I am beginning to really feel like a damaged report right here, however man: Microsoft actually is shaping as much as be one of the fascinating forces within the Android ecosystem this 12 months.

As the corporate gears as much as launch its first homegrown Android cellphone, the unusually dual-screened Floor Duo, we’re seeing increasingly more indicators of the way it’s bending Google’s digital neighborhood to swimsuit its wants. And the results of these efforts may find yourself having a surprisingly broad impression 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 machine is concerned.

That is precisely the case with Microsoft’s newest Android-adjusting transfer, revealed in a latest low-profile publish on the location Medium. The article particulars a brand new collaborative plan between Google and Microsoft (higher generally known as “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 nearly indistinguishable from conventional Android apps in each perform and presentation — and that’d exist within the Play Retailer, the place you’d discover and obtain ’em identical to any common ol’ title. In truth, you’d in all probability 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 take action utilizing easy instruments that’d convey extra totally featured, native-app-like experiences into their choices. Due to the brand new setup, Play-Retailer-hosted progressive net apps will quickly have the ability to assist app shortcuts, custom-made standing bars, and superior types of notifications — all with minimal further effort from their builders.

That final half is vital — 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: A very powerful a part of this entire effort is the truth that you may virtually definitely by no means pay attention to it on any floor stage. And, fairly frankly, that is the sweetness and the brilliance of all of it. However understanding what’s taking place remains to be necessary if you wish to preserve tabs on the ever-shifting nature of our mobile-tech actuality — and because you’re studying a column known as Android Intelligence, effectively, I am assuming that you simply do.

So a progressive net app, in case that extremely bland-sounding title does not ring a bell, is principally a particular kind of packaging that enables a web site to look and act like an app and emulate its extra superior features. Meaning it could actually run offline (and thus really feel quick, even when your community connection isn’t) 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 make use of the technical time period).

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

And if the tip result’s simply pretty much as good as what you’d get with a local app — or shut sufficient to look virtually the identical, for many real-world functions — then there isn’t any 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 increasingly more apps may run in equivalent types on each Home windows and Android — and thus even though it is venturing into uncharted territory by totally embracing Android and steering people into its personal mini-ecosystem inside Google’s universe, it could actually start to supply a surprisingly constant expertise for anybody embracing a mixture of Android and Home windows (a reasonably widespread combo for enterprise productiveness and even basic shopper use).

For Google, it means the quantity of remarkable Android apps will solely proceed to develop and develop into extra numerous. And bear in mind, it is not nearly Android for Google, both; the corporate is equally desirous about pushing Chrome OS ahead, and the presence of Android apps on Chromebooks is a crucial a part of that image. Keep in mind, too, that Google not too long ago began providing up progressive net apps instead of Android apps within the Play Retailer on Chromebooks at instances — a transfer that I theorized may trace at eventual plans to show the Play Retailer right into a streamlined supply of various kinds of apps for each Chrome OS and Android (which was a concept {that a} Google supervisor who works in that space retweeted with a party-face emoji and an applause emoji, by the way; interpret as you’ll).

And for us, effectively, 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 varieties of units we use in numerous areas of our lives.

And all of that remains to be solely the beginning of the methods through which Microsoft is not directly working to enhance the state of affairs all throughout Android — and even additional all through the higher Google ecosystem.

The broader Microsoft-Android panorama

Within the newest situation of my e-newsletter, I talked about how Microsoft’s transfer to step up its Android software program growth sport is giving me recent optimism in regards to the firm’s potential to shake up the unhappy state of Android upgrades.

That is as a result of Microsoft simply days in the past fashioned its personal in-house growth workforce to “deal with post-launch software program updates” and “add new options and experiences over time” for that upcoming Floor Duo machine (and presumably additionally its successors). Whereas it is barely unusual that Microsoft did not have its personal in-house software program workforce for the product up ’til now — as an alternative counting on externally contracted builders for the job — the truth that it is investing in establishing its personal native squad for that objective at this level, so near the machine’s doubtless debut, makes me hopeful the reason being at the very least partially that the corporate desires to be ready to deal with post-sales software program assist correctly.

It is one thing I have been hopeful of earlier than, albeit in a way more guarded means. As I wrote earlier this 12 months:

Outdoors of Google and its personal Pixel line of merchandise, most Android phone-makers do a persistently horrible job of sending out software program updates to their customers. The info says all of it, and regardless of closely hyped narratives on the contrary, issues aren’t actually getting significantly better — not by any significant measure.

The underlying motive is easy: Outdoors of Google, most device-makers haven’t got the motivation to make well timed and ongoing post-sales software program assist a precedence. I imply, give it some thought: They make their cash principally by promoting you {hardware}. Software program updates require time and assets, and the businesses doing all that legwork do not get something tangible again in return. If something, updates arguably work towards most device-makers’ pursuits, as getting phone-improving updates early and sometimes makes your present cellphone appear persistently new, recent, and present sufficient to maintain utilizing.

And what do the businesses making these units need you to do? Yup, you guessed it: purchase new telephones as steadily as potential.

Proper now, Google actually is the only real exception to that rule inside the realm of Android — the one firm for whom promoting you {hardware} is much less of a major purpose and extra of a means to attract you in deeper to its software-and-service-driven major enterprise. Effectively, guess what different firm additionally suits that very same description? Sure, indeedly: none apart from everybody’s favourite (or possibly generally not-so-favorite) Home windows warrior.

Think about the truth that Microsoft can also be the only real Android-involved firm outdoors of Google that has precise expertise at offering well timed software program updates on any massive scale — to not point out a historical past of treating that course of as a precedence — and you may see why, now greater than ever, I am feeling optimistic about how Microsoft may doubtlessly reshape the expectations round Android upgrades in a means Google by itself has by no means managed to do.

And if all of that weren’t sufficient, let’s not neglect all of the methods Microsoft has been not directly bettering Google’s Chrome browser recently as effectively. From reminiscence dealing with to tab administration and smaller touches corresponding to file drag-and-drop conduct and in-browser spellcheck effectiveness, the corporate as soon as generally known as Google’s archenemy is providing up a number of its engineering efforts to boost the lives of Chrome customers (as a aspect impact of the truth that its personal Edge browser now makes use of the identical Google-managed code base as Chrome, however regardless).

And that is to say nothing of the truth that Google’s getting ready to unveiling precise Home windows app assist for Chromebooks within the enterprise — a transfer that’ll additional break down the remaining limitations between Microsoft’s universe and Google’s area. Actually, for anybody paying consideration, the creeping (and usually fairly constructive!) Microsoft affect on Google ecosystems is likely one of the greatest mobile-tech tales of 2020.

Solely time will inform whether or not Microsoft’s first Android cellphone finally ends up being value proudly owning, all in all, or whether or not it proves to be a compromise-laden flop. However in a means, it virtually does not matter — at the very least, not in any big-picture sense. The story right here is actually much less about that one machine and extra in regards to the ongoing Google ecosystem investments that product and the methods round it are inflicting Microsoft to make.

Two once-sworn enemies, working collectively in user-serving concord. What a bizarre, wild world we dwell in.

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- The Microsoft-Android transformation is about to have an effect on us all

[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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