Dear Windows Phone team: Two OSes aren't better than one

Dear Windows Phone team: Two OSes aren't better than one

Summary: Smartphones that boot both Windows Phone OS and Android -- or offer users a choice between the two? If either of these plans really is in the works, I have one question for Microsoft: Why?


There's a second report -- following on Bloomberg's October 2013 one -- out today that Microsoft has considered trying to get Android handset makers to allow Android and/or the Windows Phone OS on the same device.


The new report, courtesy of The Information (and summarized by Windows Phone Central for nonsubscribers), claims Microsoft has considered ways to get Android phone makers to either allow end users to choose between the two OSes or two install both simultaneously on a single phone.

I have a lot of questions after reading these reports. But the biggest one is... WHY?

Yes, I know Windows Phone still is stuck below five percent in U.S. marketshare, compared with Android's 50-plus percent here. And yes, I know Windows Phone, even with 200,000 apps, is trailing Android, app-wise, by some crazy amount.

But wasn't Microsoft's original plan with Windows Phone a couple years ago to rein in the total number of handset makers so that it could work with a chosen few who would craft handsets that shared a common look and feel? Wasn't it Microsoft pointing out not so long ago that Android phones had become like Windows Mobile phones of old, meaning it was impossible for consumers to tell what was a Windows Phone vs. what wasn't? (And which Windows Phones were running which version of the OS?)

Once Microsoft announced plans to buy Nokia's handset division, lots changed, of course. (Even before Microsoft bought Nokia's handset business, Nokia is/was already making an estimated 90 percent-plus of Windows Phones on the market.) Microsoft officials said they hoped and expected the handful of Windows Phone OEMs that were not Nokia to continue to produce Windows Phone handsets. Some may; some may not. In at least one case, at least one of the may-nots could be hindered by its own financial problems as much, if not more than, any kind of worry over Nokia becoming a part of Microsoft.

A smartphone that offered users both Windows Phone and Android in a dual-boot scenario would make about as much sense as a PC or tablet that lets users switch between the two operating systems. (In other words, none. Why not just use BlueStacks if you have Android apps without which you can't live on your Windows 8.x PC/tablet?)

A smartphone that offered users a choice of Windows Phone or Android also wouldn't make a whole lot of sense -- for Microsoft or for users, in my book. Isn't Microsoft already making close to a billion dollars a year, based on unofficial rumored estimates, by threatening Android and ChromeOS makers with patent suits? That seems like a more dependable income stream than dropping the cost of the Windows Phone OS license to zero and hoping that everyday consumers will know enough about Windows Phone to opt for that very different looking OS over the more familiar Android.

Is there anyone out there -- phone user, developer, OEM -- who sees something I'm missing? Is there some reason this dual-boot Android-Windows Phone OS idea makes sense on any level? I'm all ears....

Update: Developer @JoseFajardo suggested on Twitter a couple of reasons he would like to see a dual-boot OS. He noted that a number of his relatives are now gaming on Android and want him to play, but a number of the games aren't on Windows Phone. Additionally, if Google continues to block its services from working (well and/or at all) on Windows Phone, maybe offering Android and Windows Phone OS both would allow users a guaranteed way to sync with Google Drive, GMail, YouTube, etc. Convincing arguments?

Update No. 2: Another contact of mine says this isn't and wasn't a dual-boot discussion at all. It's actually more about Microsoft trying to find ways to remove stumbling blocks for OEMs so that building a more generic handset that can be provisioned to run either Windows Phone OS or Android is possible. If that's the case, this whole plan sounds a lot less insane than reports have indicated. 

Topics: Windows Phone, Android, Microsoft, Smartphones


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • WTF

    WTF are they thinking? Please let this be another crazy analyst rumor...
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I think it would more likely be Android OR Windows on the same device

      Wouldn't it be nice to get the Hardware AND software you like?

      Right now there's "Windows Phones" or "Android Phones", each with nice hardware features not available on t other.
      • I suspect that William Farrel may be closer to the truth

        I can see two possible reasonable scenarios (I consider dual-boot-ed-ness completely silly):

        1) The William Farrel scenario. Microsoft makes it easier for a device manufacturer to build an Android phone and install Windows Phone on it - marketing the same handset with one of two personalities, or

        2) Microsoft supports enough of Android's APIs that Android apps can run unchanged on the phone; hey, Android's mostly open source. Suddenly the "not enough apps" issue is solved. Of course, it's a slippery slope; that opens up the clean Windows Phone eco-system to the stuff that's available in the Android app stores (both the good and the bad).
        • Well, since Android and Windows Phone have some differences...

