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Can Microsoft switch from Windows Phone to Android?

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Can Microsoft switch from Windows Phone to Android?
Can Microsoft make an Android device? This question has been bothering the press ever since Microsoft announced it's getting a new chief executive, Satya Nadella, and with leaks of an entry-level Nokia smartphone running on Android, the improbable has suddenly become the hot topic.

Taking existing Android and building on top of it, or ‘forking’ it, is exactly the option that Microsoft has when it comes to Android. There are plenty of reasons in favor of a Microsoft fork of Android, a Microsoft/Nokia Kindle of sorts, and probably as many or more against, but we can sum up the argument down to this: Windows Phone has not been capable of attracting sufficient sales to break the Android/iOS monopoly and create a true ‘three-horse’ race, so that's why an Android smartphone by Nokia (or Microsoft) would leverage a much larger app and developer ecosystem. Finally, since parts of Android are open source, it's not risking too much.

On the flip side of things, it would be an admission of failure of the Windows Phone platform, something that we doubt Microsoft would be willing to do despite the sales situation. Also, it would require some effort and a cloud back-end infrastructure. Let’s be theoretical for a minute and try to step in both Microsoft’s and Google’s shoes to see what it would take for a Microsoft ‘Droid’ to become a reality.

The one argument in favor of a Microsoft ‘Droid’: market share

Windows Phone market share (in red) after Nokia quits Symbian

Windows Phone market share (in red) after Nokia quits Symbian

2013 is long over, and with its passing, we can safely say that the mobile space continues to be a duopoly of two operating systems - Android and iOS. Microsoft’s Windows Phone has a very marginal market share of around 3.2%, according to data for 2013 from market researchers Canalys); in the United States, Windows Phone share is even lower, at 3.1%, and some analysts like the Microsoft-focused Paul Thurott and the AdDuplex network estimate the total platform user base at around 50 million. In stark contrast, Android has an estimated total installed user base of some 1.9 billion, while iOS and Mac combined have around 680 million, so while Microsoft is indeed the third-largest platform, it is so far behind Android and iOS that we cannot seriously consider it a ‘three-horse’ race just yet.

Even worse, the latest statistics show that Windows Phone grows to be more and more dependent on a single phone maker - Nokia. Windows Phone devices by the Finnish company account for more than 90% of all Windows Phone sales. We are all hoping that Microsoft will announce new partners soon, but the reality of the situation at the moment is that its platform has not been met with enthusiasm by phone makers other than Nokia, and the huge sales are not there to give more people reason to buy in.

Additionally, statistics also show that the dynamics of Windows Phone are actually moving down, with diminishing interest in Windows Phone smartphones, and low sales for the platform’s top-shelf smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 1020. What happens instead is that low-end devices like the Lumia 520 that bring low profitability for phone makers are growing their relevant share of the Windows Phone market. That cannot be a good thing for the manufacturer’s revenue sheets.

All in all, the first 'app argument' in favor of an Android-based Microsoft/Nokia could be the strongest, as the Windows Phone ecosystem seems to have been ‘too little, too late’.

Why Android: because of open source, or because of developers, developers, developers?

Google continues updating the AOSP

Google continues updating the AOSP

If Microsoft were to call it quits on Windows Phone, out of all mobile operating systems out there, Android is the only open source one that is a viable replacement option. Smaller ones like Ubuntu have even less market share than Windows Phone and are clearly not a good fit, and iOS is a proprietary platform, of course.

With over 1 billion applications in its catalog, and a strong developer ecosystem, Android can provide Microsoft with a base that it’s currently missing with Windows Phone. Moreover, Android has largely maintained the principle of providing a level playing field for third-party manufacturers, so that it has the APIs and all other needed tools for Microsoft services. And a quick look at Microsoft’s revenue sheet will tell you in perfect clarity that services like Office are the exact reason why Microsoft wants to be on mobile.

It’s important to note that Android’s openness allowed even starting this discussion about a Microsoft ‘Droid’. Google started with the Android Open Source Project (AOSP)’s huge codebase launched in the early days of Android around October 2008, and has been updating it since then. AOSP is basically the bread and butter of Android, something that a third-party phone maker can virtually take and slap on a device, and have a fully functioning smartphone. It has literally all that’s needed - the launcher, the dialer, phone and contacts apps, the calendar, camera, gallery and so on.

