Microsoft patents tech to bring Android apps to Windows Phone

by Phil Hornshaw

A patent filed by Microsoft in 2010 could help the software company’s flagging mobile platform bridge the app gap between it and Android by helping users find Windows alternatives to the Android apps they already enjoy.

According to a story from GigaOM, Microsoft’s patent is for a technology that would actually have two capabilities. The first would be to analyze another device, like an Android smartphone, and find out which apps it already has on it. Then, Microsoft’s tech would search through the Windows Phone app store, find the apps’ Windows equivalent, and make them available to purchase. It seems likely that in places where the app didn’t have a direct, official Windows version, Microsoft would probably suggest a well-reviewed third-party alternative.

So one part of the service would be like an app search engine, allowing Android users to find Windows alternatives, should they want them. But the patent also suggests that it would be able to transfer Android apps and their data from the original device to a Windows device. If that’s possible, it could be something of a game-changer.

Right now, Android enjoys a very comfortable lead over Windows Phone, as does Apple’s iOS, because Microsoft is having a tough time expanding its app offerings for its platform. In the very simplest terms, Android has just thousands of apps more than Windows does. It’s an easy selling point for Android and a large part of what keeps Windows Phone holding down a percentage of the smartphone market that’s in the single digits, while Android entertains a huge portion of smartphones around the world and in the U.S.

But if Microsoft can bring apps from Android devices to its own, that would significantly change the conversation about which platform is better. It wouldn’t be the first platform to be able to do that, either. BlackBerry maker RIM’s PlayBook tablet was capable of supporting Android apps with an emulated version of Google’s operating system.

Of course, that’s a big “if.” Android, like iOS, doesn’t allow apps to access the data of other apps, and neither allows its apps on other operating systems. But if Microsoft finds a way around those restrictions, perhaps with an emulated version of Google’s open-source OS, it might still be able to support Android apps, even if it can’t actually transfer your app data from one device to the other. But that possibility might help to make Android’s lead over Windows Phone a little less comfortable.

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