Microsoft may have detonated its Android on Windows Phone 'bridge'

Microsoft's plan to enable developers to more easily port their Android apps to Windows Phone and other Windows 10 Mobile devices may be on permanent hold.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Earlier this year, Microsoft execs made much of the company's plan to help lessen the mobile-app gap for Windows and Windows Phone via four new toolkits, or "bridges."

But it's increasingly seeming that one of the four -- the Android bridge, codenamed "Astoria" -- is possibly delayed, or more likely, tabled completely. (As of August, Microsoft was saying the Astoria bridge code would be available in public beta"this fall.")

Windows Central reported late last week that evidence was mounting that Microsoft's Android bridge was "not happening anytime soon."

Microsoft's official statement from a company spokesman doesn't deny that the Android bridge is dead, though it also doesn't confirm it's alive. It's "not ready yet," is all the Softies will say. Here's the Microsoft statement on Astoria, in full:

"We're committed to offering developers many options to bring their apps to the Windows Platform, including bridges available now for Web and iOS, and soon Win32. The Astoria bridge is not ready yet, but other tools offer great options for developers. For example, the iOS bridge enables developers to write a native Windows Universal app which calls UWP (Universal Windows Platform) APIs directly from Objective-C, and to mix and match UWP and iOS concepts such as XAML and UIKit. Developers can write apps that run on all Windows 10 devices and take advantage of native Windows features easily. We're grateful to the feedback from the development community and look forward to supporting them as they develop apps for Windows 10."

Microsoft already made the "Westminster" bridge, which allowed developers to package their websites in the form of Windows 10 apps, available to developers.

In August, Microsoft open sourced the code for its "Islandwood" bridge, which is the one for developers interested in porting their iOS apps to Windows 10, to Github. Currently, that bridge only enables iOS apps to be ported to Intel-based devices, which means it doesn't support ARM-based Windows Phones.

Microsoft delayed availability of the "Centennial" bridge, which is the one for helping developers bring their Win32 apps to Windows 10 devices, until some time in 2016.

The Astoria Android bridge, from the beginning, was the odd bridge out. It was only meant for bringing Android apps to Windows 10 Mobile phones (and if any OEMs ever build them, to small tablets running Windows 10 Mobile). Because the Android bridge required an Android Open Source Project (AOSP) subsystem/emulation layer, which Microsoft was building for Windows 10 Mobile, but not for its Windows 10 OS for PCs and larger tablets, it was designed to work on Windows 10 Mobile devices only.

In August, Microsoft officials said they were making the Android bridge technology available via private preview to select testers who applied to the company for inclusion in the program. Since then, there's been no word on that bridge's fate.

I heard from one of my contacts that Microsoft pulled the emulation layer from Windows 10 Mobile builds around October, after some individuals had used the technology to run Android apps on Windows 10 Mobile without the OK of the individuals and companies that developed those apps.

Microsoft officials may have decided the Astoria bridge was going to make it too easy for anyone and everyone to run existing and unmodified Android apps on Windows Phones. Microsoft's original intention with the Android and other bridging technology was for developers to use it as a jumping off point for customizing their apps to take advantage of Windows 10 technologies, like Cortana, Live Tiles and Continuum. It wasn't meant to allow users to circumvent developers and run existing non-Windows apps unchanged on top Windows 10.

When Microsoft announced its bridges back in April at Build 2015, I was surprised those in attendance applauded the move, given the majority of Build attendees were likely already-established Microsoft developers who've been struggling to compete with iOS and Android. Maybe existing Microsoft devs assumed few Android devs would care about bringing their apps to Windows Phone, so the move would have little impact.

I don't think Google or Oracle have anything to do with Microsoft's moves, as some have suggested. Whether it's internal politics or technological difficulties behind the delay -- or cancellation -- of the Astoria bridge, it does seem Microsoft's plan to bring Android apps to Windows Phone is in limbo at the moment.

Anyone have any theories or information about what's really going on here?

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