Windows 8 needs a reboot. Microsoft’s vision of a unified future has been met with nothing but apathy from consumers. Windows Phone 8 in particular has struggled. Microsoft arrived late to the market, locking its mobile OS into a vicious cycle. Fewer people develop for Windows Phone because there aren’t many users, and potential users don’t buy WP8 devices because they don’t have enough apps.
The chicken-and-egg problem has dragged down Windows Phone since its launch. When I reviewed the Lumia 925, the dearth of high-quality third-party apps was a major strike against it. Phones are as phones do, and WP 8 devices don’t do much.
Cripple Your Child to Save It
That’s why I was fascinated by the rumors that Microsoft is seriously considering building a runtime that will allow Android apps to run on Windows Phone.
The Verge cites “sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans” as saying the company is looking at running Android apps on Windows and Windows Phone.
“While planning is ongoing and it’s still early, we’re told that some inside Microsoft favor the idea of simply enabling Android apps inside its Windows and Windows Phone Stores, while others believe it could lead to the death of the Windows platform altogether,” The Verge said.
Microsoft will face strong internal opposition to allowing Android apps onto WP8 because it’s such a risky move. Opening the door to Android would instantly solve Microsoft’s app library problem, as the quality of Android’s ecosystem has improved drastically over the years.
However, it would also remove all motivation for developers to make native Windows apps. Why bother spending time and money on Windows when you can target Android and bag both platforms?
The move would also make Microsoft dependent on Android apps. What if Google changes the rules for development and prevents its apps from running on WP 8? God knows they try their hardest to kill Microsoft’s mobile OS. Its lesser competition.
Normally I would never give credit to a rumor of Microsoft making a move this desperate. But that was before. These days, it could really happen.
Why It Could Happen
Microsoft may not have a choice in whether it supports Android apps, as its partners are moving ahead anyway.
Intel has been developing “Dual OS,” a program that runs Android apps virtually alongside stock Windows 8. AMD is doing the same thing by partnering with Android virtualization company Bluestacks. It’s actually putting a tiny ARM chip inside its silicon to run Android apps.
Even if Microsoft doesn’t support Android applications, Intel and AMD may push their own solutions forward anyway. Windows tablet manufacturers want Android-level sales. If that means crippling Windows’ ecosystem, so be it. They’re invested in sales, not Windows.
Second, Microsoft just hired a new CEO. Satya Nadella is a longtime Microsoft employee who aims to bring a new “devices and services” focus to the company.
Nadella could make his mark on Windows Phone and Windows 8 by supporting Android apps. As the new guy, he’s not committed to the old plan. He could change course.
The third reason why Microsoft could do this is technical. Android is open source and modifiable. BlackBerry added Android support for BB OS 10. Microsoft has a whole lot of brilliant engineers. Surely they could rework WP 8 to run Android apps.
The last reason is a logical one. Microsoft needs something to break the Windows Phone funk. WP 8 is a decent platform. It just needs a good push to make it big. Since nothing else has worked, Redmond might really do this.
Whatever happens, I wish Windows Phone nothing but the best. More competition benefits consumers, and Microsoft has some good ideas in WP8. Here’s hoping it finds its solution, whatever that is.