If Microsoft lets Windows 10 devices run Android apps, it might help Windows Phone close the "app gap" with iOS and Android. The combined Windows/Windows Phone Store has over 500,000 apps, while Apple's App Store and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Play both host over 1.4 million apps. However, offering Android apps on Windows 10 would also undermine Microsoft's own ecosystem of "universal apps," which can be run across smartphones, tablets, PCs, and Xbox One consoles.
Let's take a look at the logic behind emulating Android apps on Windows 10 phones, and why it could be a bad move.
Microsoft's gone down this path before
This isn't the first time Microsoft has experimented with Android to sell smartphones. For example, the short-lived Nokia X was an Android device, cloaked in a Windows Phone-style launcher, which could install select Android apps through its own app store. The idea was that Microsoft could pocket a cut of Android app sales, users would get a wider selection of apps, and the Windows Phone skin would promote sales of low-end Windows Phones.
Yet shortly after its release, the Nokia X was rooted, which allowed users to install Google's first-party services -- such as Search, Maps, and the Play Store. As a result, the rooted devices ironically tethered users to Google's ecosystem. As a result, Microsoft discontinued the device and ended its brief courtship of Android apps. In its place, Microsoft doubled down on low-end Lumia devices like the new Lumia 430, which only costs $70 unlocked.
Therefore, if Microsoft decides to emulate Android apps in Windows 10, it must prevent users from installing Google's first party apps. But if Microsoft launches an Android store within Windows 10, it might discourage developers from creating "native" Windows apps, since Android apps would reach a wider audience of Windows and Android users.
Android apps didn't help BlackBerry
Adding Android compatibility to Windows 10 also doesn't make sense when we consider that BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) tried the same thing by letting users "sideload" Android apps to BB10. This gave BlackBerry owners backdoor access to a large number of Android apps.
Since the sideloading process was cumbersome compared to a one-click installation, BlackBerry signed a deal with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) last June to launch its Android-based Appstore on BB10. That partnership added nearly 300,000 apps to BlackBerry World's 130,000 apps.
As a result, BB10 users had three ways to install apps: sideloading, Amazon Appstore, and BlackBerry World. But BlackBerry couldn't monetize the first two sources. The only apps which generated any revenue for BlackBerry were its native BlackBerry World ones.
BlackBerry wasn't trying to generate app revenue by tethering itself to Android. It was trying to reclaim lost market share, but that plan didn't pan out, either. Since BB10 launched in Jan. 2013, BlackBerry's global smartphone market share has plunged from 3% to less than 1% today, according to IDC and Gartner.
Don't do it, Microsoft
Emulating Android might seem like a quick and easy solution to Microsoft's app gap woes, but it would be a step in the wrong direction.
The cornerstone of Microsoft's "One Windows" strategy in Windows 10 is to offer "universal apps" for multiple platforms through a unified Windows Store. This would make Windows Phone -- which accounts for less than 3% of smartphones worldwide -- more appealing to developers, since a single app could reach PC, tablet, and console users. Dabbling with Android emulation betrays that strategy, and hints that Microsoft's universal apps could fail to gain traction.
Most importantly, BlackBerry has demonstrated that tethering an underdog mobile OS to Android doesn't guarantee its market share growth. Therefore, the long-term drawbacks of emulating Android on Windows 10 could outweigh any short-term benefits.