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Link your Android or iPhone to Windows 10?

As if they had never had any phone business aspirations themselves, Microsoft proclaim that you can link your Android or iPhone to Windows 10 using their 'Your phone' app. Lets try it out in what you might, if you know me, call a 'busman's holiday'*.

In summary, avoid for now. 'link' is doing a lot of work in the heading!

The stated functionality is completely different between the two mobile device operating systems.

  • Android — manage and respond to recent notifications, see your most recent photos, make and take calls and reply to text messages.
  • iOS — send a webpage from your iPhone to your PC.
Windows 10 'Your Phone app,  first screen - Your Phone animated screenshots
Windows 10 Your Phone app, first screen - Your Phone animated screenshots

That is quite a feature gap which is explained opaquely by the very first screen of the app which has a notice saying that to experience full functionality you must be running Android 7.0 or later.

Having now tried pretty hard with Windows 10 Pro x64 version 1909 build 18363.1256 and Android 8.1, 9, 10 and 11 and iOS 12, and iOS 14 I can confidently say this app does not work for me.

The iOS single feature is hardly worth having anyway and forces you to install the Microsoft Edge browser for iOS in what you might be tempted to think is a classic example of a 'bait and switch'. The Android app requires very very invasive permissions given what it needs to accomplish and it needs to be able to run in the background and wants to have you disable certain android system settings like battery management.

A hurdle is that 'Your Phone' on Windows 10 requires very specific WiFi interoperability on your private network. Unless theres an update that improves this I cannot see how end users will be able to adopt this app as it just doesn't function well enough for example in your office, to be relied on.

TL:DR — A basic and clunky app. Really an Edge Browser bait and switch app for iPhone. Could be much more. Handoff for Edge it is not.

Step by step instructions

  1. iPhone
  2. Android

1. iPhone

This should enable you to send a webpage from your iPhone to your PC.

This could be considered to be a bait and switch tactic for one app to lead you to install another. It even recommends changing the default browser on versions of iOS which support this. It is a questionable onboarding routine to me because it does not make it abundantly clear that in return for one feature you are agreeing to install a completely new browser on your phone, with potentially new search engine and privacy and personalisation options, which may send data to Microsoft.

A whole browser change, and a requirement to sign in to get a simple send link over WiFo to my browser experience may not be everybodys cup of tea but for the purposes of this article I've gone ahead and finished installing Edge on my iPhone. If you do choose to install it, at the very least make sure you say 'Not now' to sharing data. You shoud also go through all the settings in Edge on your phone to make sure it is as private as it can be. You don't want your phone search choices serving adverts on your work PC - do you!

  1. Select 'iPhone' and click 'Continue'.
  2. On your iPhone go to https://www.aka.ms/linkyourphoneThe link opens the App Store page for Microsoft Edge. On your phone press 'Get' Then, on your PC Tick 'Yes, Ive finished installing Edge on my iPhone' and click 'Continue'
  3. On your iPhone Sign in to Microsoft Edge using the same account you use on your PC
  4. Once signed in carefully check the permissions you are being asked to give.
  5. I chose 'Not now' to 'Share data about websites you visit' You are being asked here to give permission for data about your website visits to be visible to all Microsoft products and services.
  6. I chose to also say 'Not now' to Personalisation as this implies your data is being further collated across all Microsoft Products and services for the specific purposes of recommendations, tips and for targeted advertising.
  7. On iOS versions that support it the onboarding then asks you to make Microsoft Edge your default browser. I chose 'No thanks' and so should you!
Start on your phone and continue on your PC - Your Phone screenshot
1. Start on your phone and continue on your PC
Install Microsoft Edge - Your Phone screenshot
2. Your Phone asks you to Install Microsoft Edge
Get Microsoft Edge - App Store Screenshot
Get Edge from the App Store
Start on your phone and continue on your PC - Your Phone screenshot
3. Your PC tells you which account to use with Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge - iOS App Screenshot
Sign in to Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge - Enter password iOS App Screenshot
Microsoft Edge - Enter password screen
Get Microsoft Edge - Enter code (optional screen if you have 2FA) iOS App screenhot
Enter code (optional screen if you have Two Factor Authentication - 2FA)
Microsoft Edge - Choose what to sync iOS App Screenshot
Choose what to sync
Microsoft Edge - Share data about websites you visit - iOS App Screenshot
Share data about websites you visit 'Not now'
Microsoft Edge - Share usage data for personalisation - iOS App Screenshot
Share usage data for personalisation - 'Not now'
Microsoft Edge - Set as default browser iOS App Screenshot
Microsoft Edge - set as default 'No thanks'
Microsoft Edge - finished onboarding iOS App Screenshot
Microsoft Edge - Finished onboarding iOS App Screenshot
Your device is linked with Edge - Lets Go! - Your Phone screenshot
Your device is linked with Edge - Lets Go!
Microsoft Edge - Continue on PC - iOS App Screenshot
Behold - the one feature you replaced your browser to enable
Microsoft Edge - Network permissions - iOS App Screenshot
Edge needs permission to access WiFi networks on iOS
Microsoft Edge - WiFi network search - iOS App Screenshot
Edge can see my PC - it knows its network name
Microsoft Edge - WiFi network search - iOS App Screenshot
Edge says it is sendin to my PC
Microsoft Edge - WiFi network search - iOS App Screenshot
Edge Failed to send to my PC

2. Android

This should enable you to manage and respond to recent notifications, see your most recent photos, make and take calls and reply to text messages.

