Why Microsoft Should Not Start Making Android Phones
New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is just settling in, but he’s already getting plenty of advice about how to save the company. One idea is to dump the flailing Windows Phone operating system and shift to a version of Google’s Android that substitutes Microsoft’s services for Google’s.
It’s a useful thought exercise given Microsoft’s predicament, but ultimately such a shift wouldn’t solve enough of the company’s mobile problems and would leave Nadella dangerously dependent on a top rival.
Weird as it sounds, it would be perfectly legal for Microsoft to create a phone based on Google software, given Android’s open source foundation. Amazon relies on the guts of Android, known as the Android Open Source Project, or ASOP, for its Kindle Fire tablet line, as do many low-end phone makers in emerging markets. The software provides basic functionality and core apps without including Google’s popular mail, mapping and other services.
“ASOP offers Microsoft the chance to remake its mobile strategy so it exploits all the strengths of its most bitter rival — it’s free, widely available — and grab mobile developer interest,” writes Charles Arthur, technology editor at The Guardian. “For Microsoft, presently a distant third in this race, it could be the answer it needs.”
Blogger and analyst Ben Thompson similarly suggests an ASOP-based phone strategy for Microsoft.
But a basic question for the supporters of the hybrid Windroid strategy: Why would it sell any more phones than the flunking Windows Phone OS?
Windows Phone has minimal market share around the world, under 4 percent of smartphones shipped last year, according to research firm IDC. It’s almost invisible in high-end markets such as the United States; even in some less developed markets, where it comes in second place ahead of Apple, it trails far behind Android.
An obvious problem
One obvious problem is that the Windows Phone ecosystem has many fewer apps than Android or Apple’s iOS. That’s the core thinking behind “Windroid” — make a phone that’s (almost) compatible with the million Android apps already out there. Microsoft would still have to make an enormous effort to persuade developers to issue special Windroid-compatible versions of their apps, of course, but it’s not impossible.