Microsoft opens a window to its own Android distribution, according to a new report

Coming directly off its most celebrated product launch in years, Microsoft revealed some of its thinking around its continuing efforts to invade Android.

Last week in Seattle, The Australian’s Chris Griffith asked the company’s Chief Experience Officer if Microsoft would consider creating its own Android distribution. “We’ll go wherever our customers are,” replied Julie Larson-Green. The intriguing answer adds an interesting dimension to Microsoft’s recent Android strategy, which remains difficult to pin down.

Microsoft's lack of success in mobile is no secret. And in response, the company’s multi-pronged Android push has emerged as a major hedge against the continuing challenges faced by Windows on mobile devices.

For example, at BUILD 2015 Microsoft introduced developer tools designed to port Android and iOS apps to its Universal Windows Platform. The company has also discussed a partnership with Cyanogen to integrate Cortana and bundle Microsoft apps, negotiated dual-boot agreements with some OEMs, and used its patent position with Samsung to pre-install Microsoft apps on Android devices.

Continuing this work, Larson-Green currently leads a team whose recent visibility has centered on Android launchers and lock screens, trying to tilt Android to a Microsoft experience. Before her current assignment, she led the operating systems group after Steven Sinofsky was dismissed following the Windows 8 launch. No longer part of the Windows team under Terry Myerson, she now reports to Qi Lu, head of the Applications and Services Group.

As part of her Android conversation with The Australian, Larson-Green’s team announced that they plan to launch the internally-developed Arrow launcher in the next two weeks. The Android app is currently in private beta.

In addition, Microsoft has a number of Android lock screen apps available in Google Play, including Next Lock Screen, designed for notification management, and Picturesque, which showcases Bing search. And Microsoft recently acquired Double Labs, the company behind Echo Notification, bringing a third Android lock screen into Redmond’s portfolio.

With so many independent apps, the company’s Android software strategy doesn’t appear particularly coherent, especially considering that there’s also Cortana beta and Bing. Neither of those apps is connected to each other, nor to any Microsoft lock screen or launcher.

But even with its scattershot approach, Microsoft may be trying to gauge user feedback and accumulate more expertise in Android, with the Echo app in particular reaching deep into the OS. And by eventually piecing together only the apps or functionality that resonate with users, Microsoft may end up unifying branding around a limited set of Android apps that connect with core Microsoft services—Office apps, OneDrive, Bing and Cortana—in a way that makes sense to users.

But it remains to be seen if Microsoft can put all the bits together, either with a coherent suite of apps or by integrating those pieces into its own version of Android. It’s also unclear if Microsoft is undertaking the latter effort in secret, but Julie Larson-Green’s non-denial could indicate that the risky strategy is at least under consideration as a hedge against the further languishing of Microsoft’s mobile OS efforts.

Source: The Australian

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