It’s also equally important to make it clear that while the AOSP provides the backbone of Android, it does not include things like Google’s excellent suite of applications including the Google Play Store, Maps, Drive, Gmail, Chrome and so on. All of that is packaged in a separate entity that’s often called Google Mobile Service (GMS), or Google Play services. GMS - unlike AOSP - is proprietary, and has been so from the start, designed to provide access to Google’s cloud services on top of Android. Making use of it is something that requires a paid validation that is rumored to vary in cost, but average at around $0.75 per device.

One key feature of the GMS is that it cannot be divided, you cannot have just a part of it - it is a buy-all, get-all solution. In practical terms, this translates into the fact that all GMS Android phones have not just say Google Play on them, but also the full suite of Google apps.

Here is where the big question for Microsoft appears. If - purely theoretically - the company was to build an Android fork, would it want one that is based on AOSP only or one with AOSP and with GMS?

Like Amazon...

Amazon has forked Android using AOSP only

Amazon has forked Android using AOSP only

The first option is actually something that has already been tried and proved to be possible with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, built under this model. For Microsoft to build a platform on top of AOSP only would mean no access to the Google Play Store and its huge catalog, so it’d have to build an app store from scratch like Amazon did. It might make sense to some since such a store would be based on Android, and developers shouldn’t have much of a trouble bringing existing Android apps to it, but it is such a grand undertaking that to us it simply does not seem viable in this day and age of already mature app catalogs.

Or like Samsung?

Samsung uses AOSP with GMS, and a strong suite of competing custom apps

Samsung uses AOSP with GMS, and a strong suite of competing custom apps

The second option of AOSP plus GMS is what looks much more viable. Yes, it would take significant efforts, but the biggest one - the cloud back-end that should become the backbone of such a theoretical fork - seems to have already been solved by Microsoft. For all else, the APIs are there. Can we say that Android is a perfectly equal field for third-party services compared to first-party, Google ones? We are no developers to judge about parity, but fact is that Google has done the work to have its own proprietary service work through the same public APIs used by third-party ones; and cloud services like Dropbox seem to be perfectly well integrated inside Android for that matter.

Building the custom apps seems to be the lesser effort, though, especially for a company the size and expertise of Microsoft. We also ought to mention that a lot of the core apps are available as part of the AOSP already. Chromium is available as an open-source base for everyone to build upon, and in cases where the apps (like the music player) are not well maintained, there are plenty of developers with powerful solutions that can be licensed.

This way, a Microsoft ‘Droid’ would be able to leverage the Android ecosystem fully, but still deliver a unique experience, and most importantly, become a window to Microsoft’s strong cloud services. This has also been done before, and still is - it’s what Samsung is doing to Android, where it keeps the Google core apps, but also offers a competing Samsung app store with competing Samsung applications. Samsung’s explosive growth has been a testament to the viability of such an approach, but we should admit that the business model of Samsung and Microsoft are considerably different.

Will it happen?

We have already seen that companies like Amazon and Samsung have successfully forked Android, and done so in different ways. The big question, however, remains whether Microsoft will actually do such a fundamental change and depart from its Windows Phone platform.

Quite clearly, a Microsoft-made Android device would be a business decision, and sure enough, it will require significant amounts of time and effort. We are not saying in any way that it would be the wiser decision, what we have tried to expose here is whether or not it is possible, and whether or not it’s a viable prospect. To us, it seems like the answer is yes. What do you think?

reference: The Guardian, Ars Technica, Dianne Hackborn

  • Options

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 08:50 11

1. boblight (Posts: 84; Member since: 28 Jul 2012)

And then let the floodgates of fan-wars begin.....

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:00 7

7. akki20892 (Posts: 3901; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

Wp getting mature, right now not too mature enough but we have to wait Few years. I'm gonna use android for few years then whenever wp get fully mature I'm going to buy Nokia.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:11 14

15. SleepingOz (unregistered)

Or may be nokia will switch to Android by then. Best of both world, for you at least.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:25 4

20. Skoms (Posts: 118; Member since: 03 Feb 2014)

What is the point of WP, if Android is superior??

Android has the more features this i open system that can get the operating system to look like you want.

Microsoft would surely be able to make a WP launcher for Android that would outclass their own OS

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 14:35 9

60. Liveitup (Posts: 1798; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)

Microsoft going with Android would be a major mistake

1) There is nothing stopping Microsoft from offering their services on iOS and Android at present, and Microsoft does not have to give up Windows Phone to offer Android versions of Bing, Outlook and Xbox Music (and in fact already does). Its a false dichotomy.

