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Microsoft Phone Link may soon let you use your Android phone as a webcam

Code within the latest Link to Windows app suggests a camera streaming feature is in the works.

Published onNovember 29, 2023

Windows Phone Link icon
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Code within the Link to Windows app suggests that Microsoft could let you use your Android phone as a video stream for your laptop, possibly acting like a webcam.
  • The video stream has been spotted with features like filters and effects like auto-framing.
  • The feature could potentially compete against Apple’s Continuity Camera features.

Microsoft Phone Link, previously known as Microsoft Your Phone, is a nifty tool, especially if you have a recent Samsung flagship or a OnePlus 11 on Android 14. The tool comprises the Phone Link app on Windows devices and the companion Link to Windows app on Android phones. Together, they let you control your phone from your computer, and it’s the closest we’ve come to emulating Apple’s ecosystem synergy with Android and Windows. Microsoft could soon add one more synergized feature to the list, as the company is working on possibly letting you use your Android phone as a webcam with Windows computers.

An APK teardown helps predict features that may arrive on a service in the future based on work-in-progress code. However, it is possible that such predicted features may not make it to a public release.

Microsoft’s Link to Windows v1.23102.190.0 for Android app includes code that suggests that the company is working on letting your Android phone provide a video stream to your Windows PC. This would effectively allow it to be used as a webcam.

<string name="camera_activity_launch_notification_content">Tap this notification to allow your PC to stream your camera video</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_pause">Pause Video</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_resume">Resume Video</string>
<string name="camera_activity_launch_notification_title">Tap to start camera stream</string>
<string name="camera_activity_lock_notification_title">Unlock your phone to start your video</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_dnd">Do not disturb</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_swap_camera_to_back">Switch to Back</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_swap_camera_to_front">Switch to Front</string>

These strings indicate that once Microsoft’s Phone Link app is working on both connected devices, users would be able to start a camera stream that lets their phone’s camera be available to their Windows PC. The strings do not explicitly mention “webcam,” but other clues indicate that the feature would be related to video calls in some ways.

For instance, another new set of strings indicates that users would be able to apply effects to the video stream.

<string name="camera_activity_button_effects">Effects</string>
<string name="camera_activity_button_select_effects">Select effects</string>
<string name="camera_activity_no_filter">No Filter</string>
<string name="camera_effect_auto_framing">Auto-framing</string>
<string name="camera_effect_automatic">Automatic</string>
<string name="camera_effect_blur">Blur</string>
<string name="camera_effect_face_retouch">Face Retouch</string>
<string name="camera_effect_hdr">HDR</string>
<string name="camera_effect_night">Night</string>
<string name="camera_effect_soft_focus">Soft Focus</string>
<string name="camera_effect_stabilization">Stabilization</string>

The presence of “auto-framing” as a camera effect lends credibility to the notion that the feature would be related to webcam functionality. Apple popularized Centre Stage as a feature with video calling apps like Facetime, wherein the front camera would zoom in and keep the viewfinder focused on individuals even as they move around. Auto-framing could be similar.

There are new error strings, too. These would notify the user that their phone is too hot and the camera service failed to start.

<string name="camera_error_description_device_heat">Your mobile device needs to cool down before we can access the camera. Please try again in a few minutes.</string>
<string name="camera_error_title_device_heat">Your device is too hot</string>
<string name="camera_service_start_failed">Camera service failed to start</string>

Phone Link can already access your camera and video conferencing apps, but this is just mirroring apps running on your phone. What you see on your phone screen is what you see on the computer. If you record a video, it gets saved to your phone as typical video recordings do.

With the new functionality spotted above, Phone Link could potentially compete against Apple’s Continuity Camera features. With Continuity Camera, users can mount their iPhone to their Mac and then use the iPhone’s camera and microphone for FaceTime or other camera apps.

Apple macOS Ventura Continuity Camera

Supported apps for Phone Link’s camera feed functionality are not yet mentioned within the app. We presume that popular video-calling apps should be supported for the feature whenever it goes live. It would be best if the Android phone could act like an ordinary webcam stream, letting apps choose it like a regular webcam.

Continuing the speculation, there is a chance that this feature could be restricted to devices that include Link to Windows as a system app. Several Samsung Galaxy smartphones, and the OnePlus 11 on Android 14, have integrated Link to Windows in their system software, opening up features like screen mirroring and instant hotspot. If Microsoft decides to go down this route, it would make sense to gate the feature to an upcoming smartphone release, like the Samsung Galaxy S24 series or the OnePlus 12 series (or others), presuming the app is still deeply integrated.

Qualcomm has also been working on camera continuity features with Snapdragon Seamless. It is unknown if Microsoft will use the framework for its upcoming Phone Link functionality, although Microsoft is a partner for Snapdragon Seamless.

We contacted Microsoft for comments, and the company had nothing to share beyond the Phone Link support page. This page lists existing features and, as expected, does not mention anything about any upcoming camera feed feature.

Would you like to use your Android phone as a webcam for your PC?

165 votes

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