We can’t count all the times that companies have been told that they “need” to make an Android phone even though there’s no evidence that switching to Android will magically revive sales. In fact, we know that Samsung has been the only company to regularly turn a profit selling Android devices as HTC, Motorola and many others have continuously struggled to make money on Android phones. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped writers and analysts from telling other companies that they ought to make Android phones even if it’s probably not in their best interests to do so.
Microsoft has become the latest company to get the “Just make an Android phone!” pitch, as The Guardian’s Charles Arthur last week said that the company should completely scrap Windows Phone and work to fork Android as Amazon has done with its Kindle Fire tablets. Ars Technica’s Peter Bright explains, however, that forking Android to such an extent might be a lot more trouble for Microsoft than it’s worth.
Bright says that a major part of what makes Android so useful is the Google Mobile Services (GMS) part of the code that isn’t open source and thus can’t be forked. So while Microsoft would be able to take the Android Open Source Platform code and modify it to its heart’s content, it would still only be offering a bare-bones smartphone that would lack some of key services that GMS provides, including the Google Play app store.
This would leave Microsoft with two choices if it decided to fork Android: It could either offer a mobile device with all of Google’s services preloaded or it could take the Android Open Source Platform code and build its own equivalent of GMS.
“Google has pushed very significant pieces of functionality into GMS, including messaging and the Chrome browser,” Bright writes. “The AOSP counterparts are buggy, feature deprived, and by at least some accounts, barely maintained. If a company wants to use AOSP without GMS, it has a lot of work to do if it wants to produce a high quality experience. The open source parts just aren’t good enough.”
Forking Android is one thing if you’re Amazon and you really only want to build a tablet that acts as a broader portal to your online shopping empire. However, if you’re Microsoft and you want to sell software with a comprehensive set of mobile services that rival Google’s then it may be much more of a challenge.