2) The App Gap issue is being rapidly solved. While Windows Phone is only 10% of iOS and 5% of the Android installed base, its 50 million users present a viable market for developers who want that extra 10% of sales for minimal effort. This situation will just improve in time, making it a weak reason to give up on Windows Phone. In addition running AOSP will no more get users those missing Google apps journalists always complain about than running Windows Phone, and the same goes for many high profile Android apps, who do not want to support a fork of Android.

3) Being app compatible with Android is not a recipe for success. One merely have to look at Blackberry 10’s lack of success, or even more convincingly HTC, Sony, LG and everyone else except Samsung. Simply running Android does not magically confer market acceptance, in fact it largely seems a marketing budget issue.

4) With Google being in charge of development they could easily introduce breaking changes in the code and licensing of Android which could mean future versions of Android would be inaccessible to Microsoft. Being dependent on a competitor that is clearly out to kill you seems a rather bad idea.

5) There are advantages to running your own platform, like security and deeper customizability, and being able to control your own roadmap and pace of development, which Microsoft would not have if it went all Android.

In short going Android would not make Microsoft much different from Amazon with its forked version of Android, which while doing well is not exactly setting the world on fire or grabbing large amount of market share with their tablet products.

Instead of adopting Android, Nadella should work at bringing up the installed base of Windows Phone to 200 million as rapidly as possible, at which point the app problem will solve itself and while offering Microsoft’s services on other platforms continue to give users on other platforms reasons to switch to Windows Phone.

Android is not a superior platform to Windows Phone I think it is the opposite, being open does not make you better in fact being open has more than its share of disadvantages, maybe some Android fanboys are to blind to see but Android is becoming Flat and simplier, that's WP.

Anyone who truly knows technology and not just look at what they see at the surface would tell you WP is the best OS out there look at how much Android and its OEM's, iOS and other are mimicking the WP experience.

WP grew from 13.2 million in 2012 to over 30 million last year making it the fastest growing OS worldwide.

WP had a minor dip last quarter but so did Samsung and other Android OEM's.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 15:09

63. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 2130; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)

Gold post +1

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 19:20 2

65. networkdood (Posts: 6330; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)

Microsoft does a poor job maintaining their apps on Android - see Halo Waypoint and XBOX smartglass. Android allows flexibility - windows did at one time, too. WP is not the best OS - ask any IT guy - the OS is littered with security issues - the old joke still applies that WS OS is like swiss cheese. Still, having options for their customers is not a bad thing. Speaking of fanboys, you are truly a Windows fanboy. Their new Win 8 phones intrigue me. But therir PCs? I cannot wait to dump mine - I sick of windows explorer - and I wish I could fully delete Internet explorer - worst browser in existence.

posted on 11 Feb 2014, 01:47

73. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2071; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)

35 million WP8 + 15 million WP7/7.5/7.8 = 50 million WP users worldwide, which is no small number. :)

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 14:51 3

61. Liveitup (Posts: 1798; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)

Additionally, IPhone and Note 3 was released last quarter yet WP still manage to put up impressive numbers, to me that is a win, I have no doubt that some will love to see WP demise not because the product is not great but because it is, they hate to see future Android competition and that is the truth no matter how they dress it up.

Think about it, how popular was WP a couple years ago compared to now, now WP is getting major attention and growing marketshare , where do you think it will be in two years from now and two after that etc at the pace its maturing, WP will be a major treat to Android in the future especially when Satya give it away for free to OEm's because suddenly it because more expensive to create an Android device than it would a Windows Phone, the reason being that it cost more to license WP than it is for OEM's to pay Microsoft for patents currently, however the moment WP because free it is suddenly more expensive to create an Android device than a WP for OEM's cause even though the Android OS itself is free paying Microsoft Patent fees to use its tech in their Android devices will continue to cost them tens of Millions while WP will cost them nothing.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 15:01

62. Liveitup (Posts: 1798; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)

In the last paragraph the two final " because" words should should be "becomes", writing on small screen, mistakes tends to happen.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 14:06 1

58. akki20892 (Posts: 3901; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

That be great if they make android phone like my profile picture.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:25 14

21. alterecho (Posts: 1098; Member since: 23 Feb 2012)

WP isn't getting mature.
Proof: Look at the graph of Windows Phone marketshare - 2010 (launch year) to 2013.
That there, is a near straight line. As straight as an airport runway.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:34 11

25. Skoms (Posts: 118; Member since: 03 Feb 2014)

I have both Android and WP, Android is constantly evolving and is long before Wp, Through Android launchers with WP8 theme has more features than regular WP8.

