What if Microsoft and Google agreed to fork Android for the Enterprise and Consumer segments respectively?
Last February, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak opined that Apple should make an Android phone. His justification was that Apple's styling and manufacturing abilities appeal to consumers, which would allow simultaneous success with both of the top mobile platforms. Brilliant or sacrilege?
Apple is doing just fine with iOS, but Microsoft needs to give such a radical notion serious consideration. Of course, styling and manufacturing are not as core to Microsoft as they are to Apple, so embracing Android will require a little more strategy. Nonetheless, the time is right, and there is a logical path.
It's easy to forget the time when Microsoft and Google were friendly. It was long ago, when Microsoft primarily sold applications and operating systems, and Google primarily offered a search service. Today the companies overlap--and compete--extensively: Chrome and Internet Explorer, Windows and ChromeOS, Office and Google Apps, Bing and Google Search, Windows Azure and Google App engine, and of course Android and Windows Mobile.
Mobility is an area where Microsoft is reeling. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced (conceded) Office for iOS, and offered free versions of its mobile operating system to device makers. Office was considered the linchpin for the success of Surface, which now has a questionable future.
Since the iPhone launched in 2007, Microsoft has been trying unsuccessfully to catch up to Apple and subsequently Google. At the Microsoft Developers conference, Microsoft announced several new compelling mobile enhancements. In "Why Microsoft will likely keep its bronze medal in the mobile computing marathon," Gigaom's Kevin Tofel explained the improvements "would be impressive...if Apple and Google didn't exist." The mobile share gap is huge, and we've heard this Zune before.
End users keep getting caught in the cross-fire as Microsoft and Google mutually work to hurt each other. There were Microsoft's anti-Google campaigns Scroogled and "Bing it on." And Google's efforts to sabotage the experience for those of its own customers who also use Microsoft by killing Exchange ActiveSync protocol on Gmail and breaking YouTube on Windows Mobile. The list goes on.
Despite huge product overlaps, Microsoft seems secure in Enterprise solutions, and Google thrives in the consumer space. This creates the opportunity for a truce. What if Microsoft and Google agreed to fork Android for the different segments?
Android consists of two major components: Android Open Source Platform (AOSP) and Google Mobile Services (GMS). AOSP is the open source, free part. It is available to anyone who wants to use the basic UI and kernel with few restrictions--and many people have. Conversely, GMS is not free, not open, and tightly controlled. GMS includes the Google Play Store and Google Apps, and has all the key APIs for services such as location awareness and remote wipe. GMS is the strategic part of Android, and it's where the innovation occurs.
What if there was a third component to Android--say Microsoft Mobile Services, or MMS? This would be similar to GMS, but require Microsoft credentials. It would include Mobile Office apps, Exchange ActiveSync, and access to a new Microsoft application store--potentially called "Work," which would focus on business applications. Android devices could support MMS, GMS, or both on the same device.
It's clear why this makes sense for Microsoft. It assures relevance in the mobile era for both Microsoft and its soon-to-be-acquired Nokia division. But why would Google go along with it? It may not--it already has the leadership position in mobile. Though this would strengthen Android against its top mobile competitor, iOS. Microsoft may have to give Google a bit more for an invitation to the Android party--perhaps an agreement to shut down Bing (another Microsoft cash sink).
The timing is right with Satya Nadella's arrival as the new Microsoft CEO. Both companies will benefit from controlling the number one mobile OS platform, and Android will benefit from the combined R&D and ecosystem. Think of the tremendous innovation in mobility if Microsoft were to redirect what it is currently spending on the development and marketing of its mobile platform. It would also eliminate considerable confusion in the market for consumers, enterprises, and independent software vendors.
As Wozniak suggested, it's time to focus on the business and the customers, not ideological battles. There's unmet demand to satisfy. Let's get on with it.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.