Even though Windows 10 Mobile and the Lumia 950 and 950 XL are proving to be popular with Microsoft's consortium of loyal previewers and fans, it's no secret that Microsoft missed the mobile boat when it sailed.
Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has taken a $7.6 billion write-down for its unsuccessful acquisition of Nokia in the second quarter, and now, Joe Belfiore, the face of Windows Phone, has announced that he is taking a year-long leave just ahead of Windows 10 Mobile's release to manufacturing, leaving many speculating about just where Microsoft is taking its mobile plans.
Microsoft chief experience officer Julie Larson Green recently made a statement that got some people thinking that the company, once known as a hulking titan that likes to crush out the competition instead of working with them as partners, is looking to develop its own version of Android. Although Green did not exactly share details of Microsoft's plans, she did not categorically deny it either. Asked if Microsoft is working on an Android fork, she said:
"We'll go wherever our customers are."
Majority of Microsoft's customers seem deeply invested in the Android ecosystem, since 82.8 percent of all cellphone owners had an Android phone during this year's second quarter, according to IDC. Nearly 14 percent, meanwhile, are iOS users, while Windows Phone takes a teeny, tiny slice of the market with 2.6 percent.
It's not like Microsoft is not invested in Android either. In fact, the company already has a partnership with Cyanogen, developer of CyanogenMod, the most popular Android fork to date, with the possibility of deeply integrating Cortana into the operating system. Microsoft also has several apps and services developed for Android, including a lock screen, launcher and dialer app, which further raises questions about developing a full-blown Android skin instead of a bunch of core components created separately.
Microsoft's acquisitions also point to a possible move toward Android. Double Labs, for instance, is responsible for Echo Lockscreen, one of the hottest lock screens for Android. Acompli provides email services on mobile; Sunrise is a mobile calendar; and Wunderlist is a to-do list. Each of these acquisitions empower Microsoft to take on the most important features of a mobile operating system.
Finally, Microsoft filed a patent for a technology that allows it to run different mobile operating systems on a single device to let users switch between systems as rapidly as switching between tabs, and with Android's source code released with an open source license, nothing's stopping Microsoft from developing an Android fork of its own.
Of course, all of this is mere conjecture, but Microsoft is not far from putting out an Android phone.
In fact, it already did, with the flop that was the Nokia X released in 2014. Although its hardware was widely praised, the Nokia X's software was panned for being buggy, laggy and overall too difficult to use.
If Microsoft has learned its lesson last year, and if an Android fork from Redmond is truly in the works, we can expect Microsoft to come out with a more intuitive, well thought out Android version. Until the company actually confirms anything, we can only sit and speculate.