using the DeX functionality. Not terrible but being able to run Android apps in their own window separate of DeX via Your Phone would have been a nice function to have available.

    I hope they keep developing this and eventually get proper Android app integration over Your Phone on Windows 10. If Microsoft isn't going to have a Windows based mobile option they really need to get the Android/Windows integration right.

  4. redstar92

    To be fair to MSFT, Your Phone was a dumpster fire a year ago and they have improved it a ton. I think this will get a lot better over time but it will always be just windows duplication. They really need to integrate Windows Hello for this so you can unlock your phone automatically from the computer. That would make this a lot smoother.

  5. SvenJ

    So, how's Windows Phone and Continuum looking now? I acknowledge it wasn't super, but they never went any farther than the basics. Those worked pretty well on the apps that it worked with. Had they kept up with it, I could have seen multiple windows and broader support. Too bad the demise of Windows Phone took Continuum with it.

  6. rosyna

    Given the limitations, I’m wondering why Microsoft hasn’t investigated GATT for use with the iPhone.

  7. scovious

    While it's a disappointing execution, it's a good trajectory.

  8. Todd Partridge

    I'd be curious to hear some real world use cases for having multiple Android apps open on my Windows desktop. I wonder if some of this falls into the old 'to each their own' adage?

    For me, if I'm at my PC I have access to almost everything I need of my digital life right at my fingertips. Without 'Your Phone' or similar app integration I'd be missing phone calls and SMS, so this fills that gap for me. Everything else is either a Windows app, a PWA, or a web I can already open those on my PC.

    • OligarchyAmbulance

      In reply to Todd_Partridge:

      I can't control any of my smart home devices or security cameras from Windows. Also, my preferred weather app isn't available on Windows, and it's far superior to anything on the web. Running Android apps on my computer is one of the things I always loved about ChromeOS (though those were run on the device, not streamed from a phone).

    • Paul Thurrott

      What lol? It's the same use case as having any selection of multiple apps open on your PC. It's just more apps. I think the appeal here might be that people spend more time on their phones than they do on their PCs and having the same/familiar apps available on the latter might make the PC more appealing to use. Plus, as I noted, some Android apps, including Microsoft's, work better on bigger screens and they should work like that on Windows. The Outlook Mobile app is about 100x better than the Mail app in Windows 10, for example. Choice is good. Not wanting something is different from not understanding why others may want something.
  9. inform

    Microsoft should buy blue stacks and work from there.

  10. bleeman

    I'm also finding that not all apps work well in this mode. For example, one of my favorite pastimes is doing crossword puzzles and have one I like on my phone. However, I've discovered that while I can use my computer keyboard to key in answers it doesn't recognize the delete key, so I have to use my mouse to click on the onscreen delete key in the Android window. Same with the Tab key in some apps, they don't recognize it. Hopefully, as they continue to work on this it will get better.

  11. nobody9

    Not surprising to me. Samsung and Microsoft are still stuck in ancient code that can't possibly multi-task anything as well as Google's Golang. Maybe one day Microsoft and the rest of the tech world will eventually realize that they've gotta stop using languages with no future.

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to nobody9:

      It's not the code that's the problem. It's the philosophy.

      They look at a solution and find it a problem to solve, not the other way around.

      When I first got to know Samsung in the early 90's they made great electronics that were subtly more capable than the competition, yet priced the same as less capable competitor devices.

      That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. They've lost their Apple like mojo of understanding their customers and are becoming more Microsoft like (which is not a good thing because Microsoft's philosophy has always been that what's good for Microsoft is good for its customers... Not the other way around like Apple had to think as the underdog).

      Even though Apple is now the Goliath in mobile phones they have still retained some of the philosophy of what made the Mac so successful--they identified problems and looked for solutions.

  12. wolters

    I can agree with this assessment. I often have to kill YourPhone in task manager a lot. I had to last year when I tried it with the Note 10+. It just has never been really stable...ever.

    That said, I want to see it get better. And while this is the ONLY solution for running Android apps on Windows (not counting the likes of Bluestacks), I'll take it for what it is now.

    But because of how buggy YourPhone is, I've gone back to Google Messages for web and I only use YourPhone to use an app while I have it on the charger. Plus, I get RCS in Google Messages For Web.

  13. kshensley71

    I guess it depends on what your expectations are. I thought it was very quick and easy to set up, and I find myself often using it while I am working on my laptop. For security, yes the lockscreen comes up, but I just quickly enter my pin and it goes to the app I want and I find it works well. I often use it to open my photo gallery and drag a photo to my laptop, or answer a text. Also its important to note that the multi-app and other features won't be fully implemented until later, likely when the Surface Duo is released. So it is a little early to fully review, this is more the beta stage. It all really depends on what you want it to do whether it will be useful. I haven't had any glitches, bugs, or issues at all and I use it daily now.

    • Paul Thurrott

      If it's shipping publicly on both the phone and in Windows 10, how on earth can you say it's too early to review it? If it's too early and not done yet, they shouldn't have released it in the first place.
  14. ebraiter

    I don't have an S20 but I have had problems with Your Phone since last year. Everything is connected but all I can access is my screen and make phone calls [however I haven't used that in ages].

    Haven't found any solutions and nothing in the MS community site.

  15. ontariopundit

    I tried the Your Phone app yesterday on my Pixel. Not at all a seamless experience, and even once connected it has no functionality worth mentioning. It can't even transfer files? Such a basic function that Apple has had in AirDrop for over a decade.

    As for displaying a mirror of your phone's screen? Really? That seems like a niche solution looking for a niche problem.

    Microsoft hasn't even implemented file transfer. Why are they devoting precious engineering resources to a useless feature?

