Samsung made some serious waves last week. While its Android-centric Galaxy announcements in London were mostly yawn-inducing (save for the Galaxy NX), the ATIV announcements were surprisingly impressive. In fact, Samsung had some of us (Michael) drooling rainbows.
Samsung hit Windows RT below the belt with the ATIV Tab 3, a full Windows 8 machine with S Pen support in an Android-style tablet. And then there’s the ATIV Q, a full-fledged Windows 8 hybrid with a fold-out keyboard.
What makes the ATIV Q different, however, is the addition of a dual-OS. It runs Android and Windows 8 simultaneously, meaning you could switch from using the full Microsoft Office suite to using a dedicated YouTube or Gmail apps – versus the Web versions – in a matter of seconds, without having to reboot.
It’s a match made in dual-OS heaven.
But it made me revisit a few questions I’ve had for a very long time. Why aren’t more manufacturers doing this? Why hasn’t it been done before now? And couldn’t this very concept – or a similar one – be applied to smartphones?
Mobile manufacturers, unlike in the PC market, are open to developing for more than one platform. HTC and Samsung, for instance, dabble in Android and Windows Phone. Huawei, although it says Windows Phone is “weak”, also makes hardware for both operating systems, and LG and Dell even gave it a go for a short while.
In other words, the resources are already there. A handful of manufacturers have experience with both Windows Phone and Android. It would seem like a natural progression. Yet no company has done it.
Canonical, creators of Ubuntu, introduced Ubuntu for Android last year, but nothing has come of it yet. Ubuntu for Android, not terribly unlike Ubuntu Touch for phones and tablets which we saw earlier this year, allows the full Ubuntu OS and Android OS to run simultaneously, sharing the Linux kernel, storage space, and even apps. When running the phone in its normal state, you see and use a stock version of Android with Android apps and nothing more. Connect a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you have yourself a full-fledged, portable Ubuntu setup that can also run the Android applications atop Ubuntu.
Basically, it’s an awesome, crazy, brilliant hybrid that works well … in theory. But we haven’t seen the product in action in the real world, outside some Canonical demos.
The point, however, is that this very concept could be applied in so many different ways. Specifically, Windows Phone and Android share similar hardware requirements. The downside is that Windows Phone’s hardware requirements are quite restricting when compared to those of Android. The most advanced SoC a Windows Phone smartphone can currently run is the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, composed of a dual-core Krait CPU, which was first introduced in the beginning of 2012. Android smartphones are now shipping with Snapdragon 400 and 600 chips, which were introduced during CES at the beginning of just this year. Android supports display resolutions far beyond 1080p – at least 3,200 by 1,800 pixel resolution. Windows Phone, however, only supports up to WXGA, or 1,280 by 720 pixels.
So there are hardware discrepancies. And I totally understand why a Windows Phone smartphone doesn’t currently dual-boot or run side by side with Android … at least for now.
But say the next Windows Phone update includes some necessary hardware requirement changes, like 1080p support (which is believed to be included) and support for Qualcomm’s latest set of chips. There would be no legitimate excuse not to at least try it.
Since manufacturers started adding customized skins (that are now much more heavily laden than before), I have insisted manufacturers also give consumers a choice in software – the ability to choose between their custom builds of Android and stock. And with the new Play Edition HTC One and Galaxy S 4, OEMs are closer than ever before.
But there are some problems with the current model. It doesn’t adhere to the popular subsidized method of buying phones here in the Statues, and the original software honestly doesn’t require a totally different piece of hardware. Any HTC One or Galaxy S 4 owner should have the option to run stock Android or Sense 5 from the initial boot process and every time the phone is wiped clean.
Alas, that’s only wishful thinking, no matter how simple it would be for manufacturers to offer. (I imagine carriers have a major say in this matter, as well.)
No less, what if that same idea were applied to different operating systems? What if, upon the initial boot process, you could choose between running Windows Phone OS or Android? Use the phone as a Windows Phone for a few months, and if you get tired of it and want to switch to Android, wipe it clean and choose Android the next time.
Running Windows Phone and Android as a dual-OS setup would be great, but I imagine performance, especially battery life, would take a major hit. And dual-booting is never quite as awesome in actual use as it is in theory.
But the ability to choose hardware and not have to permanently choose between platforms is something I’ve wanted for as long as I could remember. If I could get a Lumia 920 with stock Android, I would be a happy man. And what ATIV S owner wouldn’t like to upgrade to a Galaxy S 4 running Windows Phone?
Maybe there is some fine print in the licensing agreement with Windows Phone that prevents running it alongside Android. But if there is no legal reason this can’t happen, I’m almost certain I would throw money at the first company to deliver a single phone that offers either Windows Phone or Android.
What say you? Would you prefer a dual-boot option? Dual-OS? Or would you rather change operating systems at will after formatting? Or is the whole thing just a terrible idea?