If recent reports are accurate, Windows users might have a new Frankenstein-like platform to consider: a new generation of handsets that can dual-boot between Windows Phone and Android. Although it's unlikely that these phones would offer this ability on the fly—instead, they might be sold to users in only one of the two configurations—their appearance could offer more and better choices to users.
Reports of such devices date back to October 2013, when Bloomberg claimed that Microsoft's Terry Myerson—who now oversees all client OS development at the firm—was trying to convince handset maker HTC to put the Windows Phone OS on its Android devices. At the time, Windows Phone was described as a "second option" for the devices, one that would give Windows Phone buyers a wider range of choices. It would also let customers match the hardware designs they liked most with the OS platform they preferred.
Related: "Nokia Announces Android-Powered Smartphones"
Now, The Times of India is reporting that this new kind of Frankenphone is real, suggesting that Myerson's entreaty to HTC wasn't a one-off request but rather part of a broader strategy. The publication says that India-based Karbonn Mobiles will launch dual-OS devices that will support both Android and Windows, by June.
"Microsoft has eased the regulations and is opening up its platform for other players," Karbonn Mobiles Chairman Sudhir Hasija told The Times of India. "We signed the agreement ... and will launch a range of Windows Phones in about three months."
It's unlikely that Microsoft would offer this deal to just a single mobile phone maker from Asia, but one must assume that any other Windows Phone licensee could offer the same type of product. And when you combine that information with recent revelations about cheaper Windows licensing for low-end devices—a pricing scheme that I think impacts Windows Phone, too—and Microsoft's recent and unexpected windfall of new Windows Phone OS licensees (Foxconn, Gionee, Lava [Xolo], Lenovo, LG, Longcheer, JSR, Karbonn and ZTE)—you have the makings of a sea change for the struggling mobile platform.
Long-time Microsoft watchers may correctly ascribe this strategy as a modern take on the old-time "embrace and extend" strategy that the firm used so adeptly in the 1990s. In this case, Microsoft is subverting Google's Android, which currently runs on about 80 percent of all handsets currently being sold. By riding the R&D costs that handset makers have already invested in their devices, Microsoft can piggyback on the success of Android makers and, potentially, gain a wider audience, with no additional costs or risks.
For hardware makers, a second option that could literally be dropped onto an existing phone makes plenty of sense, especially for those worried about getting locked into a single and increasingly dominant OS provider. It makes a Windows Phone investment almost a no-brainer, with no need to develope similar but distinct models for that platform.
It's worth noting, however, that this strategy also emulates a mistake IBM made in the 1990s, when it offered dual-boot PCs with a choice of Windows and OS/2. As the VAR Guy notes, customers overwhelming chose Windows over IBM OS/2, contributing to the decline of that system.