    I use screen mirroring remotely to control computers or phones when I don't have PHYSICAL access.

    • Paul Thurrott

      That's not fair. The ability to make/receive phone calls and texts from your PC is huge, and the access to photos is simpler than the File Explorer approach.
  16. ryguy

    Paul, if I remember correctly, wasn't one of the reasons they killed the Android Bridge that the Android apps were supposedly running *too well* and there was fear that it would obsolete UWP? Now that UWP is dead (maybe?), and MS is wading into the Android world with Duo, this seems like a total no-brainer to me. In my opinion, any time spent trying to get a remote connection to your physical phone to run individual Android apps is time that should be spent getting the apps to just run natively on the desktop.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to ryguy:

      Yep. The only issue is that that team has long since been scattered around the company.

    • nine54

      In reply to ryguy:

      ^This 100%. What problem is Your Phone solving? People want to use native apps on their devices and have their data synchronized across these devices and apps. They don't want to "remote into" their phone, which effectively is what this is. There are use cases for that, but it doesn't address the need for a true ecosystem that can compete with Apple's.

      • SvenJ

        In reply to nine54: You sure about that? I already have native apps on my devices, phone, laptop, and the data, documents, contacts, calendar, etc, all sync. What I don't have is the ability to respond to a text (easily), or maybe answer a phone call with my speakers and mic, or headphone. I might like the TEAMS interface better on my Android app than on the big app or web client. At least to keep it in a small window off to the side. The same could be said for many of the social apps. The small phone app in a window is less intrusive than multiple browser windows or tabs. I think 'remoting into my phone' is what I would be missing in a Windows/Android environment.

        • nine54

          In reply to SvenJ:

          "What I don't have is the ability to respond to a text (easily), or maybe answer a phone call with my speakers and mic, or headphone."

          It's this piece that I'm talking about. Sure, you can replicate an "ecosystem" with a hodgepodge of third-party apps, but it's not the same as getting a text or iMessage and having it appear on all of your Apple devices at the same time. Or getting a phone call and being able to answer it on your Mac.

          • starkover

            In reply to nine54:

            I currently send and receive texts through my phone on my PC now using a Note 9 and Your Phone app. It works fine for me. Haven't tried calls.

            I also get notifications and the photos gallery, which is the easiest way to send pictures from my phone to my PC, (Ignoring for the moment the one drive connection)

    • techreader

      In reply to ryguy:

      Great reminder. It’s time to revisit this.

    • eric_rasmussen

      In reply to ryguy:

      This is unfortunately typical Microsoft. They debut some awesome feature (like snaps) that was obviously put together by some enthusiastic developer, but then somehow Microsoft manages to mangle it into something useless or just cut it altogether.

      We have WSL, why not WSA or something for Android? What they already demonstrated was ideal, what they have now is useless. It's really frustrating to watch. It's like they want to self-destruct Windows for some reason.

  17. hidp123

    Surface Duo with Your Phone app seems to solve some of these issues if I remember correctly from the press demo video.

  18. ccalberti

    I can get my Note 9 to connect to my Surface Book/Your Phone App for calls, but not for sound from other Apps. For example, I use Castbox for podcasts, and I download a bunch daily. Since there is no W10 equivalent (that I can find), I would like to play these podcasts through the laptop (which I use as a desktop replacement as my primary computer). I don't see anything in the setup on either device to manage the sound connection, or not within any reasonable amount of time to give to playing around with this kind of tech.

    The Dex app does provide this connectivity, though requires a USB cable. Ironically, Dex allows for sound from other apps but not from phone calls. Go figure.

  19. mattemt294

    Glad you mentioned that the lock scredn appears. Forcing you to pick up the phone anyway. You touched on a lot that so many glossed over. The app hanging happens to me as well. Or the fact that it's really just the screen mirror. So frustrating

    • kshensley71

      In reply to mattemt294:

      Its pretty easy actually,just type your pin on your keyboard, and while I haven't tried it, it should be easy to setup up either a smart lock to unlock when its connected to your pc, or a (ugh, not popular, but actually useful) Bixby routine to unlock it when connected.

    • Otto Gunter

      In reply to mattemt294: I don't pick up the phone; I just swipe with the mouse and enter my pin, easy peasy. That's the way it should be, to use the security you've set up on your phone, not to ignore it.

      • jgraebner

        In reply to Otto_Gunter:

        Agreed that it isn't really a hassle since it is easy enough to clear the lock screen from the computer. I do think they should address this, though. At the least, there should be an opt-in option to store the pin and have it automatically unlock if the owner is comfortable with it. Ideally, they should integrate this with Windows Hello.

  20. matsan

    AFAIK there is only one company that can deliver a good user experience and integrated services across devices.

    It ain't Microsoft nor Samsung.

  21. Usman

    I've opted to use the dex via a type C cable going into my laptop. It charges my phone but I also can run multiple android apps at once on the laptop, albeit only via the dex desktop app.

  22. martinusv2

    Another half baked software. Microsoft does not understand that a bad experience is worse than having a software ready for use and full featured.

  23. shmuelie

    Honestly, I'm not that shocked about the experience, mirroring will only be so good. My phone isn't supported for mirroring, but I've taken to using instead. Honestly really like it.

  24. Shel Dyck

    if we can have WSL give us full graphical Ubuntu this fall, WSA should be doable.

  25. F4IL

    This is disappointing and one of the reasons I switched to using scrcpy which is open source and cross-platform and cross-device and ... better :)

  26. broxman

    Didn't Samsung say that running multiple apps using Your Phone would be coming soon? It would seem that then there would be multiple windows instead of just the phone mirroring window. Do you still plan to test using Dex connected to a PC? That software has been out for about a year and been upgraded a time of two.

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