Windows 11 Users Getting Android App Previews
Microsoft on Tuesday announced previews of Android-based apps for U.S. users of Windows 11, among other enhancements.
The other enhancements include new Windows 11 operating system features that are coming this month. Moreover, Microsoft released new Notepad and Media Player apps for Windows 11 that are currently available in the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft also partially explained that it plans to use Microsoft's service delivery mechanism to bring new features to Windows 11 users, on top of its once-per-year feature update releases.
Android App Previews on Windows 11
Microsoft had previewed running Android apps on Windows 11 in a Windows Insider Program Beta channel release back in October. Now, previews of "over 1,000 more apps and games" are available today for U.S. users in the Microsoft Store via an Amazon Appstore preview, the announcement indicated.
Essentially, the new Microsoft Store can house the collections of other app stores. In this case, Microsoft has partnered with Amazon on bringing Android apps to Windows 11.
The Android apps are able to run on Windows 11 because Windows 11 has a component called the "Windows Subsystem for Android," which is a virtual machine that provides compatibility with the Android Open Source Project framework that's used by the apps.
Microsoft has "feature-specific" hardware requirements for apps using the Windows Subsystem for Android component, which are described here. These apps are said to constitute a "new category of mobile apps and games available for Windows," based on the Android platform and Intel Bridge Technology. The Intel Bridge technology permits Arm-only apps to run on AMD and Intel devices.
The kind of Amazon Appstore preview apps that are currently available in the Microsoft Store for U.S. users include "Audible, Kindle, Subway Surfers, Lords Mobile, Khan Academy Kids and many more," the announcement indicated. Microsoft is planning to announce an expansion of Android titles for Windows 11 "later this year."
New Media Player and Notepad Apps
Windows 11 users can currently download Microsoft's new Media Player and Notepad apps from the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft had previewed its new Media Player app for playing music and video files on Windows 11 back in November as part of its Windows Insider Program. The new app replaces the venerable Windows Media Player, which is still available for Windows 11 users via Windows Tools, if wanted. The new Media Player app will replace Microsoft's Groove Music app, if that's installed. Existing Groove Music libraries will automatically migrate to the new Media Player app when it gets installed, Microsoft promised.
The new Notepad app seems to be the same plain old Notepad but with the ability to use dark mode for its display. Microsoft added a few other new features to it, too, such as "multi-level undo, colorful emojis, and a modern and efficient find-and-replace experience."
Other Windows 11 New Features at Preview
Microsoft added new features to the Windows 11 Taskbar, which are available this month via a "February 2022 non-security preview release." Typically, users have to opt in to get nonsecurity patch previews from Microsoft, which arrive through the Windows Update service. Panay, though, didn't describe whether getting these new Windows 11 preview features was optional or not.
Among the new Windows 11 features is a mute and unmute button located on the OS' Taskbar. It lets users with lots of screens running quickly respond appropriately during Microsoft Teams online meetings. Microsoft also added the ability to more easily share screens from the Taskbar during online meetings via a control that appears when you hover the mouse cursor over an item. Both the mute/unmute button and the screen share capability are "available to Microsoft Teams users with a work or school account," Microsoft indicated.
Microsoft also enhanced the Windows 11 weather widget on the left corner of the Taskbar to display "up-to-date" weather information. If a user clicks on it, the whole "widget board" will open.
Lastly, Microsoft added the ability to display the clock on the Taskbar on multiple monitors using Windows 11.
New Windows 11 Feature Update Scheme
Microsoft is planning to shift its approach somewhat on releasing new Windows 11 features. It'll use its "servicing," likely meaning the Windows Update service (used to deliver patches), and updates to the Microsoft Store, as a means to distribute new OS features.
Here's how Panos Panay, chief product officer for Windows and Devices, described Microsoft's new feature release approach for Windows 11:
Over time, you'll see us release new features into Windows 11 for end users more frequently in addition to our annual update. We will leverage the variety of update mechanisms we have in place including servicing and Microsoft Store updates. Our goal is to deliver continuous innovation, providing you with the best experiences year-round.
Windows 11 typically gets new capabilities with "feature updates," which are new OS versions that arrive once per year. Microsoft also has a monthly security and quality patch release cycle, but up till now it hasn't been used to deliver new OS features.
Under the old monthly patch cycle previously described, Microsoft had typically previewed its security and quality software fixes in the third and fourth weeks of a given month. They were available on an opt-in basis. However, Panay didn't clarify when the new Windows 11 capabilities might arrive under the new proposed scheme using Microsoft's servicing. He also didn't clarify whether the new features would be optional or not.
Microsoft still plans to continue its Windows Insider Program to "incubate new ideas" and try "different concepts with our features and services," Panay indicated.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.