Tip: Streamline Your Phone’s App Integration Functionality

Posted on September 3, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile, Windows 10 with 10 Comments

Last week, I wrote about my early experiences using the Your Phone app integration functionality, which lets you run individual Android apps on your Samsung (and soon other Android) smartphone on the Windows 10 desktop alongside native apps. This is a feature that’s going to improve over time, and since writing that post, I’ve updated it throughout with some additional tidbits that speak to those coming improvements and provide a bit more insight into its problematic initial implementation. But since those updates will be lost in the site’s feed for most, let me summarize them here:

One app at a time. The dream for this functionality is that you’ll be able to run multiple Android apps side-by-side with native apps in Windows, but the initial implementation only provides a single app at a time, and it’s clearly using the remote screen mirroring functionality that Microsoft previously added to Your Phone. That is going to change: In a coming update to Your Phone, you will be able to run multiple Android apps side-by-side and each will look and feel like its own app window.

You have to deal with the lock screen. When you launch an Android app from Your Phone, it’s reasonable to expect that app to appear in the window that appears. But I encounter my handset’s lock screen first if the phone is locked, requiring me to sign-in either on the phone itself or in the app window in Windows 10 before I can use the app. Microsoft will probably “fix” this problem in a coming update, but below I will explain how you can work around this issue in the meantime and have a more seamless experience.

Tablet apps. Some apps, like Microsoft Outlook, work one way on a smartphone but will open up into a new layout when used on a tablet or Chromebook. This works in DeX, which I recently tested in both wired (USB) and wireless forms. But it doesn’t work with Your Phone: Each Android app window can be resized, but they will always retain the original phone shape/aspect ratio. You can’t stretch out the window and get a tablet-type layout, which would be very useful. My understanding is that Microsoft is working to solve this problem as well.

Audio. When you run an Android app with Your Phone, any sound that emits—notifications, button/keypress sounds, music, or any other audio comes out of the phone’s speaker(s) and not out of the PC’s speakers. I’m actually not sure what the answer is here or if there’s a fix, so I’ll ask Microsoft about that.

Landscape mode weirdness. Android apps run via Your Phone always run in a portrait orientation, as is typical with a phone. But many apps work better/differently in landscape orientation, and some—in particular, video apps—switch automatically into landscape mode when needed. Your Phone doesn’t currently provide a way to manually flip an app window to landscape mode, but Microsoft is considering adding that. And when an app does flip into landscape mode automatically, it doesn’t always flip back to portrait automatically. Microsoft is working on that too, and apparently YouTube is a curious offender. But if you run some other app, the window will switch back to portrait orientation.

App hanging. I experienced serious app reliability issues when I first tested this app integration functionality on the HP Envy 15 I’m currently using and reviewing. That is, the Your Phone app would hang every time I ran and then closed an Android app. Obviously, this isn’t the expected behavior, so I linked the Note 20 Ultra to Your Phone on two other PCs, and HP Envy x360 13 and an HP EliteBook 1040, and did not experience this issue even once. So I’m not sure what to say there, but it does work fine elsewhere, so maybe the issue is isolated to the Envy for some reason.

OK, that’s where I’m at with Your Phone’s app integration feature. So let’s fix one of the issues noted above: The appearance of the Android lock screen when you try to run an app.

The issue is easily understood: In its current implementation, the app integration is using the preexisting screen mirroring functionality to remotely display your phone’s screen and then run the app you selected. So when the phone is signed out (asleep), you will typically need to authenticate it before you can use it. This is true if you’re using the phone interactively (normally) or remotely via Your Phone.

If you’re not bothered by this reality, you can sign-in to the phone directly on the phone (facial recognition, fingerprint, PIN, etc.) or in the Your Phone app window (typically using a PIN). But Android has a feature called Google Smart Lock that lets you configure your phone to remain unlocked in certain situations. For example, you may want to configure it to stay unlocked when you’re in your car because it’s unsafe to authenticate while driving. Or maybe you feel comfortable keeping it unlocked when you’re at home, because you don’t want the hassle of unlocking it and aren’t concerned that anyone might just pick it up and use it. Put simply, you choose according to your needs and worries.

For Your Phone and its app integration feature, you may choose to configure Smart Lock to keep your phone unlocked when it’s connected to your PC, with the assumption that you’re doing the right thing, authentication-wise on that device too. Or, just configure it to remain unlocked when you’re around, using a smartwatch or fitness band. Or at home. Whatever.

I’m going to trust my PC. But before you can do that, you need to establish a Bluetooth pair between the two devices. So head over to Settings > Devices > Bluetooth and select “Add Bluetooth or other device” and then “Bluetooth” to look for the phone. And on the phone, navigate to Settings > Connections > Bluetooth and look for your PC there. Make the connection on both devices to create the pair.

