Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ offer up some impressive hardware — an “infinity” display with a tiny notch for the selfie cam, a quadruple-lens camera in back for ultra-wide angle shots, and the option for a 5G modem — but this time around there’s a compelling software story, too: Samsung is deepening its relationship with Microsoft to provide new services for its phones, including seamless cloud storage and the ability to take calls and reply to text messages on your PC.
It’s an interesting move, made even more exciting when the partnership was sealed with a handshake between Samsung Electronics CEO DJ Koh and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the company’s Note 10 event in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday. Still, to loyal Samsung customers, it may have been a little confusing: If the connection between Samsung phones and Windows PCs is only just now getting good, what exactly were they doing before?
Samsung introduced the ability for its phones to interact with PCs way back in 2013 via an app called SideSync, which mirrored your phone on the desktop. Not only that, but Microsoft Office apps have been available on Android devices for about as long, and they already come preloaded on several of Samsung’s devices.
“The relationship goes back many years,” Microsoft’s Shilpa Ranganathan, head of the company’s cross-device experiences, told Reviews.com. “To me, this is about the expression of an integrated experience. In an ideal world you want to have these devices work with each other seamlessly, but when they’re built by two different companies, sometimes it’s tough to do that. The partnership is really about breaking that wall down.”
The deepening relationship between the two companies means the experiences aren’t necessarily new, just smoother and more full-featured. The new Your Phone app for Windows, for example, lets users not just mirror their phone on their PC, but do the reverse: control their phone via the PC touchscreen. And OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service, will provide a Personal Vault for things like credit cards and images of essential ID, which can be tied to the Note 10’s fingerprint sensor.
— Pete Pachal (@petepachal) August 8, 2019
When it comes to creating the best user experience, the devil is often in those details. Certainly, Microsoft apps are available for any Android phone, but as Apple has shown, tailoring apps to specific hardware bestows a lot of advantages (there’s a reason iMessage is considered a social messaging platform in its own right). When I tried out the new Note 10 features at Samsung’s Unpacked event in Brooklyn, I found them to be impressively smooth.
“There is a need to merge these two worlds without it becoming overwhelming,” Ranganathan says. “To me, one of the things that marks this partnership is the ability for us to bring great hardware with the software and services together, and to empower customers with choice: If you choose a Samsung phone and you choose a PC, we’ll make great things happen for you.”
What the Microsoft partnership really signals is that Samsung has learned to pick its battles with services. There was a time when Samsung tried to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Google and Dropbox with its AllShare service, which stored photos, files, and more in the cloud, letting Samsung phone users sync content across devices. While some AllShare features live on in other apps, the idea of a Samsung-run and -branded platform that serves as a services backbone for the phone has mostly been abandoned.
Yes, Samsung smartphones like the Note still come with services like SmartThings, Bixby, and Samsung Health, so it’s not like the company has fallen back to just making dumb slabs of glass and plastic. But the company has wisely realized that letting established partners take the reins on parts of the ecosystem isn’t a bad idea. It might even convince a few people that Apple’s dogma of owning all the software and hardware, end-to-end, isn’t the only way to get a best-in-class experience.
The Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10 Plus go on sale Aug. 23, starting at $949.