Could Android apps save Windows Phone?

Lumia 1520 display

Microsoft is seriously considering the idea to bring Android apps to Windows Phone, according to a report from The Verge. It wouldn’t happen until Windows 9 is complete some time next year (at the earliest), but this would be a tremendous shift for Microsoft. And while it might prove positive for consumers in the short-term, it could ultimately spell trouble for Windows Phone as a viable platform in the future.

It seems like a good idea

I get why Microsoft would want to do this. Compared to the million-plus apps available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play, Windows Phone only recently crossed the 200,000 mark. And even as the OS continues to gain momentum, this doesn’t look like a trend that’s likely to end any time soon. The recent hit Flappy Bird, for instance, appeared on both iOS and Android, but there was no Windows Phone equivalent – and Flappy Bird is about as simple as app development gets.

But it’s not just the number of apps that matter. It’s the fact that many developers aren’t even considering writing for Windows Phone alongside iOS and Android. And without enough developers, Windows Phone will never truly emerge as a “must-have” platform.

Flappy Bird

The wildly popular Flappy Bird never made it to Windows Phone.

Microsoft is catching up, but it isn’t happening fast enough. Big name apps like Instagram and Mint are only just starting to appear, and even then, some of these apps lack major features you’ll find in their iOS and Android counterparts. Bringing Android apps to Windows Phone would give users hundreds of thousands of additional choices, along with the feeling they don’t need to wait for months to see a popular new app, or settle for leftovers.

But it probably isn’t

On the other hand, Microsoft has a new CEO, Windows Phone 8.1 is on the horizon and the company’s acquisition of Nokia’s device business is nearly complete. If anything, now is the time for the company to once again bet on Windows Phone and give it another shot. After all, it’s not like adding Android worked for BlackBerry.

BlackBerry 10 has the ability to run Android apps. And it’s fairly simple to download and install the Amazon Appstore, which is home to thousands of Android apps that BlackBerry 10 is not. But this is clearly not helping to move additional BB10 devices off of store shelves.

Then again, it sounds like Microsoft would support Android apps in a more official capacity than BlackBerry does, perhaps through a third-party enabler. But this also presents a problem. If a developer can easily sell their Android app on Windows Phone, what point would there be in creating an optimized version, designed to take full advantage of the platform? At best, this could result in a number of poorly scaled apps that fail to utilize Windows Phone. At worst, it means developers could stop creating apps for Windows Phone completely.

Nokia Android

Nokia is expected to introduce an Android-powered but Windows-centric smartphone at MWC.

On top of this, Nokia is expected to introduce an Android-powered device at Mobile World Congress later this month. These phones are intended to be low-cost introductory smartphones – training wheels before a user moves up to a higher-end Windows Phone handset. They likely won’t support the Google Play app store, but will still have access to Android apps through stores from Microsoft and Nokia.

With a foot in both worlds, Microsoft should further entice developers to simultaneously develop apps for both platforms. That way, if and when a user leaves their Android device behind, the same app will be available for them on Windows Phone. Simply allowing Android apps on Windows Phone would seem to be a premature admission of defeat, before the company even put up a real right.

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