Android apps on Windows Phone sounds like a great idea

Android apps on Windows Phone sounds like a great idea

Summary: Microsoft is possibly thinking of allowing Android apps to run on Windows Phone. Yes, please!

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TOPICS: Windows Phone
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Windows Phone and Android
A match made in heaven. And what with today being Valentine's day and all...

As my friend and ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley reports, Microsoft is pondering the idea of letting Android apps run on Windows.

This is one of two Android-slash-Windows Phone ideas that are currently floating around, the other being that Microsoft should give up on Windows Phone entirely and move over to Android.

Splitting

That last idea is either terrible, or pointless depending on the way you look at it. It's pointless because Microsoft already has an operating system that runs on phones, and it's called "Windows Phone".

Basing their OS on Android itself doesn't help, not least of all because Android is split into two halves. The first half -- the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) -- is properly open source. The other half, Google Mobile Services (GMS) is certainly not free. GMS does all the actual magic stuff that makes Android good.

The more direct issue is that GMS ties the device into Google's ecosystem. Amazon's Kindle Fire offering doesn't have GMS, which gives Amazon the freedom to tie the device and its owner into the Amazon ecosystem. Similarly, the rumoured Nokia Android device would not have GMS, and as a result Nokia would tie the device into the Nokia ecosystem.

So we come full circle. Microsoft cannot create an Android device with GMS without breathing life into Google's ecosystem. They won't do that, and seeing as Windows Phone is as good or better than the baseline AOSP offering, there's no point not to keep plugging away at Windows Phone.

BlackBerry

With BlackBerry 10 (BB10), BlackBerry offered the ability for users to run Android apps on the new operating system. The major issue was that they needed to be repackaged in order to run.

This repackaging process was a bit of an effort in its own right, but the bigger issue was getting hold of the raw ".apk" file (Android Package file) needed to install an Android app.

The Google Play app on a proper GMS-linked Android device acts as a marshal between the device and Google's services to obtain a proper ".apk" file that can be installed. Software vendors do not make the .apk files publicly available.

In BlackBerry 10.2.1 the process is easier in that you don't need to go through the re-signing step, but you still need the .apk file from somewhere. And, as the original vendor would not put their .apk files up publicly outside of the store, by definition you're exposing yourself to moral issues and/or security problems by going out on the hunt for the .apk files from other sources.

Whichever way you looked at it the only way to get an Android app running on a BB10 was if the vendor had the good grace to put it up on BlackBerry world.

But at least this process short-circuited some development effort. The only reason why Skype exists at all on BB10 is because Microsoft re-packaged the Android version and put it up on BlackBerry World.

Third-place

For a long time we've been talking about the "platform in third-place", and that platform is now Windows Phone.

The rationale for BlackBerry allowing Android apps to run on BB10 was to ameliorate this problem that nascent platforms have no app support. Although not ideal, but allowing Android apps to more easily be ported to BB10, some of that argument goes away.

Back in October I wrote a piece about whether Windows Phone would ever get any love from developers. The argument I put forward there was that, commercially, any organisation will target platforms in a "dominance priority" in order to reach their largest possible customer base. iOS and Android are the dominant platforms, and offer the broadest sweep across the possible customer base.

The problem comes in that the amount of resources a company has to invest is limited. Once you've satisfied the two platforms you must hit, there's only a small amount of resources left to satisfy the platforms you could hit.

If it were possible to repackage Android apps for Windows Phone in the same way you can repackage Android apps for BlackBerry 10, the app coverage problem suddenly looks a whole lot better.

(There is, it must be said, a little simplification here. Some Android apps are dependent on features contained within GMS, not AOSP. As GMS would not be supported on Windows Phone at all, that mismatch would stymie a straightforward port in some cases.)

Conclusion

Personally, I'm struggling to see the downside with this approach. It may even be something that Microsoft can manipulate such that Google's own strength is used against them.

One argument is that Windows Phone developers will be seriously annoyed. By definition, there can't be many of them, because self-evidently Windows Phone is not a big platform.

Some of them will hate me saying this, but the developers that are supporting Windows Phone cannot be commercially relevant compared to iOS and Android developers, because today Windows Phone is not commercial relevant when compared to iOS and Android. The health, and size of developer community for any platform or tool is tied to the commercial ecosystem that supports their work.

 

Developers polishing their skills in Windows Phone are, arguably, wasting their time. If they put that effort into Android, and Microsoft supported running Android apps on Windows Phone, surely that has to be a much better career move? A developer doing that could hit a huge swathe of devices, and be very much in demand.

