Wait, what..?! Microsoft is going way past Project Normandy if they’re considering this…
The other day I wrote about how Nokia was pulling together the final touches on a low-end Android phone to compete in developing and emerging markets where high-end phones don’t sell well. That grinds against the traditional wheels in the Microsoft machine. Traditionally, thems is feudin’ words…at least in Redmond.
However, I stumbled across a couple other articles yesterday, including one from Mary Jo Foley (totally love her column), that really had me thinking, and I wanted to take a bit of time to try to wrap my head around all of it. Apparently, Microsoft is considering going well beyond an Android phone. They are actively considering – I think debating might be a better word, and strongly debating at that – not only releasing an Android phone, but they are considering the possibility of allowing Android apps to run on all Windows Phones, and on Windows tablets (think Surface RT/2 and Surface Pro/2 Pro) as well on traditional Windows laptops and desktops.
Wait, what?! That last part confused me…
The big problem honestly gets down to 3rd party development resources and the reach of Windows Phone. Windows Phone has a VERY small share of the smartphone market right now. In fact, its single digit small, where Android and iOS share double digit ownership of the number one and two spots, respectively. I’ve heard many 3rd party developers say that they would like to make apps for Windows Phone, but the sales just don’t justify the resource and development costs. As a way to get Windows powered devices (again not only phones and tablets, but computers as well) in the hands of more people, Microsoft is trying to figure out a way (the best way..?) to get Android apps to run on Windows devices. That could be Pokki, or it could be something else.
The first thing that crossed my mind was RIM/Blackberry, who (eventually) tried this strategy when they released their failed and much maligned Playbook tablet. Everyone thought they had figured out a way to make Android apps run natively. Instead, they had to run inside an emulator – a clunky, poor performing, and unfortunately buggy – emulator (and it totally tanked). Now with the release of BB10, Android apps can be installed OTA (over the air), but users have to find the application files (*.APK files) on their own. From what I understand, Microsoft would have to do much the same thing – run Android apps inside an emulator, and again, it may be Pokki – in order to get them to run on a Windows powered device.
I’m on the fence about this. I don’t like the idea of an Android app on a Windows powered device. I especially don’t like the idea of an Android app running on my Windows laptop or desktop. Android is a mobile OS, and as such, the apps aren’t as rich or full featured as those found on a traditional Windows laptop or desktop PC. I don’t think the end users are going to like what they get, or more importantly, what they don’t get, from the experience.
The reason why BB10 users can install Android apps OTA is because at its core, BB10 – or QNX – is just as Linux based as Android is. A GREAT deal of work would have to be done to Windows to be able to have Android apps run natively as they do on BB10. Unfortunately, you don’t see this feature creating a lot of BB10 device sales. In fact, you don’t see a lot of BB10 devices anywhere. I have yet to actually see one in the wild (and I am actively looking). Ultimately, I’m afraid that the same thing will happen with Windows.
If a user wants to run Android apps, a user is going to buy…an Android device. Period. They aren’t going to buy a BB10, or in this case, a Windows powered, device. Redmond isn’t going to create a draw or see a huge uptick in demand for Windows Phone or Surface RT/2 devices if it finds an acceptable way to run Android apps on them. It’s a nice to have. It’s something EXISTING users might find useful; but it’s not going to cause the masses to dump their iOS or native Android devices for a Windows powered device. It just won’t… History is replete with examples, too. If it wasn’t, the IBM PC clone market would have led to an Apple II clone market, a Commodore 64 clone market, etc. Blackberry also wouldn’t find themselves in their current situation, either. Users want to run native apps on native devices. They don’t want to use an emulator or have functionality limited.
All of this also goes against every bit of cultural norm I’ve ever seen come out of Redmond. However, as a devices and services company where the focus is now being placed on the software that powers both those devices and services, it’s clear that Microsoft has to do something. WHAT that is… I’m not certain yet; and I hope that they haven’t made their decision on it yet, either. Doing this would be a mistake; and it would really upset their development partners as well. Why would they want to develop for Windows Phone or in MetroUI/ModernUI if they can develop an Android app and hit both markets? I’m just sayin’…
However, it’s clear Microsoft has to do SOMETHING. They need to turn the tide around; and find a way to get more users on Windows powered devices. They need to find a way to get more mobile users. They need to find a way to stop people from using older, out-moded, outdated Microsoft operating systems and get them to adopt the most current version. They need a strategy that’s going to lead them into the future instead of milking profits from the past.
This is the biggest, root cause issue that Satya Nadella has before him. He’s going to need all the help he can get too, which is why I am glad that he has Gates around as an advisor. This is a sticky situation and they have a lot of work to do. They need to reengineer the company, their products and Microsoft’s identity. The faster they can do this, the better chance they will have at being successful.
In the meantime, the world is watching…. and waiting.
I’d really like to hear what YOU think about this whole Android on a Windows device thing. Is it a good idea? Will it inspire you to purchase a Windows device over an Android device, if they do it and do it right? I’d really appreciate you chiming in, in the comments below and giving me your opinion on the whole thing.