I am beginning to really feel like a damaged document right here, however man: Microsoft actually is shaping up to be some of the attention-grabbing forces within the Android ecosystem this 12 months.

As the corporate gears up to launch its first homegrown Android cellphone, the unusually dual-screened Floor Duo, we’re seeing an increasing number of indicators of the way it’s bending Google’s digital neighborhood to swimsuit its wants. And the consequences of these efforts may find yourself having a surprisingly broad affect on Android — one which’d attain each nook of the ecosystem and all of us who use it, whether or not or not a Microsoft-branded gadget is concerned.

That is precisely the case with Microsoft’s newest Android-adjusting transfer, revealed in a latest low-profile put up on the positioning Medium. The article particulars a brand new collaborative plan between Google and Microsoft (higher often called “The Hell Hath Frozen Over Amigos”). The purpose is concurrently easy and supremely bold: to make it simpler for builders to create wealthy progressive net apps that’d be just about indistinguishable from conventional Android apps in each operate and presentation — and that’d exist within the Play Retailer, the place you’d discover and obtain ’em identical to any common ol’ title. The truth is, you’d most likely by no means even know something completely different was occurring, and that is kinda the entire level.

Progressive net apps have truly been obtainable within the Play Retailer for some time now, however this newest shift goals to make it simpler than ever for builders to create ’em — and to accomplish that utilizing easy instruments that’d convey extra absolutely featured, native-app-like experiences into their choices. Thanks to the brand new setup, Play-Retailer-hosted progressive net apps will quickly give you the option to assist app shortcuts, personalized standing bars, and superior types of notifications — all with minimal additional effort from their builders.

That final half is key — and what actually clues us into how Microsoft is more and more working to twist Android to its benefit and usher us all into its imaginative and prescient for a post-platform future.

Microsoft and the increasing Android ecosystem

Earlier than we get into the nitty-gritty of this, let me re-emphasize: The most necessary a part of this entire effort is the truth that you will nearly actually by no means concentrate on it on any floor degree. And, fairly frankly, that is the wonder and the brilliance of it all. However understanding what’s occurring is nonetheless necessary if you need to preserve tabs on the ever-shifting nature of our mobile-tech actuality — and because you’re studying a column known as Android Intelligence, properly, I am assuming that you just do.

So a progressive net app, in case that extremely bland-sounding title does not ring a bell, is mainly a particular type of packaging that permits a web site to look and act like an app and emulate its extra superior features. Which means it could run offline (and thus really feel quick, even when your community connection is not) in addition to handle notifications, work together with native {hardware}, and exist in its personal standalone app-like construction, with an icon in your app drawer and all the opposite normal fixins (to use the technical time period).

In contrast to a conventional Android app, although, a progressive net app can run on a pc, too — any pc — in that very same single kind. And meaning it is means simpler and extra economical for builders to keep a single progressive net app and have that one model of their program run all over the place.

And if the top consequence is simply pretty much as good as what you’d get with a local app — or shut sufficient to appear virtually the identical, for many real-world functions — then there is no actual draw back. It is a win-win-win, for builders, for gatekeepers like Microsoft and Google, and for us feline-impersonating land-people who depend on Android telephones.

For Microsoft, the transfer means an increasing number of apps may run in similar varieties on each Home windows and Android — and thus although it is venturing into uncharted territory by absolutely embracing Android and steering people into its own mini-ecosystem within Google’s universe, it can begin to offer a surprisingly consistent experience for anyone embracing a mix of Android and Windows (a fairly common combo for enterprise productivity and even general consumer use).

For Google, it means the amount of exceptional Android apps will only continue to grow and become more diverse. And remember, it isn’t just about Android for Google, either; the company is equally interested in pushing Chrome OS forward, and the presence of Android apps on Chromebooks is an important part of that picture. Remember, too, that Google recently started offering up progressive web apps in place of Android apps in the Play Store on Chromebooks at times — a move that I theorized could hint at eventual plans to turn the Play Store into a streamlined source of different types of apps for both Chrome OS and Android (which was a theory that a Google manager who works in that area retweeted with a party-face emoji and an applause emoji, by the way; interpret as you’ll).

