Microsoft still considering Android app support on Windows Phone

This week’s Windows 10 event will focus mostly on the desktop experience, but we’re excited to hear about what Windows 10 will mean for Microsoft’s OS on mobile. Though it’s unlikely we’ll hear about this at Wednesday’s event, over the last few weeks, there’s been talk of Microsoft eventually allowing Android apps to run on Windows Phone.

Things kicked off right before new year’s with a post from ZDNet’s Microsoft expert, Mary Jo Foley. According to Foley’s sources, Microsoft is still considering a plan that would enable Android apps to run on Windows and Windows Phone with Windows 10. These rumours have been doing the rounds since around this time last year. In her post, Foley says that Microsoft’s “Plan A” is still to adopt a universal app model that would allow developers to make one app for both Windows and Windows Phone. However, fresh reports this week indicate the Android-powered “Plan B” may still happen.

The Information has a story that follows largely the same theme as the December article on ZDNet, that Microsoft is focusing on apps rather than OS and wants Windows 10 to bring apps that run on all platforms — PC, tablet, and phone. However, the article goes on to say that Microsoft is continuing to discuss whether or not it should support Android app on Windows devices.

If you wondering if this is even possible, the answer is yes. Take Bluestacks, the Android emulator that allows users to run apps on Windows or Mac machines. The Surface Pro users can already run Android apps on their tablets thanks to this piece of software, so it’s already made its way to mobile in some ways. But on what about on phones?

Speaking to CNet in 2011, Bluestacks co-founder Rosen Sharma talked about the limitations that stemmed from the fact that some Android apps use native ARM code and therefore don’t run on Bluestacks because of the x86 chips powering Windows computers. But support for ARM SoCs came with Windows 8 (what’s up, Windows RT?), so that wouldn’t be an issue, right?

We spoke to an industry insider to get a bit more clarity on the topic and he agreed that Android on Windows Phone wasn’t impossible. “If you read historically, Bluestacks said the big challenge they had was that Windows PC didn’t use ARM, but Windows Mobile doesn’t use x86 or AMD64 — it uses ARM,” he said.

“So there is a potential that Android on Windows Mobile could work like Bluestacks, but perhaps faster,” our source added, explaining that while there would still need to be some virtual layer, that would be reduced thanks to both the OS and the apps running on the same architecture. He goes on to reference the CNet post we mentioned earlier:

“Some apps use the hardware directly, and wouldn’t be compatible with normal x86 code without a lot of middleware code to slow things down. The middle layer could be reduced if the archecture was the same or similar. I’m not saying it woudl be all gone, but it would be more apples to apples.”

The benefit for Microsoft is obvious — it could all of a sudden lay claim to a much more diverse app ecosystem for its mobile operating system. However, we’ve seen BlackBerry attempt to do just that with mixed results. Anything requiring Google services won’t run, and the lack of BlackBerry Hub integration means the Android apps often end looking more full-featured but less convenient than the native BlackBerry app.

[source]The Information, ZDNet[/source]