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Summary:

If Android apps were good enough for BlackBerry, might they appeal to Microsoft too? Yes, says one tipster, claiming that all Lumia phones will be able to run Android apps in the future. It’s certainly possible but is it worth it?

Micromax Windows Phone

As Microsoft continues to evolve Windows Phone in hopes of greater market share, its latest trick could be to support Android apps on its handsets. That’s the latest rumor, according to Eldar Murtzin, a long-time industry insider who has a few correct predictions to his name. Murtzin tweeted the information on Tuesday morning, sounding pretty certain:

From a technical standpoint, this is certainly feasible, at least at a high level. Android apps run inside what’s called a virtual machine (VM), or a software implementation of a computer. Currently, that VM is called Dalvik, but with Android L — the next, upcoming version of Android — apps will run in the ART VM. BlackBerry took this approach back in 2011 when it announced Android app support for its Playbook tablet.

blackberry-playbook

Microsoft is no stranger to Android, either, thanks in part to completing its purchase of Nokia’s phone division earlier this year. Nokia developed the Nokia X phone, which has a flat, tiled interface similar to Windows Phone, but the handset runs on the freely available Android Open Source Project (AOSP) software. As a result, there are no Google services on the Nokia X — Microsoft would need to license those from Google.

Nokia X group

Interestingly, Microsoft earns an estimated $2 billion per year from the sale of Android phones. Why? Android handsets use a few technologies that Microsoft owns the patents for — the exFAT file system used to store data, for example, is one of roughly 310 Microsoft patented features found in Android implementations.

I have to wonder: How much of that estimated $2 billion would Microsoft “trade” in potential Windows Phone market share gains? Could Microsoft work a deal with Google and its hardware partners to reduce the patent payments in order to license Google services, and more specifically, access to the Google Play Store for apps to make app discovery and installation easier? That’s a stretch because when you license Google services for Android, you have to use the whole range of services, i.e.: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on. Microsoft surely wouldn’t want to do that.

But if the two companies could come to a specific agreement for Google Play Store access only on Windows Phones, I’m sure Microsoft would be pretty happy — assuming it wants to allow Android apps on its phones in the first place, of course. Microsoft doesn’t need to do this to bring Android apps to Windows Phone, however: As BlackBerry has proven, it can be done without Play Store access.

Photo by Kevin Tofel/Gigaom

Photo by Kevin Tofel/Gigaom

Right now Microsoft is in an unfortunate situation as it has done perhaps all it can to build up Windows Phone. It has a stellar hardware division now in Nokia, and the latest Windows Phones are great devices from a hardware perspective. Windows Phone 8.1 is much improved over prior versions — on par with Android and iOS in many ways, and ahead in a few others. At this point, it’s up to developers and their apps to help propel Windows Phone, something that’s partially out of Microsoft’s hands.

I’m not suggesting that Android app support on Windows Phone will suddenly boost Microsoft’s mobile market share. But it wouldn’t hurt. Yes, there would be some app incompatibility issues — Android apps might not have access to all Windows Phone’s hardware components, for example. However, the situation could help push some people over the edge who would otherwise have to stay on Android or iOS because [insert app name here] isn’t available yet for Windows Phone.

Although I use Windows Phone 8.1 on a Lumia 520 (yes, I know: I need to upgrade my phone), I can’t use it on a full-time basis for long because I’m in the camp I described above. Most of the apps I use on other platforms are available on Windows Phone. But there are a few that I need for work purposes that are Android and iOS only. I’ve tried to use the browser to compensate for these but it’s not optimal, particularly since I rely on notifications from some of these apps, something IE isn’t going to give me.

Android on Windows Phone? It sounds crazy, but it’s possible. I’m not sure Microsoft would want to go down that path, however, unless it can make sure it benefits more than Google does.

  1. I don’t see how, “Microsoft is in an unfortunate situation as it has done perhaps all it can to build up Windows Phone”. As I see it, time and continuous evolutionary improvement of the platform is more than enough to sustain it. Not being the number one or two platform leader does not equate failure. You will always have your Chevy, Ford & Dodge Boys. There are things that are lacking within the platform, but at the end of the day, it covers the fundamental things needed from a smartphone. The Price that you can obtain the phone for, less than 100 dollars for my Lumia 520, makes up for some of the things that it lacks. For me at least.
    I’m still getting my $560.00 dividend check from the company every 90 days & the stock is trading at near ALL TIME highs. So please don’t feel sorry for Microsoft’s position in the phone space. They have many more things going on.

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    1. I think it’s pretty clear what I meant by the quoted statement but I can put it another way. Microsoft went from meaningful smartphone market share with Windows Mobile to nearly none after the iPhone / Android were introduced. It then rebooted its strategy with Windows Phone 7 which was a stopgap measure at best. It’s now in its third mobile iteration on the phone and still has relatively little traction in the global market.

      I agree on the Lumia 520. For the $40 I paid, it does quite a bit. Just not enough for me to use on a daily basis for any length of time.

      Stock price / dividends mean nothing to me. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for you. But I can’t invest any companies in the space I cover, so it’s irrelevant to my point of view. ;)

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  2. Sathish Rao Tuesday, July 8, 2014

    Do you think limited CPU processing power & memory in entry/mid-level smart phones (like your Lumia 520 :) ) will let another VM (& tons of applications on this VM) run on these phones ? Users would prefer the App performance as seamless as it is on Android phones.

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    1. Agreed; it will be a potential strain on older Windows Phone hardware. That doesn’t negate the possibility of this happening though. Microsoft could simply limit this feature by a set of minimum hardware requirements. ;)

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  3. Preston Scheuneman Tuesday, July 8, 2014

    As a BlackBerry user, I’m thankful for Android support. Most developers just aren’t willing to support more than the big two.

    With BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Amazon supporting Android apps (that don’t rely on Google Play services), this would combat Google’s attempts to regain control of Android by the continually increasing reliance of Google Play services. Ideally, if a layer of abstraction could be put in place so that Android apps could easily plug in support for Google Play services, Amazon services, Nokia/Microsoft services, etc., then Android could truly be an open development platform and not reliant on Google.

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    1. That is a very interesting idea. Yes, if Microsoft, Amazon, blackberry and others can form their own coalition of alternative to Google play, it can be indeed a very interesting model.
      I doubt they can come to common agreement but it might be a solution.
      In fact they don’t need to have a unified store as much as a unified acceptance program so a Dev needs to submit their app only īn ne place and let it be replicated to as many stores as possible.

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  4. I really don’t like that, WP store needs more apps so y not encourage devs? More and more devs pleeeeeeeese.

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