The beauty of choice: Windows Phone on Android hardware

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“I wish Nokia would make an Android phone!”

Well, that one didn’t turn out quite like we expected, did it? Nokia X is not at all the mashup of Windows Phone hardware and Android we wanted.

Obviously, enthusiasts wanted something more along the lines of a Lumia 1020 or Icon running a pure Android, not a barebones, entry-level phone with Android hacked up beyond all recognition. But the hopes of a lovely mixture of the gorgeous hardware of Windows Phone and considerably more developed Android OS isn’t totally dead in the water.

A report out of The Times of India on Monday suggested some OEMs would begin offering some devices with a dual-boot option between Android and Windows Phone. The Times of India quotes a chairman of Karbonn Mobiles, stating, “Microsoft has eased the regulations and is opening up its platform for other players. We signed the agreement two days ago and will launch a range of Windows phones in about three months.” Those Windows Phones will come in both single OS and dual-OS versions.

Karbonn Mobiles primarily serves the Indian market with mobile devices, but its not crazy to assume this sort of multi-boot system won’t eventually spread to other manufacturers who want to tap into a slowly growing user base without pulling too many resources from their Android efforts.

This sort of thing gives some pause, however. Is a dual-boot option as great in practice as it sounds in theory? Who does it benefit? Why should OEMs care?

There are two sides to the muti-boot system, and I’m prone to stand behind the movement, for a few different reasons.

 

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Two operating systems, one phone

I carry two smartphones – sometimes more. I have since I started selling cell phones in 2009, and I haven’t been able to wean myself down to just one phone since. There are two reasons behind my need for multiple phones: access to more than one operating system and access to two different network technologies (GSM and CDMA).

I like the diversity of having two platforms at my disposal at any time. Android, Windows Phone, and iOS all have their fair share of weaknesses and advantages, and I like having the ability to switch between them on the fly. I use Android for handling files, automating things, and sharing links from various apps. I use iOS to get my hands on some of the latest apps and games, and because it’s incredibly reliable.

nexus-5-androidHaving a phone that can dual-boot between two different operating systems gives the user an incredible advantage. If I’m using Windows Phone for its no-nonsense, get-the-job-done mantra, I could theoretically reboot the phone to the Android system to fill the application gap and have access to Google+, an official YouTube app, and all the other apps, games, and services missing from Windows Phone.

This doesn’t provide an advantage only for end users, though. It could also be a cost-saving tool for hardware manufacturers. Android and Windows Phone are fully capable of running the the exact same hardware. Nokia’s Lumia Icon and Google’s Nexus 5 from LG are strikingly similar in hardware. Both have Snapdragon 800 SoCs, 5-inch 1080p displays, 2GB RAM, (up to) 32GB storage, similar battery capacities, and cameras with OIS, though one is 8-megapixels while the other is 20.

It wouldn’t take a lot of work for Nokia to install a stock version of Android on the Lumia Icon or for Google/LG to install Windows Phone 8 on the Nexus 5. The largest disparity between them is the navigation button layouts, which will be less of an issue once Windows Phone makes the jump to on-screen buttons, which is expected to arrive with the 8.1 update.

In other words, once 8.1 arrives, there is little that would keep Samsung from making one phone, say a Galaxy Note 4, and shipping it with both Windows Phone 8.1 and Android KitKat – underneath its TouchWiz mod, of course.

 

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Test features without diving in head-first

Why is this sort of thing beneficial to, well … anyone? As stated above, having an ultra smooth experience on Windows Phone and having the vast application and ecosystem offering of Android, all on one device, sounds fantastic.

But let’s be completely honest for a moment.

windows-phone-iosAverage consumers are not going to be rebooting their phones several times per day, just to check Twitter in a fancier looking application or to hop on Google+. This sort of functionality will only appeal to a small minority. But that’s okay. Microsoft still stands to benefit from such a system. Users who have purchased a phone capable of dual-booting could try Windows Phone out, without having to purchase another device.

Say someone purchases that theoretical Galaxy Note 4, which has both Android and Windows Phone it. If they’ve never tried Windows Phone, they can by simply rebooting the phone to Windows Phone (assuming the dual-boot option is consumer-friendly). If they don’t like what they see, they’re theoretically able boot to Android and forget the other OS exists.

For Microsoft, this is a way to get OEMs – who would otherwise only make Android devices – to include Windows Phone on stellar hardware at very little additional cost. In that particular light, it’s a win-win. A single device can appeal to two types of consumers who want different types of software. Manufacturers save money by needing fewer smartphone models and Microsoft hacks its way into deeper market penetration.

It’s actually a pretty clever tactic that could potentially work in the long-term.

 

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The grass isn’t always greener

Unfortunately, it’s not all as sunshiny as we’d hope. Both of these advantages of dual-booting hardware comes with just as many, if not more, disadvantages.

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A feature doesn’t always have to be user-friendly to be useful to a lot of people.

For one, user experience. Dual-booting isn’t exactly a user-friendly technique. It fills necessary gaps and, at least on my computer, helps me tackle software hurdles I couldn’t overcome if it weren’t an option. But it also requires me to stop what I’m doing, shift gears and direction, and totally power down my computer.

Not only that, but double the operating systems could mean double the hassle. Users will have twice as many updates, whether those are firmware or app updates. This also means you’ll have two operating systems stored on the same storage drive. The latest version of TouchWiz seemingly takes up nearly 8GB of storage. Pair that with Windows Phone, and a 16GB NAND chip may only have 3-4GB left to the user. Needless to say, if OEMs can’t step up their game in the internal storage department, this concept is dead in the water. We need a 32GB minimum to be in place before dual-OS is even remotely enticing.

With such a hassle-filled process, dual-booting is one of those features I would only use in very specific, rare cases. It’d be a useful feature that I’d love to have at my disposal, but not something I’d use every day – or even every week or month.

From the perspective of someone who isn’t as technically inclined as you or I, dual-booting might as well be a foreign language. They may choose the dual-booting smartphone because it sounds cool. But in reality, they’ll set their phone up in the store after purchase, leave, and forget that feature is even an option.

 

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I still want it

As a tech fiend who can’t get enough of any OS, dual-booting would be a dream come true, even if I only used it every few months or so. I get tired of things quickly. It comes with the territory. And not every device comes exactly as I want. I’d love the Lumia Icon with Android on it, and I’d love to try the Galaxy Note 3 with Windows Phone … just because.

Having options is rarely a bad thing, especially when it’s something as simple as opening up an entirely different operating system to hardware that is fully capable of running it.

Why is there a stigma around letting users choose which operating system they want to pair with their choice in smartphone?

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+