The eternal rumor: Will Microsoft dump Windows Mobile and go for Android? – ExtremeTech
There are certain tech rumors that make the rounds so regularly, you could almost write the stories in advance. Every year, someone is going to buy AMD, graphene is just around the corner thanks to one major breakthrough or another, OLED televisions are finally going to hit the mass market at near-LCD prices (I cry inside every time this one turns out to be untrue) and, inevitably, Microsoft is going to give up on Windows Phone10 Mobile and make Android devices.
This time, the rumor comes courtesy of Twitter user and known leaker MSNerd, who writes that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is discussing the option of dropping Windows Mobile altogether and instead licensing Android for use in smartphones and handsets. To be fair, this is not an entirely crazy idea. If the original Windows Mobile had a much higher market share than it deserved, Windows Phone has had the opposite problem — it deserves more users than it actually has, based on the overall quality of the OS.
“Nadella and the SLT debating continuing Windows on phones and small tablets vs bundling Microsoft services on Android as the way forward,” MSNerd said. “Microsoft would push Google Play devices with Microsoft apps in exchange for Google providing first-class Maps, YouTube, Search on Windows.”
With its signature mobile platform mired around 2.6% of the market, it’s not surprising that MS would evaluate its long-term plans for the platform. Satya Nadella made headlines recently for a memo in which he declared Microsoft would have to make hard choices around its product stack and the company announced the sale of some of its mapping platform to Uber not long after. The company’s mobile advertising business, meanwhile, will now be handled by AOL.
There’s been a persistent rumor for years that Microsoft makes more money on Android licensing (estimated at $2 billion per year) than it actually receives from Windows Phone / Windows Mobile sales, and given the device’s anemic market share, that’s not a high bar to clear. At the same time, however, Microsoft has sunk a great deal of effort into pushing Windows 10 Mobile and the idea of its new Universal app interface. Would Redmond invest these resources into the operating system only to kill it months later?
In a word, yes — but we doubt MS would kill its new mobile OS in the short-term.
We don’t know how Windows 10 Mobile will perform in-market, but we do know that Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 / 8.1 generally failed to move the bar on market share. Microsoft’s commitment to flagship devices and its ability to win Windows Phone designs from companies not named “Nokia” have both been poor. Even so, hardware hasn’t generally been the issue — there have been good high-end Windows Phone devices and the OS has won accolades for performing well on low-end equipment compared to either Android or iOS.
One of the key problems for Windows Phone has been the lack of software. Apps that customers tend to expect by default have often been missing or delayed. In theory, Windows 10 will simplify the entire App Store concept by offering “Universal” apps that can move seamlessly between phones and laptops or desktops, but Microsoft’s curation and Windows Store design have been terrible to-date. While the situation has slowly improved since Windows 8 launched, every time we’ve revisited the state of the Windows Store we’ve been buried in a sea of unofficial “apps” for common services and extremely poor quality software.
If Microsoft wants to win customers to Windows 10, it needs to confront the reasons why existing individuals don’t pay any attention to current handsets. The only way to likely do that is with a combined approach that targets both software availability and through handset discounts that put iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6-equivalent hardware into people’s hands for dramatically less money. Alternatively, the company could continue offering extremely competitive midrange handsets — give people best-in-class hardware for $200 off-contract phones and you’ll pull in some attention, no matter what. Frankly, if Microsoft is serious about winning friends and influencing buyers, it could do far worse than simply paying developers to bring applications over to the Windows ecosystem.
At the same time, however, it makes sense for Microsoft to be evaluating just how much good money it wants to throw after bad in the mobile world. The concept of Windows on a tablet isn’t going to go away, thanks to 2-in-1 laptops and detachable devices. Developing the Universal application ecosystem will still pay dividends for Xbox One cross-development. There’s also the idea of emulation at the OS level or of running some Android code natively from within device wrappers (we discussed both of these options earlier this year).
Simply launching Windows 10 Mobile isn’t going to be enough to fix Microsoft’s mobile OS problems because the problem hasn’t been the OS to start with. And Microsoft has to look at the costs of fixing that problem, against the costs of simply licensing Android and providing its own custom software suite (backed up by some elements of the Google Play services). If Microsoft isn’t willing to take the steps required to fix its software ecosystems, simply offering an application suite and potentially a software “skin” might be the better option.