It’s being reported that Microsoft is considering allowing Android apps to be used on its Windows Phones, a move that would represent a major U-turn from its usual business model, but could also be seen as an admission of defeat.
Until now, Microsoft has stuck rigidly to its guns – insisting that its capable of building out its own app ecosystem on the Windows Store, and striving to encourage developers to do so. It’s had some success, and a number of big name apps like Instagram are now available on Windows Phone, but it’s way behind Android and iOS. This is the biggest single reason why why Windows Phone sales fall short of its main rivals.
But things don’t have to be this way, thanks to the semi-open nature of Android which means it’s possible to run these apps on different platforms with a little tweaking. The Android emulator software made by BlueStacks has already achieved some success on Windows devices, whilst BlackBerry 10 phones can also run Android apps. And now, Microsoft is seriously considering doing the same thing, according to a report in The Verge.
It’s understandable why Microsoft might tempted to make such a move. Windows Phone users barely have 200,000 apps to choose from, whilst both Android and iOS boast over a million. And even though there are signs that Windows Phone is gaining some momentum of late, it’s hard to see a day when it could actually catch up (let alone surpass) its rivals.
A good example is the recent smash hit game Flappy Birds, which – in a fashion akin to the game itself – rapidly soared to number one spot in both Android and iOS app markets before crashing back down to Earth when its developer suddenly removed it. Flappy Bird’s fifteen minutes of fame was short-lived, but for Windows Phone users they never even had the chance to play it, as the developer never bothered making a version for the platform.
Sadly for Windows Phone, numerous developers have a similar attitude and never consider writing for the platform – there’s just more money to be made building apps for Android and iOS, and for that reason Windows Phone is never likely to catch up.
By making Android apps available on Windows Phone, its users would have hundreds of thousands of new apps to choose from, and that would make the platform a much more tempting proposition for consumers in the short term.
But then again…
Perhaps not, for there could be more to come from Windows Phone. Let’s not forget that a revamped Windows Phone 8.1 will soon be rolling out, and it’s set to take over Nokia’s handset business later this year. There’s also a new CEO in Natya Sadella who’s sure to shake things up and lead the company in a new direction. In truth, there’s probably never been a better time for Microsoft to have a real go at catching Android.
But by far the biggest consequence to consider is that by making Android apps compatible on Windows Phone, Microsoft would in effect be signing a death warrant for development on its own platform. How many developers would bother spending time building Windows Phone apps if the more profitable Android version can run on it anyway? The answer, most likely, is very few…
There’s also the problem that the Android apps wouldn’t be optimized for Windows Phone. Sure they can run on it, but as anyone who’s used an emulator will know, very few Android apps perform quite as well as they do on their native platform.
If Microsoft is serious about making Windows Phone a success, what it needs to do is redouble its efforts at enticing developers to build for it. Allowing Android apps to run on Windows Phone might help it boost sales of its devices in the short-term, but in reality it’s almost certainly an admission of defeat.