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AH Primetime: Should Microsoft Drop The Windows Phone And Turn To Android?

February 11, 2014 - Written By Patrick Northcraft

Let’s look at the facts here.  The Windows Phone (WP) platform is not doing well.  At the end of 2013, the WP market share was a whopping 3.2% for the world, and in the United States in particular, it is at 3.1%.  Estimates put this at about 50 million devices, which doesn’t really seem that bad… until you look at the competition.  Android has an estimated user base of around 1.9 billion, and Mac and iOS have around 680 million.  While this does technically make Microsoft the third largest mobile platform, it is far from a close race between the two.  What is even scarier for WP is that they have become almost solely dependent on Nokia as a phone manufacturer, which shows that no one is really interested in picking up the platform for their devices.  With the recent change in Microsoft’s CEO and some new rumors of phones floating around, it is entirely possible that Microsoft may be considering adopting parts of Android for their next generation of smart phones.  What Microsoft could do would be called forking, or taking the existing framework of Android, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and using it as the foundation to sculpt an OS.  Basically, WP has failed in its grand experiment to gain a massive user base.  Their sales are minimal in comparison to the other providers, and if they are looking to stay in the markets, they really need to consider changing.  One of the most obvious options would be to adopt this Android-Microsoft merge, but lets look at how they could really do it.

There are two prime examples of adopting Android, and they are all based around whether or not the foundation uses Google Mobile Service, which I will just call GApps.  Now, GApps are effectively all the Google parts of your phone, but the caveat is that it is all-or-nothing.  You cannot just use part of the GApps.  No, they are not built into AOSP, because that would be counter-productive to the purpose of the project.  GApps allows for users to access things like the Google Play Store, Maps, Gmail, and Chrome, among many other services.  If you look at a company like Amazon, they are a great example of a company that did not use GApps in their hardware.  In their Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon only uses a forked version of Android with just AOSP, preferring to use their own stock apps and app stores.  Should Microsoft opt for this route, they would have to build another app store from the ground up like Amazon did, which would require developers to deal with yet another store.  While this is possible, it is highly unlikely given that the Google Play Store is already as mature as it is.

The other alternative would be to go the route that Samsung did, taking AOSP along with GApps.  What Samsung did was take the foundation and framework, and add some of their own customization to it.  While plenty of people have their issues with TouchWiz and how it covers up the stock Android feel, you cannot argue that it is selling.  What Microsoft could do would be to build custom apps that run alongside the Google core apps, essentially following what Samsung did with TouchWiz.

But why should Microsoft even consider this?  Well, the alternatives are simply not that good.  Everyone else has an even smaller market share, and iOS is proprietary.  Due to Android’s open nature, there are over a billion of apps readily available for downloading.  As the Microsoft App Store is currently lacking in this department, it would be a major perk to them.  Also, Android keeps the playing field pretty level for third parties, which allows for nice fair competition.  Will this actually happen though?  I hope so.  With a company as large as Microsoft entering the Android market, competition will surely increase, and with more competition comes more innovation and more competitive prices.  What do you think?  Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!