Theres a few complexities to understand about the android apps. Firstly, theres a built in andriod system app for Samsung devices called 'Link to Windows', and for every other device manufacturer for Android devices that support Google Play there is 'Your Phone Companion - Link to Windows' If I had to guess I would say the latter is an evolution of the former. But nevertheless it is confusing. If you have a Samsung Phone 'Link to Windows' is invisible. On any other supported android phone 'Your Phone Companion - Link to Windows' is a standard app. Now this is important because system apps such as 'Link to Windows' can have functionality and special permissions granted to them directly by the device manufacturer (Samsung) and can be updated directly so they may not need all the permissions that a standard app like 'Your Phone Companion - Link to Windows' needs because it must be compliant with the policies for publication and update via the Play Store. Clear as mud.

See Your Phone Companion - Link to Windows on Google Play
and Link to Windows supported devices (Surface Duo and selected Samsung devices only
  1. Select 'Android' and click 'Continue'.
  2. On your Android phone go to www.aka.ms/yourpc and install 'Your Phone Companion' It may be pre-installed on some Android devices from Samsung.
  3. Click to 'tick' that you have finished and the 'Open QR Code' button will enable. Click it and use the QR Code to connect 'Your Phone Companion' to your PC
  4. You can see you are linked to your PC and confirm this with the green tick showing you r ansdroid phone is connected.
  5. Now you need to adjust settings on your android device. Click the button marked 'Open settings on phone' and it will actually open the settings on your phone! Scroll on your phone to find 'Your Phone Companion' and enable or allow it when the phone asks for access.
Ready to link another device - Your Phone screenshot
Select 'Android' and click 'Continue'.
Install 'Your Phone Companion and then use the QR Code to connect it to your PC - Your Phone screenshot
Install 'Your Phone Companion and then use the QR Code to connect it to your PC
Your android device is now linked to your PC - Your Phone screenshot
Your android device is now linked to your PC
You can see the phone is connected from the green tick - Your Phone screenshot
You can see the phone is connected from the green tick.
Now you need to adjust settings on your android device - Your Phone screenshot
Now you need to adjust settings on your android device
Your Phone companion will also ask for additional permissions - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion will also ask for additional permissions.
Your Phone companion asks for contacts permissions - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion asks for contacts permissions.
Your Phone companion asks for permissions to make and manage calls - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion ask for permission to make and manage calls.
Your Phone companion asks for permission to access photos, media and file on your device - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion asks for permission to access photos, media and file on your device.
Your Phone companion asks for permission to send and view SMS messages - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion asks for permission to send and view SMS messages.
Your Phone companion asks permission to connect to your PC - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion asks permission to connect to your PC.
Your Phone companion asks you to help improve Link to Windows - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone companion asks you to help improve Link to Windows.
Your Phone is fully connected and permissions enabled - Your Phone screenshot
Your Phone is fully connected and permissions enabled.
Notifications - Your Phone screenshot
Notifications.
Something went wrong - Your Phone screenshot
Something went wrong

Conclusion - Avoid until some future release replaces this entire suite of software.

I make mobile apps and have been making software to connect to mobile devices for decades. I'd be embarrassed to be responsible for this software. It is actually worse than the Windows connectivity suite for Symbian phones and that is saying something. The technical approach is too complex, the implemenetation is too fragmented. There are far too many complex context switches between mobile app, mobile device settings, and Windows 10. There are too many confusing terminologies. The difference between a linked device and a connected device is too subtle for most end users. The difference between the system app 'Link to Windows' and the Play Store app 'Your Phone Companion - Link to Windows' is unclear. The functionality on iOS is laughable and requires a very invasive set of changes to make it work. The functionality on android would be useful if it could be made to work but I cannot make it work. The reliance on specific private WiFi networking is brittle for laptop users with phones away from specific known WiFi networks.

Also, I cant make it work at all.


Handoff on macOS

The stated functionality for iOS is similar to a tiny fraction of what is built in to macOS. With Handoff on macOS, you can start work on one device, then switch to another nearby device and pick up where you left off. It 'just works'. It uses a combination of Bluetooth and WiFi to avoid connectivity pitfalls. It is on by default and disabled with one setting. 'Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices'. The comparison with all these screenshots is pretty stark.

You can read all about using Handoff on Apple devices to continue a task on your other Apple devices. Use Handoff to continue a task on your other devices.


* "Busman's Holiday".