Microsoft sneaks onto Android while Android sneaks onto Windows

The platform battles are back

MWC16 +Analysis Two parallel trends bubbled away at MWC this year – but without getting much attention. When Android and Microsoft converge, it’s going to be the next big platform battle, and one Microsoft can’t afford to lose.

Firstly, without anyone really noticing, Microsoft has an Android platform play.

A Microsoft-friendly Android OS is coming to market, in the form of Cyanogen OS, and weirdly, and it hasn’t cost Microsoft a penny in equity investment.

The MOD APIs announced this week contain deep hooks to Microsoft services like Cortana and Skype. Office is already bundled with Cyanogen OS, so if Microsoft had an Android, this is what it would look like. Instead it has an Android at arm's length.

The other trend is one we’ve covered for some time: the growing maturity of Android runtimes for Windows. Where the two trends converge, of course, on the new generation of smaller tablets and convertibles, of which there were plenty on show in Barcelona. And the battle will really heat up once Atom-powered phones arrive later this year.

Microsoft has tried to make the best of a failed mobile strategy under Satya Nadella, once you accept that throwing billions more at Lumia was throwing good money after bad. Microsoft’s apps on Android and iOS are excellent, but much less impressive on Windows mobile. Microsoft’s own app store remains threadbare and bereft of quality third party apps.

So far, the enormous pain incurred by the Universal App strategy (pain such as sub-optimal design for Windows 10 mobile), and the cost incurred by the porting projects (Windows Bridge for iOS, Centennial, which ports Win32 apps into Modern Store apps, and the Hosted Web Apps project) has yet to show any results. The Daily Mail app is a newcomer, yet more are falling off the Windows Mobile bandwagon than jumping on.

That leaves punters who buy a cheap-as-chips Windows 10 tablet looking for some decent apps to run. But, wait. Android has lots of apps. So why not run Android on Windows? Or why not just buy an Android tablet? Performance under AmiDuOS is excellent.

Jide, on show this week in Barcelona, offers an x86 flavour Android OS, Remix OS, you can install or find pre-installed on its own tablets.

Ironically, Microsoft only just this week confirmed that its Project Astoria porting project was dead. It's acquiring Xamirin, a cross platform framework for corporates and publishers. It was always a risky move, reminiscent of IBM making its OS/2 OS more friendly for apps written for the far more popular Windows… only to find nobody wanted to write native OS/2 apps.

With Google kinda merging sorta Chrome and Android, there will be no shortage of apps on tablets in 2016. People go where the apps are. Google must be the odds-on favourite here.

What Microsoft needs to remember is that its own Windows 10 tablets will need to work well, while its Universal Apps have to be as great as they can be. Nobody really cares if an app is universal, they just want it to work well. Unfortunately, Windows 10 is less tablet-friendly than Windows 8.1, while the rewritten apps are, er, rough, to say the least. ®

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