The word on the street is that Microsoft is working on a dual-screen foldable Surface tablet…that will also run Android apps. It’s said to be running the company’s upcoming Chrome OS competitor, Windows Core OS.
So, first things first—this is a rumor. There’s nothing that makes it obviously true, so we’re approaching it with hesitation. But it also offers the opportunity to raise the question: why offer access to Android apps on Windows? It’s an interesting concept, but I’m struggling to find justification for the addition here.
The likely answer starts with Core OS itself. It won’t natively support Win32 applications—that is, traditional Windows programs—leaving a major gap in app availability (remember the original Surface with Windows RT? Oof.). Originally it was said that Core OS would push UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps, but we haven’t really seen the uptick in UWP apps that Microsoft likely hoped for. In fact, Microsoft itself seems to be abandoning UWP by and large, which is pretty telling.
So where does that leave this lighter version of Core OS that is supposedly running on this mythical dual-screen device? Back in the same position as Windows RT back in the day. So, instead, it looks like Microsoft may be taking a page from Google’s playbook and adding Android app support to this particular build of Core OS. Now, all that said, some things need to be noted here.
First of all, this doesn’t mean Core OS will get full access to the Google Play Store. Only Google Play certified devices get that, and the chances are that Microsoft isn’t going to go that route. Instead, it’ll likely have to curate its own app store, which is easier said than done. That means Android app developers will not only have to support apps in Google’s ecosystem (and possibly even Amazon’s!), but also on Microsoft’s. While this doesn’t directly translate to double the work, it does mean more testing, more uploads, and the like. Plus, the early days for Android app support on any non-Android/Chrome OS device is likely going to be rough and buggy, which means more work fixing issues.
That brings the second point: it was a challenge for Google to get Android apps to run properly on Chrome OS, which is based on the Linux kernel (just like Android). In fact, Android app support stayed in beta for much longer than Google expected (and still hasn’t reached “stable” on some Chrome OS devices). They’re better now than ever before, but there’s still a lot of work to be done here—they don’t feel native in the slightest, which was likely the hope all along.
So, if Google has been struggling to get Android apps fully working on Chrome OS, what makes Microsoft think it can do better on Windows? Sure, Microsoft has done an excellent job developing and supporting its own Android apps (they’re all very good), but adding this emulation layer to Windows is another beast entirely.
Now, I’m not suggesting it’s impossible. But the hurdles that need to be jumped here are even bigger than what Google had to do to bring Android apps to Chrome OS. It starts with something that’s out of Microsoft’s hands in the first place: getting developers on board with the idea of testing, support, and uploading their apps on another platform and a new app store.