A Glimpse of The Future of Microsoft’s Windows Phone Apps – Via Android

Over the past few weeks I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet as part of my daily routine.  As I put in my post a few weeks ago, it has been refreshing to have so many apps available on the platform but I still have plenty of things about Android itself that I’m not fond of exactly.  I love Windows and Windows Phone and I can only hope that the app gap is closed a bit when it is released later this summer.

We know for sure that Microsoft is heavily focused on their own apps in Windows 10 for the PC, Tablet and Phone and in Android, we get a glimpse of just where they plan on going with their apps on these devices running the new OS.  Equally, we know that Microsoft is pushing developers and themselves hard to create universal apps so no matter which device you are using an app on, you get the same look, feel and features across all devices.  If you look at the Office suite of apps – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – then look at Outlook on Android, you have a much richer and decidedly more touch friendly experience than you do currently with Office 2013 on Windows 8.1 PCs and tablets..  As for Office on Windows Phone, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that it is just about useless at this point. Even Microsoft acknowledges it is a frustrating experience.

The future of these apps however looks bright and all you have to do is go look at them on Android.

The Office suite of apps on Android are all downloadable for free and seamlessly link up to OneDrive so you can quickly and easily access files, edit them and save them back up to the cloud.  That part is no big deal really as many apps on many platforms do this today.  Where Microsoft has made long strides however is in the user experience.  Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Android are all completely touch driven.  These aren’t retrofitted Office apps but designed from the ground up for touch.  That means making edits to files is easier to do on a tablet, especially a small one like a Galaxy Tab 4, an 8″ screened device.  My Toshiba Encore 2 is also an 8″ device running Windows 8.1 and in order to run Office 2013, I go down to the desktop mode.  That makes touch points in

Excel from Office for Windows 10
Excel from Office for Windows 10

these apps almost impossible to touch sometimes.

The other key thing with the Office apps on Android is that they are full featured.  This is one of my biggest complaints about the Office hub on Windows Phone.  The features are so limiting that it makes it difficult if not impossible to edit files on-the-go on your phone.  I mean seriously, the Office hub can’t even open current file formats!  This is where I think we will see the biggest improvements in Office for Windows Phone.   We have already seen a glimpse of this during the Windows 10 event back in January where we saw for the first time some of these touch friendly office apps running on a Lumia 1520 Windows Phone.   And while we have not seen any previews of these apps to date in the Windows 10 for Phone Technical Preview, it is possible we will and soon.  We do know however long term that these Office apps will be separate downloads and not baked into Windows 10 for Phone.  That’s a good thing.  As I pointed out in another post, Microsoft will benefit well and so will Windows Phone users by the decoupling of apps from the OS.  They can be upgraded faster and without having to get carriers to approve the updates.

For those who are Windows Insiders and are running the Windows 10 Technical Preview on their PC or tablet, you have access to the new touch friendly Office apps in the Beta Store.  If you do a stare-and-compare to them along with those on Android, it is uncanny how similar they are in look, feel and function.

That decoupling of apps is also true for Outlook Mail and Outlook Calendar on Windows Phone in Windows 10 for Phone.  The latest technical preview has these two new apps in it and while it is certainly buggy, it is a far more Outlook-like experience than Mail and Calendar is today on the platform.  When you compare these apps in the Windows Phone preview to those on Android, the similarities are not hard to miss.  In fact, in many cases, they are identical.

There is one other thing to consider when you look at the Office apps and Outlook on Android.  On almost a weekly basis I get a notification that one or all of these apps have an update available for them on my Android tablet.  The rate of development is impressive and certainly better than the app update gap we face here in Windows Phone.  My hope of course is that as these new apps come to Windows Phone we will see a similar development rate.  With them decoupled from Windows 10, we should.

While I’m certainly not advocating that everyone go run out and buy an Android tablet (I think the best days for Windows are coming), it certainly is worth a curious look to see where Microsoft is going with their own apps.  Android (and to an extent iOS) give us a view of what we can expect to see on our Windows Phone in the not-to-distant future.  It’s bright and these apps are equally brilliant.

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