For consumers, the story is also good. People who own Windows Phone seem to love it. The only downside to Windows Phone today is that the app support is severely limited compared to iOS and Android.

Actually, scratch that. The problem is that the "app gap" problem isn't changing. Windows Phone will always lag.

Plugging in Android support will fix that, and in a way entirely transparent to non-technologist users. All they'll see is the apps they want magically appearing in the Windows Phone store at the same time that their friends and family on iOS and Android see them on their stores..

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Windows Phone

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25 comments
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  • Look and feel...

    The problem is, the Android apps look and feel different to Windows / Windows Phone. That means they don't "work" for the user. The Android UI is completely different to Windows Phone, so the apps look different and common options appear in the "wrong" place or use the wrong gestures.

    Also, if I can develop for Android and deploy on Windows/WP, why would I ever develop an app to run natively on that platform, even if it would be faster, more stable and offer a better user experience?
    wright_is
    • Agreed...

      ...clearly the situation is not as dire as Matt portrays. If they did this on a limited basis, it might be ok. But, yes, the UI of the app would have to work well within the Windows Phone UI. Sure, there are some apps that would be nice to haves, but with over 200k apps on WP, there are plenty of apps to choose from.
      toph36
      • Android clunk apps

        ... requires 70% hardware spec boost (in the minimum) to achieve the same smooth UX you get from WP Apps so there they pretty much kill off any chance of running Android Apps on WP.
        LBiege
    • The other way around

      "Also, if I can develop for Android and deploy on Windows/WP, why would I ever develop an app to run natively on that platform, even if it would be faster, more stable and offer a better user experience?"

      Too true. Their developer base would instantly vanish, and their Metro/Modern/RT/WP strategy would go up in smoke within a few weeks.

      The only thing I could ever see them doing in that direction is implementing a wrapper that allows Windows Phone apps to run on Android, maybe even sold through their app store.
      Sacr
  • Didn't need to read your article...

    You are an idiot. No one wants to use apps that aren't optimized for their OS. Plus, if developers can eventually hit Windows 8/WP8 and Android all with the same app code, no way is that going to play nicely on that extremely breadth of devices. Keep apps unique to their respective stores and people will be happy. I'm sorry if you are a developer and have to do extra work to hit other user bases...that IS what you signed up for when you decided to write mobile apps that aren't niche/company specific in nature.
    ikissfutebol
    • App Store

      Well put. The Microsoft strategy has to be to grow in the App Store market by unifying the Store for multiple platforms (Phone,Tablet,Desktop). Making sure another store in more appealing to develop for than theirs would go directly against that strategy. What would support their strategy is if their App Store worked on Android, not the other way around.
      Sacr
  • Terrible idea

    This is a terrible idea for so many different reason. Here is just one of those reasons.

    WP Being app compatible with Android is not a recipe for success. 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.
    bxbbrian
  • MS needs stores to sell Windows Phone devices

    The bottom line is if MS wants Windows Phone sales, particularly in the U.S., to surge past 10% market share quickly, it needs to secure sales staff dedicated to selling only MS products - and not the competition's. MS cannot accomplish things the way they are now. If MS can secure sales people in carrier stores to do the above, then more power to them. Otherwise MS needs to quickly form a retail network, to accomplish it WP sales goals, as well as its other devices' sales goals.

    I can't imagine stores in stores and pop up stores are expensive or uneconomical. Given these can be set up and dismantled quickly, I believe this is the course MS should take.

    As others have pointed out, running Android apps on WP devices would ruin the experience for WP users. MS would also run the risk of Google periodically adjusting their GMS APIs, to disrupt Android apps from working properly on the Windows Phone platform. Then there is the matter of ticking off developers, by inviting massive competition to the WP platform, making it uneconomical to compete on the platform.
    P. Douglas
    • Who is "the competition" now?

      Since Microsoft started selling their own devices, could it be argued that any other OEM constitutes competition, particularly since many of these OEMs are also selling devices that run other operating systems?

      That, I believe, is Microsoft's problem--they seem to have developed a mentality where anyone who is not in lockstep with them is a potential threat that must be dealt with accordingly. Consequently, they seem ill-equipped for dealing with a market that they don't already rule over with an iron fist, because they are used to the idea that for themselves to succeed, all others must fail. They may have to consider whether they are willing to accept that they will not dominate absolutely everything everywhere.

