Microsoft's next step toward embracing Android: Adding app support?

Microsoft is considering bringing Android apps to Windows 10 Lite devices like its rumored dual-screen Centaurus PC. Can Microsoft embrace and extend without trying to extinguish?
Credit: ZDNet

Over the past few years, Microsoft has made no bones about its decision to build apps for Android and iOS. Microsoft offers Your Phone, an app that is meant to more tightly tie Android and to a much lesser extent, iPhones, to Windows 10. The Redmondians even gave an official blessing to Windows Phone users recently to move to Android and iOS.

That's not the end of Microsoft's Android embrace, however. It sounds as if Microsoft is considering enabling Android apps to run on some of its future Windows devices. A Forbes report, citing iHS Markit, which tracks supply-chain metrics, claims Android apps will work on Microsoft's dual-screen Centaurus laptops.

I've asked around a bit, and also hear that Microsoft is at least contemplating this scenario. On Intel-based Centaurus dual-screen devices shipping with the still-unofficially-announced Windows Lite Chrome OS competitor, Microsoft may include support for Android apps in an Android app store. If and when Microsoft also releases ARM-based dual-screen devices, Android apps in an Android store may be part of the scenario, too, my contacts say.

Microsoft has had some noteworthy success in getting its own apps to succeed on Android. Microsoft's Android apps like Launcher and Outlook. Microsoft currently has more than 150 apps from various teams in the Google Play Store, as Microsoft engineers working on Android recently blogged. Of these, five have more than 500 million downloads. 

The other side of the equation -- how to get third-party Android apps on Windows -- has proven trickier for Microsoft. It wasn't that long ago that Microsoft briefly allowed Android apps to be ported to Windows 10 using the Microsoft-developed Android bridge codenamed Astoria. Microsoft ended up dropping the Astoria bridge in 2016, claiming that its iOS bridge would enable the same list of apps to be ported to Windows 10. Microsoft's iOS bridge is basically defunct and hasn't been updated or marketed in more than a year.

Tipsters claimed the real reason Microsoft nixed its Android bridge was because it worked too well. If it was trivial to get Android apps to run on Windows 10, and users wanted and needed Android apps -- not Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps -- why was Windows 10 really necessary at all?

So, three years later, Microsoft is staring over the Android abyss again. But this time, the people in charge seem to believe in order to compete with Chromebooks, Microsoft needs more than just UWP and Win32 apps; they need third-party Android apps on Windows 10. And the Microsoft powers-that-be now seem more afraid of losing mind share with younger and mobile users than they do of losing market share for Windows.

If Microsoft plans to try to build its own Android store and convince developers to help populate it, I'm hard-pressed to see this move succeeding. My ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow, on the other hand, thinks Microsoft could make a case with Android OEMs for entirely Google-free Android devices and that it could simply add support to its existing Microsoft Store for packaging and installing Android apps. (Given how Microsoft has loosened its definition of what can be considered a Microsoft Store app, maybe it's logical to think Android apps could be added to the mix.)

As Google continues to come under fire over privacy and antitrust issues, Microsoft execs may think they have the opening they need to swoop in and be an Android steward. Old timers like me will remember the old "embrace,extend, extinguish" days at Microsoft. As much as Microsoft execs may believe they're in a good position to embrace and extend Android, hopefully they aren't of the deluded opinion that they also can extinguish the current Android platform by prying it from Google. But such a strategy might make Microsoft founder Bill Gates happy, given he recently said he considered Microsoft's loss to Android in the mobile space to be his worst mistake -- displacing his former stated worst product mistake (WinFS)

What do you think, readers? Will Microsoft go so far as to add support for Android apps to its next-generation Surface Centaurus devices? Will it try to go even further and create a separate Microsoft Android platform? These days, you can never say never. There's a Microsoft-built Linux kernel in Windows 10 now, so nothing's really off the table....

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