Microsoft's relationship with Android just got less complicated

Microsoft's relationship with Android just got less complicated

Summary: Today's restructuring at Microsoft included pink slips for 18,000 people and one platform. Microsoft's brief detour into its own line of Android-powered devices is over. That makes the role of Android in the new Microsoft much clearer.

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Today’s restructuring at Microsoft included layoffs of 18,000 people and one platform.

In separate memos, CEO Satya Nadella and Executive Vice President Stephen Elop made it abundantly clear it was also giving a pink slip to the forked version of Android it inherited with Nokia’s devices division.

That’s a surprise move to some observers, who had bet on the proposition that Microsoft was going to give up on Windows Phone and go all in with Android. They can now tear up those losing tickets.

Microsoft’s mid-2014 Android strategy could best be described as “complicated”:

  • Nokia X series devices, including the X2 device announced less than a month ago, are powered by Nokia X Software Platform 2.0, which is based on the Android Open Source Project.

  • The Nokia Store serves as a proprietary Android app store exclusive for Nokia X devices.

  • Microsoft-developed Android apps like OneDrive, OneNote, and Outlook.com are available via the Google Play Store, with strong rumors that a touch-first version of Office for Android will appear this year.
microsoft-apps-on-google-play
Microsoft apps on the Google Play Store

Effective immediately, any work on future members of the Nokia X family stops, with those resources going to “lower-cost Lumia devices” powered by Windows Phone. Microsoft says it will “[continue] to sell and support existing Nokia X products,” but it’s hard to imagine that effort being anything but half-hearted and transitional.

This move had to be a surprise even for some Microsoft insiders. Just yesterday, Microsoft Devices “reiterated its commitment to the Saudi market” with the Middle East launch of the X2. And hours after today’s restructuring announcement, the Nokia.com Global website still features the X2 on its home page, above flagship Windows Phone products.

android-x2-july-2014

That tagline is inadvertently prescient: Say hello to Android apps, but say goodbye to Android devices under any of Microsoft's brands.

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After today’s announcement, the only active Android effort left at Microsoft is its portfolio of business and consumer apps and their complementary services. You can expect development on them to continue full throttle—Android is one of the key “other ecosystems” for which Nadella has previously pledged to build Microsoft productivity tools and services.

Elop’s memo says Microsoft’s mobile phone business will target two markets, with engineering teams literally miles apart. One team, in Salo, Finland, will tackle "future, high-end Lumia products," while a separate group in Tampere, Finland, will design "more affordable devices."

At the low end, those affordable smartphones will be designed with a focus on “driving Lumia volume in the areas where we are already successful today in order to make the market for Windows Phone.” Those regions include the company’s new manufacturing hubs in Vietnam and Brazil. Brazil in particular has been a sucess story for Microsoft, and it's the gateway to a large emerging market in the rest of South America.

Conveniently, choosing those markets dodges a confrontation with Google’s Android One effort, under which Google reportedly will subsidize handsets and spend $1 billion on advertising for those devices in India.

Meanwhile, premium devices will be delivered “in alignment with major milestones ahead from both the Windows team and the Applications and Services Group.” It doesn’t take a secret decoder ring to figure out that means a new wave of high-end Lumia devices running Universal Windows Apps and new versions of Windows and Office in early 2015.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Microsoft, Nokia

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119 comments
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  • Anyone surprised by this news?

    As usual, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on Microsoft's changing stance on Android.

    Please play nice and avoid personal attacks, OK?
    Ed Bott
    • Yes and No

      Yes, insofar as a.) WP hasn't exactly been a rousing success (even though I and others love it) and b.) MSFT knows they have to get a handle on this whole mobile thing.

      No, at least after Nadella's letter. It was pretty clear that they were going to streamline, and the Android experiment had to be looked at as a distraction.

      In the end, keeping both platforms would have been confusing at best (for instance, I don't see MSFT releasing a Linux fork for the desktop anytime soon), so the smart move was going one way or the other. IMO, it's a gamble that could seriously cost them in the long run unless they a.) figure out a way to get more visible apps into their ecosystem (or at least remove that negative image) and b.) solidify their marketing strategy, ideally within the next 3-6 months (which would of course help w/ point a).
      IndifferentDisdain
      • Not surprised... but glad.

        Windows Phone is a great OS. It's finally gaining traction, and Microsoft doesn't need any distractions with an Android project.
        cybersaurusrex
        • Which other "platform"

          The man one the moon or the cheesecake factory?
          knuthf
        • I was more surprised...

          ...that they were considering using Android to begin with. Eliminating it now makes total sense. WP is finally getting to the point where it may soon become a viable alternative for a lot more people. Their resources would be better spent encouraging app development for their Windows portable devices rather than fragmenting their focus further with Android.
          BillDem
    • On the one hand, no surprise

      It is tough to maintain two mobile platforms, and if you wanna be nimble like a startup, just do what you do once.

      On the other hand, Android represented a chance for Microsoft to assert its perceived ownership rights, to not too subtly talk about Android as essentially a Microsoft originated technology.

