How to keep your iPhone but switch to Google or Microsoft apps
Your guide to a new software ecosystem.
Just because you prefer the curved aesthetics of the iPhone doesn’t mean you want to buy entirely into the Apple software ecosystem. After all, Google and Microsoft make iOS apps that are just as good as Apple’s defaults. Although some apps require a few extra steps to replace the built-in versions, you can make the switch relatively easily, especially if you already use Google or Microsoft for your email and other cloud services.
Here, we’ll guide you through the apps you need for the swap and how to download them. While you can always switch back to the Apple versions, you may find that you don’t want to.
Switch to Microsoft
If your computer runs Windows, you own a Surface laptop or tablet, or you simply like Microsoft products, you’ll probably enjoy the company’s iOS apps. Instead of using the default versions of iPhone’s email, cloud storage, and other services, here’s how to replace them with Microsoft apps.
Email, calendar, and contacts
Start with your email client: You’ll need to download Outlook for iOS. On top of email, it handles your calendars and contacts, and it can work with both Microsoft and non-Microsoft (like, say, Apple) user accounts. To import any emails, calendars, or contacts into the app, tap the menu button on the top left, then the settings button (the cog icon), and choose Add account.
Calls and messaging
Skype for iOS can take care of all your video calling, voice calling, and messaging needs. However, Apple’s mobile platform won’t allow any app to take over SMS duties, so you’re stuck with its Messages app. Still, the newly-revamped Skype app has a clean look and a comprehensive set of features that includes group chats and group video calls. Your only problem might be getting your friends to use it.
You can also replace Apple’s cloud-storage program iCloud with Microsoft’s OneDrive. When you install the app for iOS, it will sync files between your phone and any computer, Windows or macOS, that has the OneDrive desktop client installed. OneDrive also backs up all the photos and videos on your phone, although you do have to pay for storage space if you’ve got a lot of files. Prices start at $2 a month.
As with Messages, you can’t completely replace the iPhone’s default digital assistant: When you press and hold the Home button, Siri is the AI that will launch. However, you can install Cortana for iOS and launch it manually, then direct all your queries to Microsoft’s app instead of Apple’s. You can also sync any reminders and notes you’ve made in Cortana for Windows or Android over to your iPhone.
For your work needs, you’ll need to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Swap Apple’s free Pages, Numbers, and KeyNote apps for, respectively, Microsoft’s free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps.
If you’ve already created documents in the Apple apps, you’ll need to convert them to a format that Microsoft’s versions can understand. To do so, open a file, then tap the menu button (three dots on the top right), choose Export, and pick the Microsoft format. You can also choose how to export the file, either sending it via email or saving it to the iPhone’s local storage.
If you install the Microsoft Edge web browser on your iPhone, you’ll be able to sync bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, and more with an Edge browser you use on a Windows PC. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t let any browser oust Safari as the default one on iOS. So when you tap on links in other apps, such as Facebook, they’ll automatically open in Safari instead of Edge.
Your iPhone should be fairly well Microsoft-ized by now, but for the finishing touch, install Bing Search and Feed, which acts as a stripped-down web browser. Now that Microsoft Edge is available for iOS, Bing isn’t quite as useful (we prefer Edge). But you can still use Microsoft’s search engine to look for websites, images, news, and more. The app also includes a basic map-search feature, though Microsoft doesn’t offer a dedicated mapping app for iOS.
Switch to Google
If you’ve decided to take the Google route rather than the Microsoft one, start with its signature feature: the Google search app. In addition to searching the internet and Google Maps, it provides a feed of news and other information that Google curates based on your previous activity, such as your Chrome browsing history. For a more natural, conversational approach to Google search, install the Google Assistant as well.
Email, calendar, and contacts
Next, install Gmail for iOS or Google’s other email app, Inbox, which provides more automation and smart features. You can pick up your Gmail activity right where you left off on any of your other devices. Alternatively, connect Gmail to your Apple email address: Tap the menu button (the three lines on the top left), then your username, then Manage accounts, then Add account, and finally choose iCloud from the list.
You can also use your Gmail account to log into Google Calendar for iOS. The slick and easy-to-use calendar app is just as good on iPhones as it is on the web and everywhere else. It will of course sync all your Google events and appointments, and you can add your Apple calendars as well. To do so, tap the menu button (the three lines on the top left), pick Settings, tap Manage accounts, and turn the iCloud toggle switch to on.
Calls and messaging
Again, Apple won’t let you replace Messages as the default SMS app. But you can still manually use Google apps for the same purposes. Try Allo for text-based messaging, Duo for video calling, and Hangouts for messaging, phone calls, and video chats. While Hangouts remains the most comprehensive option, Google continues to add new features to Allo and Duo, so keep an eye on those apps as well.
To back up your data, look no further than Google Drive, which will sync all your files with computers, other mobile devices, and your Google cloud locker. Drive also lets you save your Apple contacts to your Google account, even though Google doesn’t offer a dedicated app for contacts: Open the menu (three lines on the top left), tap the cog icon, and hit Backup.
For larger files, specifically your iPhone photos and videos, Google Photos makes backing up a breeze. When you first install the app, it’ll ask if you want to back up photos and videos. Say yes, and as long as you don’t mind that it resizes your files (down to 16 megapixels for images and 1080p for videos), you can store an unlimited number of pictures and clips for free. If you want to keep your files at their original resolution, you can pay Google for extra space in the cloud, which starts at prices of $2 a month.
If you’ve already created documents in the equivalent iOS apps, you may need to reformat them in order to open them with Google’s apps. Launch the appropriate Apple app—Pages, Sheets, or Keynote—and then open the file you want to transfer. Next, tap the menu button (three dots on the top right), choose Export, and select the Google format option. Once you’ve exported the file, the appropriate Google app will be able to open it up.
As mentioned previously, you can’t completely replace Safari as the default browser on iOS. But you can still download Google Chrome for iOS and launch it manually when you want to explore the internet. Sign into the web browser with your Google account (it should prompt you to do so when you first open the app), and Chrome will carry over all of your bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, and other data from your computer. Even if most links will open in Safari by default, you can at least make sure Gmail links open in Chrome: Open Gmail, choosing Settings from the left-hand menu, then selecting Google apps, followed by Chrome.
Google offers some types of iOS apps that Microsoft doesn’t. For example, you can rely on Google Maps to get from A to B quickly and safely and find places of note nearby. If you use the app online or on an Android device, you know you’ll also get features such as live traffic updates and a list of favorite “starred” locations. If you need live directions, try it in full-screen turn-by-turn navigation mode.
Music and video players
Finally, there’s Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV, which can effectively replace everything that iTunes and Apple Music usually do on an iPhone. They let you stream music, films, and television shows and even download content for offline access. What you can’t do is purchase new content right from iOS, so if you’re buying or renting something new, you need to pay up on a computer or other device before the content shows up on your iPhone.