      Also, seeing Microsoft having to even consider piggybacking on a more popular platform's software library is one of those things that would be funny if it weren't so sad, just for the poetic nature of it.
      Third of Five
      • In all fairness

        Microsoft didn't own a mobile hardware company until 8 months ago. HTC made just as many windows phones as Nokia. (Heck, my winmo 5 with the slideout keyboard from HTC still functions?)

        And until 2 years ago they didn't make tablets... leaving that to fujitsu and panasonic. The result? Not many people were buying. So they took a page from the apple playbook.

        They didn't want to play in the same pool as the Cupertino Mafia... but when you see a business idea that works and your business model is failing it would be ludicrous not to try.
        tojamismis
  • Not in that way

    You'd need to have Android libraries on Windows Phone which would map the GSM to their equivalent parts in Windows Phone and a Google Play app to get apps directly from Google's store, any other way wouldn't work. But then, I don't think Google would let that happen.

    If you're dependent on the developer repackaging his app for the Windows Store, you might wait an eternity to get apps and maybe never getting them as many wouldn't even want to bother (the BlackBerry 10 case).
    lepoete73
    • So, WINE in reverse?

      WINE Is Not an Emulator (WINE) of Windows, rather it maps Windows APIs to Linux in mirror image to your suggestion. It's used to run some Windows games and productivity apps on Linux, mostly by geeks.

      It's far from mainstream, and struggles to keep up with the evolving Windows API. As you suggest, I doubt a WINE for Windows to run Android Linux apps would be any more mainstream.

      Native apps and web apps are the two best choices. Focus on those.
      ricegf
  • Even better idea...

    Android apps on an Android phone.
    brother451
  • Stop trying to make windows phone happen.

    It isn't going to happen.
    brother451
    • Chances are good it will

      If I can trust my luck with technology.

      I'm usually an early buyer in new technology and from the beginning I've failed only once to predict a success (SACD). I was early with CDs, DVDs and Smartphones, especially Windows Smartphones. I had a Windows Mobile 6.1 (before that I had a Pocket PC running Pocket Windows 2002). I would have jumped directly to Windows Phone if I hadn't broken my WM phone before WP7 came out, so I did a little detour by Android and got WP8 almost on launch day.

      I still believe Windows Phone will work, it's constantly gaining market share and everywhere I go I brag about it, I already convinced a few people to swap Android/iPhone for Windows Phone and I'm proud of doing my part!
      lepoete73
    • Why worry about it then? Whats the downside to you if they continue WP?

      I'm curious as to why people are concerned as to whether MS keeps pushing it or not.
      William.Farrel
  • No good

    Name one OS provider that has reached number 1 status by offering an emulation platform for another system's apps.
    BTRDAYZ
  • Its obvious

    This clown (Matt Baxter-Reynolds) has never developed for Andorid or Windows Phone - You can simply tell. Why does ZDNet continue to give these people a forum like this and "pretend" they are experts??

    To ZDNet: Please get authors who have some experience and background, not some shill trying to promote what he or she thinks is best.

    Windows Phone will not grow unless it becomes price competitive and Microsoft achieves some technological advances. Its difficult to be price competitive with Android, because Andorid is the cheapest option - you can tell just by using and developing on the platform that it is cheap. iOS is just as expensive as Windows Phone, even more so, but iOS has already got marketshare and critical mass. For Windows Phone to succeed - lower the price, meld RT/Windows and Windows Phone OS into something developers can port from one form factor to another easily/seamlessly and Microsoft needs to have their own team of developers developing quality freeware apps specifically for this "melded" platform. If they do all that, they could become a viable "third option".
    BruinB88
    • Off The Mark

      "Windows Phone will not grow unless it becomes price competitive and Microsoft achieves some technological advances."

      It already is price competitive. Apparently you are unaware of their lowest end offering, Nokia 520 (ATT $59 no contract, and N521 T-Mobile $69 no contract). Nice piece of equipment for the money, and it just works...This brings in a lot of first time smartphone buyers who will be happy with the Win Phone ecosystem and hardware, who will re-purchase Win Phones when they rebuy.

      That, and their very nice mid-range and higher end models might get them above a 10% share in two years.
      onefussyone
  • Android apps on Windows Phone sounds like a great idea

    Its a very bad idea. If you have used any android apps for more than 5 minutes you would know how often they crash. We don't need that on Microsoft Windows Phone. Microsoft Windows Phone is known for its beautiful UI and its stability. Adding android apps would tarnish that reputation. Besides that I can't think of apps on android that I would want on Microsoft Windows Phone, it already has the apps I need. If it doesn't then I send an email to the developer to ask them to make one.
    Loverock.Davidson