          Maybe the differences in Windows Phone would prevent what little malware there is for Android to not work.
          Remember that Windows Phone 8 is Windows-NT-based. Android is Linux-based, which is Unix-like. The kernel structures are so different that most bad code for Android may not work on Windows Phone. That said, it would take some more tinkering than desired to port Android apps to Windows Phone.
          • Re: Windows Phone 8 is Windows-NT-based

            Given this, and Microsoft’s vast technical resources, it doesn’t sound like it would be all that hard to get Wine and an Android compatible Java interpreter running on WP8.

            That might be enough to get a large proportion of Android apps running on WP8 without any performance hit.
          • Ballmer is a goof

            If anybody needed any more proof that Microsoft doesn't know what direction to take in the phone industry, this is all the proof you need.

            Microsoft has no idea. Ballmer should have been pulled off the stage with a Vaudeville sheep hook about 5 years ago.

            This latest idea is laughable. It demonstrates a few things:
            1. Microsoft doesn't know what it's doing.
            2. Microsoft intends to keep Windows Phone and kill Windows RT (Surface).
            3. Microsoft is admitting failure in the mobile market, and now wants to hitch a ride on Android's coat tails.
          • Laughable ?

            Without out knowing about mobile the growth rate is at 160%+ nearest competitor who knows everything about mobile stands at 70% and still struggling to make money than one who owns 14% of the market . Laughable indeed !!!!
      • It makes more sense

        and is pretty much what the first generation of Windows Phone 7 devices were, they were rebadged, recased Android devices (in fact, some of the htc devices were available with Win Mob, Android or Win Phone, with minor case differences).

        The technology moved on and Android needed more power, Windows Phone has, so far, remained relatively compact and efficient, so it didn't grow with the Android devices, so there has been more and more discrepancy between a high-end Android and a high-end WP8 device, because WP8 still needs less memory and less horse power for the same tasks.

        The second point of the WP8 on Android devices comes back to MJF's contention that Microsoft already make over a billion off of patent licensing to Android manufacturers. What if they offered them patent licences and WP8 as part of the deal, "pay us $10 per device for the patents and put whichever OS you want on it." That way, they still get their income and the manufacuter and consumer have more choice.
        • The problem for Microsoft with the extortion they are doing

          is that it has a limited lifetime. Most of the patents they would be using are already over 5 years old. Most would be 10 to 15 years old...

          And once it stops, they lose two ways, 1, no more income from extortion... 2 can't compete with the reduced cost... even though they already can't compete very well.
          • Hopefully

            by then the move to being a devices and services company is complete and they don't need to live off WP licences and WP itself will have gained enough market share, so that they can earn money from app, music and video etc. sales.
          • App, music and video sales?

            Who uses Windows for media consumption? Windows machines are for using Office and Outlook. They are business machines.
          • I Do

            I watch "the Walking Dead" and other shows I buy a season pass for on xbox video
          • it's not extortion when Google

            steals IP from MS.
          • Extortion?

            Extortion? YEah because everything Google and Apple are doing is perfectly fair for everyone
          • Reduced Cost

            I read folks talk about the Windows license fee. To me, it's minimal and it doesn't make that much sense. The estimated license fee per phone is $15 - $35. While margins on extremely low end models are probably tight, it seems hard to fathom this makes much of a difference on a premium phone that costs upwards of $500 or $600.
          • Problem with fans !!!!

            Problem with Microsoft is they are admittedly a strong competitor. If you are a fan of iPhone or Android, they will compel you to troll here thinking that will help them :P. But clearly those days had passed by !!!!
    • Windows Phone can not sell by its own merit?

      • never has...

        Microsoft had to buy the company that made the most windows phones... just to keep them making windows phones.

        The others have been getting out of the windows phone manufacturing for years.
        • Not true at all

          MS did not have to buy Nokia to keep them on. Nokia signed a 5 year agreement to make Windows Phones back in 2011. The contract expires in 2015 which means Nokia was contractually bound to continue to make Windows Phones for at least the immediate foreseeable future.
          • True but...

            What you say is true regarding them not having to buy Nokia. However, didn't the agreement include Microsoft giving Nokia a large cash infusion during that period? Wasn't it at least $1B or $2B? When Nokia signed this, they were in trouble and in exchange for Microsoft giving them some overflow from their cash hoard, they had to make WinPhones.