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How to create apps that work together across Windows, iOS, and Android

Microsoft may not have a mobile OS any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s abandoned the mobile market. Instead it’s taking a different approach: building on its platform to integrate Windows and Microsoft 365 with the devices we’re all using. That has meant a refocus on its own tools, with iOS and Android versions of the Edge browser, the Microsoft Launcher for Android, Office apps everywhere, and the new Your Phone Windows app that replicates device content onto your PC.

Doubling down on its own mobile ecosystem makes a lot of sense, because Microsoft needs to keep its users on its own applications, not let them slip to Apple’s or Google’s competitors. But mobile is only part of Microsoft’s business, and the Windows desktop is still a significant part of its revenues. That’s where Project Rome comes it, as a way to take data across different versions of the same application and control one application from another. (And, yes, the name Project Rome is a terrible pun.)

An example is the Windows Timeline in recent versions of Window 10. Timeline lets you explore your web history, along with recent Office documents. It builds on top of the Microsoft Graph, a set of APIs and cloud-hosted storage that works to exchange information among devices. InfoWorld dubbed the concept “liquid computing” when Apple debuted it in 2014 as the Handoff functionality in iOS and MacOS.

With Timeline, you’re not limited to the Office files from one PC; you can see them from all PCs that use the same Microsoft account. The same is true of your web history, with content from not only my PCs but also my iOS and Android versions of Edge. It’s like Apple’s iCloud or Google’s Google Account services, except it works natively across Windows PCs, iOS devices, and Android devices (but not Macs).

The Windows team talks about Project Rome as a way of separating application experiences from devices, taking your context from device to device in much the same way as OneDrive and other cloud services abstract your data away from your PCs.

There are three key elements in Project Rome: device relay, activities/timeline, and Microsoft Graph notifications. They cover most key ways of preserving context, giving developers the tools they need to transfer actions and status among different versions of their code across different devices. As well as using them in its own apps, Microsoft has released a series of Project Rome SDKs for developers to help add these features into their own code, linking Windows apps with iOS and Android devices.

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