Then I do not understand why Microsoft can not release an Android launcher, then they would get assets an Android sized Eco system.

And they would sell phones. Now they sell just because it's Nokia and it is hardly

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:48 2

35. SleepingOz (unregistered)

Never gonna happen. The one that should make Android devices is nokia. MS is a software company, they sell software.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 10:01 1

37. Skoms (Posts: 118; Member since: 03 Feb 2014)

It would make people themselves could choose!

But it seems that Microsoft does not want you to have a few choices,

it may be because that Wp ecosystem is a disaster?

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 10:05 5

39. sgodsell (Posts: 3750; Member since: 16 Mar 2013)

Yet they bought Nokia phone division, and make their own tablets as well. So is this why Microsoft is paying other OEMS to make WP devices for them. You just have to look at the previous quarter alone. Nokia sold 8.2 million lumias and in the previous quarter 8.9 million lumias were sold. During the holiday season they sold 700,000 fewer lumias. Everyone knows that they sell over 90% of all WP devices. In the same holiday quarter 55 million iphones sold, and Android sold over 220 million phones. The sales numbers tell the truth.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 14:08 2

59. akki20892 (Posts: 3901; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)

Nokia launching Normandy. Because they knew it let's give little change to Nokia with android. If it's sold more then I damn sure they will start making high end android phones.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 11:24

50. cdgoin (Posts: 535; Member since: 28 Jul 2010)

Actually if they forked Android under a Metro UI, MOST people wouldn't even notice.. It would simply be another droid phone with a cool GUI on top. I don't care what core is running my smart phone as long as it works like WP and I can use google play on it to run my TV. Heck WP makes money now on Android licensing.. so they could offer discounts to Samsung, etc.. to use the Windows Flavor of GUI over Googles chrome. Beat Google at its own game. Then replace Windows RT with the same OS.. as Chrome and droid can already run on top of Win8.1 it could work to their advantage.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 08:52 11

2. Finalflash (Posts: 3130; Member since: 23 Jul 2013)

Not going to happen, between pride and stupidity, there is just no chance. Firstly they have started their vendetta against Google for a while now and even joined hands with Apple to bring down Android. That effort plus the fact that they want to have total software and hardware control like Apple to make mad money means they won't go Android.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 08:57 8

3. pradeepreddy (Posts: 65; Member since: 01 Apr 2013)

why do you guys always write articles about what will happen if they switch to ANDROID,
like it's a miracle medicine for EVERYTHING!!!

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 10:21 2

41. dratomic (Posts: 483; Member since: 09 Oct 2013)

another drunk written article

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 08:59 3

4. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 2130; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)

They can, but they won't. It will be worse if they do.

And 1G apps? Did you mean 1M?

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:09 5

13. xperiaDROID (banned) (Posts: 5629; Member since: 08 Mar 2013)

1 giliion apps? There's no such word. 1 apps per gallon? Hell yea.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:12 2

16. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 2130; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)

1 giga apps ;)

"With over 1 billion applications on its catalog"

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:37

29. lalalaman (Posts: 631; Member since: 19 Aug 2013)

Doesn't giga is refered to money? ??....well what ever...1 apps per gallon was hilarious

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:42 1

31. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 2130; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)

Lots of stuff.

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:00 4

5. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2071; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)

MS could adopt Android & skin in with tiles. However, that'll be the end of them seeing my money in their pile of cash. And I wanna request all fellow WP users & fans on the site to ignore and not react to any hate or trolls towards WP & MS and keep this article clean and hate-free. :)

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:01

8. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2071; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)

skin it*

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:21 3

19. xperiaDROID (banned) (Posts: 5629; Member since: 08 Mar 2013)

Everyone in PA should know that trolls just want attention, the more you reply to them, the more they troll. We should know that "Don't argue with the trolls, they just won't listen.".

posted on 10 Feb 2014, 09:26 2

22. Skoms (Posts: 118; Member since: 03 Feb 2014)

Microsoft would surely be able to make a WP launcher for Android that would outclass their own OS.

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