      On balance though, this makes sense. Microsoft should desire their phone and tablet hardware to represent reference designs, rather than carry the whole freight. Potential partners have to see Microsoft appear to be fully committed to its OS.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • Potential partners have to see Microsoft appear to be fully committed to it

        ... however obsolete it is.

        And, of course, you are mistaken. The 'new' Microsoft does not need to be tied to any particular platform; in fact, if the boss speaks the truth (and I don't doubt him), then being platform neutral is the future.

        Maybe they need to get their message straight?
        Heenan73
        • I don't disagree

          I strongly believe Microsoft must provide its services on Android and Apple platforms.

          But it is probably a good idea to eat your own OS dogfood on your hardware platforms. And that's what they look to be doing here.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
        • After 20 years of Microsoft dominance now its good to be platform neutral?

          LOL. Nice call Microsoft. I guess when your latest flagship OS is flailing to stay alive at a ratio of 4 to 1 with the previous operating system, you all of sudden start to think platform neutrality is a good thing. Funny how that works. :)
          j4w4
          • Microsoft's "platform neutral" approach is still delivering MS Services ...

            ... to whatever device you happen to own via a cloud that is almost completely dominated by Microsoft infrastructure. Microsoft still wins in the end. Not even the IBM-Apple deal will have much of an impact in horizontal markets.

            Increasingly, mobile devices are treated as "thin clients" utilizing centralized cloud services to deliver productivity to the mobile device - whatever it is!
            M Wagner
          • Or

            its more like we will take some money vs no money. If Microsoft dominated the mobile space they would NEVER port their apps to other platforms.

            They have no choice now if they still want to make money.

            I just wonder how much longer share holders will put up with the likes of Xbox, Windows Phone, and Surface as there giant resource sucks that are all in the RED.
            ctopher5669
        • It has to be MS platforms first, or nothing

          Platform neutrality is what got MS in trouble in the first place in the consumer market, when it began supporting the web over its own Windows platform. MS supporting platforms equally, is like parents treating their kids the same way they treat all other kids. Such an arrangement would never work. MS' ecosystem, just like the family, would fall apart. If MS is going to support other platforms, it is going to have to treat these other platforms as secondary, and it is going to have let go off them, the second it sees them compromising its own platforms.
          P. Douglas
          • That is how you get delinquents too..

            When children get what they want, they come to expect everyone will give them what they want.

            And when it happens those children are at a severe disadvantage and can't compete.

            Which is what things sort of look like...
            jessepollard
          • They can get what they want but, in this case, they will either pay ...

            ... for it directly (through subscription) or indirectly through advertising. It is NOT a zero-sum game.
            M Wagner
          • As I said, they can't do both.

            They can't be about platform while at the same time supporting their competitors platform in offering their Crown Jewels. It sets of too many conflicts (internally and externally). Their OEM partners who's trying to push out Windows Phones and Windows tablets will become discourage in supporting the platform. They're already having a hard time competing against iOS and Android. The same can be said internally.

            It's either they go all in with their platform first (which means holding back porting Office for Android), or go all in with platform neutrality. You can't do both successfully in their market position.

            Just like their Surface strategy, it's either you go all in with hardware device (not being afraid to kill off partners like with their Zune strategy) or you don't release anything. You can't do it halfheartedly trying not to step on partners, it will fail to gain attraction. And you would lose partners anyway, which they did. Who is supporting RT today?
            dave95.
          • why would I need office for Android

            Seems I get what I need on my phone with QuickOffice - and a reader for my odf docs.

            We are not going to write the next great novel on our phones - unless it is a publicity stunt.
            marque2
          • Well, yes you can ...

            Microsoft is using its Surface strategy (with modest success so far) to compete head-to-head at Apple price-points ($500 for an iPad or Surface 2 - $1,000 for a MacBook Air or a Surface Pro 3).

            This leaves OEMs plenty of room for sub-$500 Windows 8.1 tablets for consumers and for $500 to $1200 traditional Windows desktops and notebooks (for the enterprise) PLUS, OEMs are free to compete with ultrabooks above $1200.

            Microsoft cares about defeating Apple at their own game but they couldn't care less about Android - except as a platform for delivering services.

            This is a sound strategy that still leaves the commodity desktop/notebook/tablet business to its OEMs while carving out a place for its own devices in the heady world of upscale consumers.
            M Wagner
          • rt

            rt had no use, regular x86 x64 windows was better....

            as far as stepping on partners, they threw the first punch by making tons of android devices first... so screw them
            notrozer
      • Where is Android in this?

        .. Nokia has never sold a single Android phone!
        knuthf
    • Meh

      This is the second time for Linux. Nokia, under Elop's leadership, released the Nokia N9 smartphone with the MeeGo operating system. The N9 the only MeeGo-based smartphone that it manufactured for distribution.

      The N9 was supported as long as it had to be and that was the end of it.
      Rabid Howler Monkey