Last week, a fantastically compelling rumor hit the Pocketnow news desk, talking about the possibility of Microsoft encouraging OEMs – and HTC in particular, in this case – to develop hardware that would run not just Windows Phone 8, but also Android. While the details of just how a system like that would work weren’t clear, the rumor was specific enough to confirm that we weren’t just talking about two separate phones based on the same hardware – like a One Android and One WP8, which each model locked to its respective OS – but actively switching between platforms on one handset.
Since then, the rumors have grown even more elaborate, talking about companies like Samsung and Huawei possibly getting roped-in to Microsoft’s plans as well. It may be too early to start getting excited about any of this – especially with the specter of the still-yet-to-be-released Samsung ATIV Q and its dual Windows 8/Android action continuing to hang over the head of our dual-platform future like some sword of Damocles – but for a lot of smartphone fans, this news could be huge.
While there are always going to be fanboys out there who will sing the praises of one platform at the expense of all others for anyone willing to listen, a lot of us more well-adjusted smartphone fans are pretty eager to get a better appreciation for the larger phone landscape, but expense and practicality get in our way.
For that kind of user, a single handset that can easily switch between platforms would be a godsend. That reminds me – let’s take a moment here to pour one on the curb for the Ubuntu Edge – gone before it ever arrived.
Especially if some of the rumors about Microsoft making WP8 available for free to these OEMs turn out to be true, this dual-platform hardware could conceivably launch at essentially the same price points as single-platform phones. Faced with that option, how are you going to turn down the phone that appears to do so much more?
But while I absolutely believe that dual-boot capabilities could be a big selling point, I’m far from convinced that phones like this would actually see serious cross-platform use.
The problem is that the majority of smartphone users care about having a phone that “just works:” that has the apps they need and the features they want. When a user like that takes home a dual-platform phone, they very well might experiment on both sides of the fence for a while. After all, that’s exactly why we’re talking about lowering this bar for exploring new platforms in the first place, and they’ll poke around a little, learning what they like and what they don’t.
Eventually, though, they’ll see what they need to, and one way or another, are going to end up siding with one of the two platforms.
Now, I don’t share quite the same technical concerns as recently expressed by our Joe Levi; specifically, I see no reason why two platforms on a single phone can’t share some storage – not system or app data, to be sure, but along the lines of a mounted volume like a microSD card. So, I’m not worried that problems sharing data between sides would necessarily encourage users to choose one over the other.
We’ve yet to work out how features like this dual stuff might function – whether you’d choose one platform or the other when powering-on the phone, or be able to jump back and forth, maybe thanks to virtualization as we (were supposed to by now) see on the ATIV Q – but even if switching between Windows Phone and Android is the easiest, fastest thing in the world, we’re just not going to see users split their time evenly between platforms.
I’d say the best-case scenario is that a user ends up digging Windows Phone’s interface, but can’t bring him or herself to stop using a handful of Android apps. Maybe a few times a month he wants to play some GTA3 Vice City and boots into Android, but a single platform is going to dominate day-to-day usage.
On the surface, something like that might really seem like a win for Microsoft – until that user goes to buy another phone, at least. Especially if he initially got used to WP8 while still having this Android app safety net in place, it could be a tough sell to convince him to pick up a Windows-Phone-only handset for his next phone. I’ve got to believe that Microsoft is encouraging dual-platform phones in order to help ease users over to WP8, but they’re going to come to expect that Android door to stay open, which means that Microsoft might find it difficult to ever move back away from this arrangement.
Think of it like custom ROMs, if you’re an Android dude. You like to look around, and try a bunch out, and while some of you will keep doing that for the long haul, I’d wager that a lot of you find one you prefer above all others, and end up sticking with it. That’s very much what I expect to see happen if these crazy dual-platform rumors come to pass.
Don’t get me wrong: I think this is all a fabulous idea for users, and could really start getting the numbers moving around between platform shares. I just don’t see a world where we actually end up switching between multiple operating systems on our phones as a regular daily occurrence. It will be great to have the option there, but I’m guessing that for many users the novelty will quickly fade.