Microsoft demos phone mirroring and Alexa integration at Build conference


Microsoft has struggled for a long time to duplicate its PC success on other platforms. Previous Microsoft administrations might have pressed forward with trying to force Windows Phone and specialized Cortana devices onto users, but the newest version of the company is more willing to bring its most compelling features to competing platforms. The latest evidence of this new spirit is on display at this week's Build conference, where Microsoft has shown off Android and iOS integration on PC and improved teamwork between its Cortana assistant and Amazon's Alexa platform.

Perhaps the biggest announcement is a new way to link a Windows PC with a smartphone. The new "Your Phone" application will give users a mirror view of their paired Android or iOS device. The software giant says Your Phone will include the ability to drag-and-drop files and photos between a PC and a paired phone. Tom Warren at The Verge says the first versions of the app will allow access to SMS, photos, and notifications.

Like most new Windows 10 features, Your Phone is coming to the Windows Insider program for testing. Windows Central says the app is already included in the latest Insider build, but isn't functional yet. CNet says that Microsoft hopes to roll the feature out to Windows users at large as part of Redstone 5, the next major Windows 10 feature update. The Verge says the integration features will go deeper on Android than on iOS, which seems logical given that Google's OS generally offers app developers more control over the device.

Microsoft is bringing its Timeline feature to Android through an updated version of its eponymous Android Launcher application. Timeline works through Microsoft's Edge browser on iOS. The company hasn't said yet if Your Phone will require installation of any of its apps on the paired smartphone, but we suspect that will be the case. The company is scheduled to make a more complete announcement about Your Phone later today.

Microsoft also showed off progress on the work to bring its Cortana digital assistant over to Amazon's Alexa voice assistant platform and vice-versa. The feature will allow PC users to access Alexa by issuing the Cortana command, "Cortana, open Alexa." Likewise, Alexa users can ask her to open Cortana. The companies announced a partnership last year to allow access to one voice assistant through the other last year, but Microsoft's demo was the first time either outfit has publicly shown progress.

The goal of the partnership is to capitalize on each AI assistant's strengths: Alexa has considerable third-party support and a large install base and Cortana has integration with PC-centric features like Microsoft's own Office 365 suite. The Verge says the companies have a limited beta of the feature running at present and expect the team-up to bear fruit by the end of 2018. Interested gerbils can sign up for future updates here.

Your Phone and the Alexa-Cortana mash-up are still works in progress, but the two efforts seem to show that Microsoft is ready to bridge the gap between its successful outpost on the PC and less-traditional computing platforms like competing smartphone operating systems and voice-assistant hardware.

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