Guardian technology reporter Charles Arthur is suggesting Microsoft’s new CEO drops Windows Phone and adopt and fork Android, making it a delivery platform for Microsoft’s services, much like we have seen on the Nokia Normandy.
He suggests Microsoft adopts the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP) common in China and layer Microsoft services such as Bing, Outlook and Here Maps (licenses from Nokia of course), and suggests it will solve the problem of not having enough apps, and also allow users to move more easily from another Android handset to theirs.
He also suggests Microsoft could force Android vendors in India and China to adopt Microsoft’s version of Android by threatening to otherwise sue them for patent infringement.
AOSP offers Microsoft the chance to remake its mobile strategy so that it exploits all the strengths of its most bitter rival – it’s free, widely available – and grab mobile developer interest. An all-out war between Microsoft and Google using the Android platform would be absolutely fascinating; both would be pressed on their strengths and weaknesses. For Microsoft, presently a distant third in this race, it could be the answer it needs.
It’s highly likely smarter minds have already considered this – and that Nokia’s “Normandy” phone, said to run Android, is the first beachhead in this war. (The codename would make sense.)
My only fear is that while Nadella might have the vision and audacity to do this, that one voice in the Microsoft boardroom would resist throwing away years of effort. But let’s hope if this idea comes up that Bill Gates, in his new role as “technical adviser”, will see the potential in it – and won’t reject it as being “un-Microsoft”. Microsoft has tried that, and it hasn’t worked. Now it needs to try something that will.
Now here is why Arthur’s plan would be a bad idea.
1) There is nothing stopping Microsoft from offering their services on iOS and Android at present, and Microsoft does not have to give up Windows Phone to offer Android versions of Bing, Outlook and Xbox Music (and in fact already does). Its a false dichotomy.
2) The App Gap issue is being rapidly solved. While Windows Phone is only 10% of iOS and 5% of the Android installed base, its 50 million users present a viable market for developers who want that extra 10% of sales for minimal effort. This situation will just improve in time, making it a weak reason to give up on Windows Phone. In addition running AOSP will no more get users those missing Google apps journalists always complain about than running Windows Phone, and the same goes for many high profile Android apps, who do not want to support a fork of Android.
3) Being app compatible with Android is not a recipe for success. One merely have to look at Blackberry 10’s lack of success, or even more convincingly HTC, Sony, LG and everyone else except Samsung. Simply running Android does not magically confer market acceptance, in fact it largely seems a marketing budget issue.
4) With Google being in charge of development they could easily introduce breaking changes in the code and licensing of Android which could mean future versions of Android would be inaccessible to Microsoft. Being dependent on a competitor that is clearly out to kill you seems a rather bad idea.
5) There are advantages to running your own platform, like security and deeper customizability, and being able to control your own roadmap and pace of development, which Microsoft would not have if it went all Android.
In short going Android would not make Microsoft much different from Amazon with its forked version of Android, which while doing well is not exactly setting the world on fire or grabbing large amount of market share with their tablet products.
Instead of adopting Android, our advice to Nadella would be to work at bringing up the installed base of Windows Phone to 200 million as rapidly as possible, at which point the app problem will solve itself and while offering Microsoft’s services on other platforms continue to give users on other platforms reasons to switch to Windows Phone.
If this means going the Motorola route of selling well specced handsets at very cheap prices with little profit margin, so be it. The investment would be strategic and there is a lot of catching up to do.
Windows Phone should of course be free, and OEMs should have more freedom in customizing the OS for differentiation purposes, and to make the OS more interesting to buyers.
Lastly Microsoft obviously need to license Nokia’s brand. Hopefully an Indian-born Nadella will realize better the importance of this issue.
We’ll end with the relevant tweet:
I see a lot of tech “journalists” telling Satya Nadella how to do his job, when most of them only have experience managing RSS feeds.
— Jez (@MSFTY) February 5, 2014
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