Microsoft has finally found its smartphone: Why the Samsung Galaxy partnership is so promising

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, right, greets DJ Koh, President and CEO of Samsung’s IT & Mobile Communications Division, at the Galaxy Note10 unveiling. (Samsung Photo)

Do I really have to email pictures to myself? How can I get text messages on my PC?

Those were just two of the challenges that I faced after switching back to a Windows PC last year. After years of using a MacBook Pro and an iPhone, I took for granted the ability to use the Messages app on my Mac, or plop a picture quickly onto my desktop via AirDrop.

I found solutions to bridge Windows and my iPhone, such as manually uploading pictures from my phone to OneDrive, and using T-Mobile’s Digits app to text from my computer. But these are workarounds, not the smooth experience that comes from native product integration.

Of course, I’m far from alone. Microsoft’s inability to field a viable smartphone platform means Windows users don’t benefit from the seamless integration that many others do. And this is one reason why the company’s newly expanded partnership with Samsung is so interesting.

Samsung and Microsoft have partnered on PCs for many years, and on smartphones and tablets in a more limited capacity. But the expanded partnership marks “a profound shift in how we interact with the many devices in our lives,” vowed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who made a surprise appearance at Samsung’s event in New York City.

“For years, applications have been purpose-built for single devices, whether it’s the phone, the PC, the TV or even your watch,” Nadella said. “But in a world of 5G, cloud and AI, we get to rethink it all and reimagine it.”

For now, here’s what that means in practical terms.

  • For Windows users, starting with the Galaxy Note10, a built-in feature called Link to Windows will sync photos, messages, notifications, and other content between the phone and PC. (Microsoft offers these for other Android devices through its third-party Your Phone app, not natively integrated.)
  • The Note10 will also introduce a feature to access and use Android apps from the Samsung phone on the Windows PC screen.
  • Microsoft says it will introduce the ability to make calls from the PC later this year.
  • Samsung will also integrate Microsoft OneDrive into the Samsung Gallery app to automatically sync photos and videos.

The Galaxy Note10 will be sold at Microsoft Stores, Outlook will get special features to work with the Samsung S Pen, and the companies have developed a new Windows 10 PC called the Galaxy Book S that runs on a mobile Snapdragon processor. This is in addition to Samsung pre-installing Word, Excel, Outlook and other mobile Office apps on its devices.

Much of Microsoft’s turnaround story has focused on its ability to shift from traditional licensed software to the cloud and subscriptions, and that’s certainly a big ingredient in the company’s success. But combined with the success of some of Microsoft’s apps on iOS, it’s fascinating to see what the company has been able to do on smartphones without a viable platform of its own.

The tech industry is full of examples of splashy partnerships that don’t pan out as intended, and there’s no guarantee that Samsung and Microsoft will be able to make all of this work smoothly. But for now, at least, it looks like Microsoft has found its smartphone platform, and who would have guessed it would be based on Android?

One reason this could work is that both sides benefit. Through this deal, Samsung also found a new ally in its competition with Apple and Google. After years of using an iPhone, these new Windows integrations have me thinking seriously about going with a Samsung Galaxy device when it’s time to upgrade, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Listen to a discussion of the Samsung-Microsoft on the GeekWire Podcast in the audio player above, or subscribe in your favorite podcast app.

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