Hello, MS-Android. Good-bye, Windows Phone

Nokia may be making the Android X, X+ and XL handsets, but at the end of the day it was Microsoft's call to produce Android phones. This is bad news for Windows Phone.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

One Operating System to rule them all;
One Operating System to find them;
One Operating System to bring them all and in Android bind them.*

Or, some people would add, "in Google bind them." But that's not true: Android is much too open for Google to lock vendors in. Amazon proved that with its Kindle line, and now Microsoft's smartphone company, Nokia, wants to show that Android will work well with Microsoft services too.

Nokia's --really, Microsoft's -- new Android phones.

Yes, Microsoft is supporting Linux by way of Android. Do you really think -- with the clock running down on Microsoft's final acquisition of Nokia -- that the Finnish phone company would make such a move without Microsoft's full backing? I don't.

I think Microsoft and Nokia have made a smart move. I'm not the only one.

Mary Jo Foley, the top Microsoft reporter on the planet, writes: "Nokia is clearly wooing Android developers who want to build apps for users in developing markets." I think it's bigger than greenfield markets. I think Microsoft/Nokia wants Android developers creating apps for all markets.

Gallery: Hands-on with Nokia's Android X and XL devices

Why? Because Windows Phone has failed. Even in Europe, where Microsoft's mobile operating system seems to do the best, it seems to have stalled out at the 10 percent mark.

Android rules the smartphone market. Canalys reported that 80 percent of all smartphones shipped in 2013 ran Android. Gartner predicts that Android will reach 1.1-billion users in 2014. Do the math. Android is where mobile developers spend their time, not Windows Phone.

Ed Bott, a Windows pro's pro and no friend to open-source operating systems, also sees Microsoft sticking with Nokia's new Android phones. As Bott has pointed out before, Microsoft is turning into a services and hardware company instead of the operating system and application giant we've known for decades.

That being the case, Bott argues, "Microsoft’s arch-rival in the mobile market is Google, not Android. Microsoft’s services – Office 365 and Outlook.com, OneDrive cloud storage for consumers and businesses, communications via Lync and Skype, among many others – work on multiple platforms. They compete on most of those platforms with Google services, like Gmail and Google Apps and Google Drive and Google+ Hangouts."

He's perfectly correct—Yes Ed Bott and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols are in complete agreement for once and hell hasn't even frozen over!

Bott, unlike Foley, also can see Microsoft/Nokia moving its Android smartphones to the high end. I agree. Microsoft would love it if by next year's Mobile World Congress, the hot talk was whether Samsung's Galaxy S6 or the Nokia XP was the best phone of the show. But, what Microsoft would love even more is if users were running Outlook, Office 365, and OneDrive instead of Gmail, Google Apps, and Google Drive on their devices --regardless of the specific platform.

Last, but never least in the list of reasons why Microsoft can back Android: The boys from Redmond already make billions from Android. I estimated that Microsoft made as much as $3.4 billion in 2013 from Android. This revenue comes from Microsoft's Android patent deals. While I don't think there's anything to these patents, companies would rather pay than fight, so at least once a month another phone OEM, such as Hop-on, signs up as an Android patent licensee.

James Kendrick, ZDNet's moble device expert, disagrees with us. He can't see "Microsoft having Android products under its roof. Having to support another platform in addition to its own is going to be a tremendous effort, and while Microsoft has the resources to do it I can't see it. It just doesn't feel right to me and I think there are quite a few Microsofties who will feel the same."

I see eye to eye with Kendrick that there are many Microsoft developers that will Hate the Android move. If Ballmer were still in charge, I'd worry that the Windows Phone faction get their way. Ballmer's not. Satya Nadella is the man now, and what does he know best? He knows the cloud. And, what do Microsoft's services run on? Yes, that's right. They run on the Microsoft cloud.

The heavy lifting for Nokia's apps has already been done over on Azure-based cloud. Google's done the hard work of creating the base operating system. In terms of developer man-hours, Nokia-Android isn't going to cost Microsoft that much. And, come to think of it, Microsoft won't have to pay itself those patent royalty-fees!

As for the app front-end, that work will be done by the tens of thousands of Android programmers who are already out there. Sure, Microsoft's internal developers may not be up to speed on Android, but all those third-party mobile programmers know Android like the back of their smartphones.

The real question is whether Android independent software vendors (ISV)s will think it's worth their time. I think that they will.

Within Microsoft what I see happening is that the company will start backing off Windows Phone. Kendrick's right, you see. It is too much to ask Microsoft to support two mobile operating systems, so I think they'll slowly and quietly drop the least-profitable of them: Windows Phone.

I still can't see Microsoft producing MS-Linux—although I wouldn't count it out either—but I can see Microsoft retiring Windows Phone. Supporting Android with their own app suite simply makes too much financial sense to do otherwise.

*With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

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