The smartphones of today have transcended their phone moniker by becoming our personal computer, communication device, and PDA, all rolled into one! But humans, being the never satisfied beings that we are, want more from our phones. Our search for a seamless experience has fueled many companies to build a phone that can become an extension of a desktop OS and provide a continuous workflow. Ubuntu tried it with the Ubuntu Edge, but their crowdsourced campaign fell through. Now it seems Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) might have the solution, but does it include loading Windows 10 into Android devices? We dig in for more info!
According to the latest patent filed by Microsoft titled User Selectable Operating Systems, the company has developed a method by which different OS’s can be pre-installed on a device, and the mobile user will get a choice of which OS they want to boot into. Now the release of this patent application has fuelled speculations that Microsoft will be looking to offer Windows 10, their latest mobile OS as an alternative to the pre-installed ROM on various Android devices. While it seems like a win-win situation for Android customers, we would like to dig a little deeper and investigate this surprising move from Microsoft. But before we tread down that path, let’s try to find if the rumors mills have any substantial evidence to go by.
Windows 10 on Android: Can it be Done?
Tech companies, especially ones as large as Microsoft, Google – Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) – and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. (KRX:005930) file for patents all the time! Not all of these patent applications are granted, and even if they are, not all of them see themselves being translated into real life devices or products. So what has made us excited about this particular patent from Microsoft that we decided to write an article on it?
Plenty, in fact, the foremost being that not only can this be achieved, but it already has been! So let’s look at the top 3 reasons why we think this patent could make the jump to a press announcement very soon!
- Let’s turn the clock back to March 18th, 2015, when Microsoft declared that they are partnering with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi in an attempt to bring Windows 10 to the Android crowd. They also showed off a Xiaomi Mi4, the company’s flagship device running Windows 10 beta. Fast forward to now, and while we still don’t have a public beta for Windows 10 on the Mi4, a few select owners of the device residing in China have got the chance to use the OS on their devices.
- There was a rumor that Microsoft was going to be an investor in Cyanogen, the custom ROM makers who wanted to “take Android away from Google”. That, however, fell through but as the old saying goes, where there is smoke, there is fire; and the fact that Microsoft thought about investing in a Custom ROM company means that they have seen the potential of a new market in the Android Custom ROM space. Cyanogen later declared that they would veer away from Google services and bundle Microsoft services with their phones, a deal that could serve as a stepping stone for Microsoft to step into the world of Custom ROMs.
- It has been done albeit clunkily by an OEM manufacturer as well! Asus first showed off a hybrid laptop that could switch between Android and Windows with the switch of a button! That however never did make it mainstream presumably because one or both the OS manufacturers didn’t take kindly to the instant switching between the two OS. Asus though was determined to continue, and the Asus Transformer V runs full Windows 8.1 as well as Android. The implementation was clunky, but with the new patent being passed and Microsoft more eager than ever; we might get to see a better implementation this time around!
But is it Useful?
While certainly not as useful as the full Windows Desktop experience, many professionals will find the full bevy of Microsoft Apps incredibly useful in their day to official day works. Think of it as work and play profiles, but instead of being limited to just profiles it’s an entire Operating System. Pretty cool right?
While Android as an OS is more robust and feature rich, a bulk of those features depends on Google Play Services. In countries like China where Google doesn’t operate, Android phones run on app markets of respective manufacturers. Having the option of Windows OS on their phones means they will get access to another App Store. So for those living in such regions, this could be a very welcome change!
Lastly, let us talk a bit about Continuum! This new feature in Windows 10 lets you transform your phone into a desktop once you connect the necessary peripherals. While great news for Windows 10 mobile users, it’s not useful for anyone else running a different OS. Windows in the desktop market has an overwhelming majority, and this will allow people with even Android phones to use this slick new feature without having to buy a new device!
So it’s Smooth Smailing for Microsoft?
Not quite that we are afraid. While extremely adept at desktop OS’s, Microsoft has struggled to put together a convincing mobile offering. Keeping that in the back of our minds here are some issues that Microsoft may have to face:
- The Custom Rom community in Android is mostly populated by tech-savvy people who know how to tinker with their phones. This makes them a niche community and gives Microsoft a very slim share of the Android pie.
- The Custom Rom community is built by people who champion the Open Source Nature of Android. Given Microsoft’s past and their more walled garden approach, many people in the community may shun their offering without even giving it a chance.
- Custom Rom installations can be a tricky business and even when made dead simple via methods like Cyanogen Mod installer, there still are ways one can screw up. Cyanogen learned it the hard way and Microsoft might have to as well!
- This is more of a technical issue but given Microsft’s problems with optimization, this may become a real problem! While the Windows 10 mobile OS running on Windows Phone uses the Windows kernel that has been handwritten and compiled for the devices using C, C# and C++ the scenario is a lot different on Android. Android Roms are just a layer of GUI that runs on the back of a Linux Kernel, and that can lead to a whole lot of issues including lack of optimisation, slowdown in the UI and various other inconsistencies and inability to offer features otherwise native to Windows 10 mobile.
What is Microsoft Aiming At?
Microsft has the largest share in the desktop market. But their market share in the smartphone arena is abysmal. If they can use this opportunity to give Android users a taste of Windows 10 OS without having them to buy new hardware for it, then they might have a chance of taking over some part of the Android market share. Even if they don’t manage to convince someone to jump ship, it’s not totally a loss for them. Gradually if they can draw someone into the Microsoft ecosystem, then they can sell them cloud-based services no matter what OS they choose to use.
Also assuring a degree of compatibility with Android devices means they get to thwart Chrome OS, their rival in the desktop space from Google, which seems to be heading towards a Continuum like an experience for Android and Chrome OS.
And of course, this a bid to get on new developers into the Windows 10 platform. Providing Android developers an easy way to port their apps as well giving them a way to test their apps on their Android devices without having to purchase new hardware is a move that the developer community should enjoy!
Where Does it Leave Us?
To sum it up, it leaves us with choices. And that’s always a good thing, Lack of competition tends to stagnate development, so even if Windows 10 is not your cup of tea, you still have reason to rejoice! Is this a genius idea from the world’s highest paid CEO or a neat feature that will never be available to the public? No matter which way it pans out, this is the first time in recent years that I’ve been excited for a Windows Mobile feature! Good job Microsoft!