What is Microsoft's problem with Android apps?

Suddenly, Microsoft is a major developer for iOS. The software giant better known for Windows dropped three iOS apps or updates in just two days, and there are rumors of more coming (e.g. Office). But what about Android? "What about Android?" you ask, surprised. "Why should Microsoft give a hoot's fart app about Android? Google and open source are reasons enough why not Android". Yes, but Microsoft makes heaps of money from Android. Nothing from iOS.

Shouldn't Microsoft support the platform that is more personally profitable? The Redmond, Wash.-based company now has convinced most major Android developers to pay licensing fees, presumably because the open-source OS violates Microsoft patents. Perhaps threat of lawsuit is enough. It's serious money, too, $10 or more per device -- if rumors are to be believed. "Patent trolling with Microsoft" I called it in July. Microsoft makes what from iOS? Diddly.

The numbers speak for themselves. In September, Microsoft signed Samsung onto the "pay us so we don't sue you" Android licensing program. This week, the South Korean company boasted about selling 300 million handsets this year -- a big number that closes on sales numbers expected from global leader Nokia. Let's do some quick, easy math by assuming only one-third (and two-thirds wouldn't surprise me) of Samsung phones have Android and that rumors of $10 licensing fee are true. So you've got 100 million devices at 10 bucks apiece. That's a billion dollars, baby. Even if Microsoft collected just $1, it's still $100 million more than iOS generates. That's just from one Android licensee.

By my reckoning, based on IDC projections for 2015 smartphone shipments (1 billion) and Android and Windows Phone combined market share (640 million), Microsoft could conceivably generate $6 billion in licensing fees, $4 billion-plus from Android, four years from now. So I must ask again: Shouldn't Microsoft support the platform that is more personally profitable? That's Android. To hell with iOS.

Right now, Microsoft's strategy is more give-it-away than charge for apps. If Android and iOS were equally profitless, I'd say, sure, develop for iPad and iPhone. Apple is more Microsoft's friend than Google; Microsoft is a long-time, loyal Mac developer; and demographics of the buyers (age or income) are right, putting Microsoft's brand and apps in front of the right people. Then there's Apple's currently strong brand affinity, which Microsoft should want to attach to.

But the platforms aren't equally profitless. Microsoft benefits from increased Android device sales, and it's a proven axiom the platforms with the right apps succeed. There aren't many Microsoft apps on Android -- that I could find. New version of Skype released today, but that's from a company Microsoft recently acquired. Bing and Halo Waypoint are the only substantive Microsoft apps I could find on Android Market, and both are quite appealing.

It's a different world over at Apple's App Store. Yesterday, Microsoft updated OneNote to support iPad -- that for an app available on iPhone for most of 2011. Today, Microsoft released two new iOS apps -- Kinectimals and SkyDrive. There's more. I count 14 apps for iPhone. Among the others:

  • Halo Waypoint, released December 10
  • My Xbox Live, released December 7
  • Microsoft Tag, updated December 6
  • Windows Live Messenger, updated December 6
  • Photosynth, updated October 11

The other apps -- odd ones like MSN Around the World and MSN Onit -- also are available for Android. We're 12 days into December, and Microsoft has released four new apps for iOS. Whoa.

Android could really use a few compelling Microsoft apps, particularly for lifting it into the enterprise. How about some support for Office, Lync, SharePoint and SkyDrive? Today, Nielsen released lists of top-15 Android apps for three age groups: 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 year olds. QuickOffice makes all three demographics' lists -- No. 7 for the older group, eighth for the middle one. Shouldn't that be an Office app instead?

I know Microsoft wants to favor its own mobile platform with Mobile Office -- but, hey, there are license fees to collect whether Android or Windows Phone. iOS is a money pit.

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