And for us, properly, it means the advantages related to all that stuff — the extra constant software program experiences throughout a number of platforms, the extra numerous choices for software program on Android, and so forth — might be at our fingertips, it doesn’t matter what kinds of gadgets we use in numerous areas of our lives.

And all of that is nonetheless solely the beginning of the methods wherein Microsoft is not directly working to enhance the state of affairs all throughout Android — and even additional all through the larger Google ecosystem.

The broader Microsoft-Android panorama

Within the latest issue of my newsletter, I talked about how Microsoft’s move to step up its Android software development game is giving me fresh optimism about the company’s potential to shake up the sad state of Android upgrades.

That’s because Microsoft just days ago formed its own in-house development team to “handle post-launch software updates” and “add new features and experiences over time” for that upcoming Surface Duo device (and presumably also its successors). While it’s slightly strange that Microsoft didn’t have its own in-house software team for the product up ’til now — instead relying on externally contracted developers for the job — the fact that it’s investing in establishing its own local squad for that purpose at this point, so close to the device’s likely debut, makes me hopeful the reason is at least in part that the company wants to be prepared to handle post-sales software support properly.

It’s something I’ve been hopeful of before, albeit in a much more guarded way. As I wrote earlier this year:

Outside of Google and its own Pixel line of products, most Android phone-makers do a consistently terrible job of sending out software updates to their users. The data says it all, and despite heavily hyped narratives to the contrary, things aren’t really getting much better — not by any meaningful measure.

The underlying reason is simple: Outside of Google, most device-makers don’t have the motivation to make timely and ongoing post-sales software support a priority. I mean, think about it: They make their money mostly by selling you hardware. Software updates require time and resources, and the companies doing all that legwork don’t get anything tangible back in return. If anything, updates arguably work against most device-makers’ interests, as getting phone-improving updates early and often makes your current phone seem consistently new, fresh, and current enough to keep using.

And what do the companies making those devices want you to do? Yup, you guessed it: buy new phones as frequently as possible.

Right now, Google really is the sole exception to that rule within the realm of Android — the only company for whom selling you hardware is less of a primary goal and more of a way to draw you in deeper to its software-and-service-driven primary business. Well, guess what other company also fits that same description? Yes, indeedly: none other than everyone’s favorite (or maybe sometimes not-so-favorite) Windows warrior.

Factor in the fact that Microsoft is also the sole Android-involved company outside of Google that has actual experience at providing timely software updates on any large scale — not to mention a history of treating that process as a priority — and you can see why, now more than ever, I’m feeling optimistic about how Microsoft could potentially reshape the expectations around Android upgrades in a way Google by itself has never managed to do.

And if all of that weren’t enough, let’s not forget all the ways Microsoft has been indirectly improving Google’s Chrome browser lately as well. From memory handling to tab management and smaller touches such as file drag-and-drop behavior and in-browser spellcheck effectiveness, the company once known as Google’s archenemy is offering up lots of its engineering efforts to enhance the lives of Chrome users (as a side effect of the fact that its own Edge browser now uses the same Google-managed code base as Chrome, but regardless).

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that Google’s on the brink of unveiling actual Windows app support for Chromebooks in the enterprise — a move that’ll further break down the remaining barriers between Microsoft’s universe and Google’s domain. Truly, for anyone paying attention, the creeping (and generally quite positive!) Microsoft influence on Google ecosystems is one of the biggest mobile-tech stories of 2020.

Only time will tell whether Microsoft’s first Android phone ends up being worth owning, all in all, or whether it proves to be a compromise-laden flop. But in a way, it almost doesn’t matter — at least, not in any big-picture sense. The story here is really less about that one device and more about the ongoing Google ecosystem investments that product and the strategies around it are causing Microsoft to make.

Two once-sworn enemies, working together in user-serving harmony. What a weird, wild world we live in.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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