Then, you need to configure Smart Lock on the phone, so navigate to Settings and search for Smart Lock. (It’s in different locations on different phones, from what I can tell.) After authenticating, you’ll be presented with three different ways in which you can keep the phone unlocked: When it’s on your person, when it’s in a trusted place, or when it’s connected to a trusted device.

Select Trusted devices and then “Add trusted device.”

Then, select the device you wish to trust—ENVY-15 in my case—and confirm the selection.

   

The device will then show up in your list of trusted devices.

Now, you can test it: Lock the phone and try to run an Android app from Your Phone. The app should just appear in the app window.

If you still see the lock screen—along with a message at the bottom that says “Phone unlocked by Smart Lock,” that’s likely because you enabled a Samsung feature that requires you to swipe up on the lock screen after unlocking it with your face (similar to how the iPhone works). And you can disable that extra step by navigating to Settings > Biometrics and security > Face recognition. There, de-select the option “Stay on Lock screen.”

Hopefully, a future Your Phone update can pass-through authentication somehow.

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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Tip: Streamline Your Phone’s App Integration Functionality”

  1. chrishilton1

    We're going to use this on Teams phones over bluetooth in the near future, as there is no way to lock a Teams phone (to prevent others accessing your VM whilst you are away), hence when you login to you desktop it will also login to the phone, and when you log out of the desktop it logs out of the phone.

  2. thalter

    This seems like the entirely wrong approach to the problem of running Android apps on Windows.


    It seems to me that the correct solution would be just to allow Android apps to run natively on Windows (or with some sort of emulator), and skip all this phone screen sharing nonsense.

    • SWCetacean

      In reply to thalter:

      The advantage of this system is that you use the same app data as you would have on your phone. With an Android app on Windows strategy, those apps would be running on a different device from your phone, which means that any app you use would need some way of syncing your data between devices. Also, from my experience with Bluestacks, the emulator counts as a different device in terms of Google Play Store installs. The point of Your Phone is not to bring Android apps to Windows, but instead to allow you to access your Android phone from Windows so you don't need to break your attention away from your screen while working to do something on your phone.

    • Paul Thurrott

      So, yes, I agree with that. But this functionality, especially where it will hopefully be soon, is certainly better than nothing. Long term, yeah, would love to see Android app commpat integrated into Windows.
    • jgraebner

      In reply to thalter:

      I'd like to see it support both. There are some cases (particularly Outlook) where the Android app is better than the Windows alternative and I'd love to have those running natively. On the other hand, I also really like having the ability to access apps on my phone from the laptop and I can think of cases where running apps natively is not the best alternative. An obvious one is that I often listen to music via my phone and it's nice to be able to manage it from either the phone screen or the laptop, whichever is more convenient.

  3. jaredthegeek

    Someone has tested this with an old HP LapDock and it worked great with Dex. I had an Old Motorola that offered a lapdock as well prior to continuum. As phones get more capable how much longer will we need more than a single device for mobility?

  4. wolters

    Great article Paul. I was about to post in the forums here about how bad I want YourPhone to work better. A few issues I have that keep me from truly loving YourPhone:


    Messages - Messaging is unreliable. Sometimes they fail to refresh and even a manual refresh doesn't help. Also, I get messages that appear to be stuck in "sending" mode when in fact, they did send. Both of these issues are 'resolved' by exiting YourPhone and reopening. I can live without RCS in YourPhone if messaging was reliable. So as a result, I am back on Google Messages for the Web which has RCS. Much more reliable.


    App Hanging - YourPhone often will do the app hanging that Paul mentioned after I try to run an Android App or Screen Mirroring. And I have to task kill YourPhone when it happens. Also, there are other times when YourPhone simply will crash. This is on my Dell XPS 8930 at work. I've not tried this on my Surface Book 3 or Surface Pro X as of yet.


    Notifications - I get the notifications I want but I rarely get text message notifications in Windows 10. I checked and Messages notifications is turned on.


    I still believe in YourPhone and I look forward to it evolving but would like these issues fixed. And oh, RCS would be nice too!

  5. proftheory

    For better range I use WiFi instead of Bluetooth.

    What I would like is to place a phone call using computer/laptop speaker, mic, and camera.

  6. DavidSlade

    I have Your Phone from the early days it was released. It certainly has improved. initially it was very buggy and unreliable, and occasionally still has issues. Smart Lock does not reliably work on my Samsung S8. According to Samsung forum feedback I see, this is a common issue. It must time out after a certain time and reverts to locking the phone.

  7. openmisere

    Unfortunately my Note 9 is a corporately managed device via Company Portal, and my employer turns the Smart Lock option off and it cannot be turned on by me. :-(

    • Paul Thurrott

      I'm not sure I'll leave it on myself. I don't like the idea of a phone being silently unlocked, and I was using the Note upstairs and it stayed unlocked, even though the Envy I connected it to was downstairs. I guess Bluetooth goes further than I thought.

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