Microsoft's focus on Android and iOS is proving to be the right call

Outlook on Android
Outlook on Android (Image credit: Windows Central)

When Microsoft decided to kill Windows Phone in favor of adopting Android and iOS as first class citizens for its mobile experiences, many Windows fans were quick to assume that this plan would backfire and see Microsoft fall out of the mobile space altogether. But in 2019, that couldn't be further from the truth, as Microsoft's mobile apps are proving to be incredibly popular and some of the best on iOS and Android right now.

This strategy has proven particularly successful on Android, where Microsoft's apps are among on the top download charts on Google Play. In the last few days, Your Phone reached number one in the top free apps charts on the Google Play Store. It has over 10 million downloads, as does Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Launcher. Outlook has crossed 100 million downloads, with Skype and Office rocking one billion downloads. That's a huge number!

Microsoft's 'Your Phone Companion' tops Android Google Play rankings

Microsoft also owns SwiftKey, which is many people's keyboard of choice on Android. It's fair to say that all of Microsoft's apps on Android have been a huge success for the company, and now Microsoft is integrating Android into the Windows ecosystem as a first class citizen with Your Phone integration, and is even using Android on the Surface Duo which should further cement the experience between Windows and Android.

I frequently see people in my Twitter DMs claiming that Microsoft's efforts on Android and iOS are wasted, since both platforms aren't Windows. It turns out, however, that it doesn't matter what the platform is underneath. If Microsoft is able to provide quality apps and services on those platforms, users will come. Microsoft's mobile experiences are the best they've ever been in 2019, and it's all thanks to Microsoft quitting out on Windows Phone.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to live in a world where Windows was a third option for smartphones, but we don't live in that world. As such, I'm more than happy with Microsoft focusing entirely on Android and iOS for its mobile efforts, because it means my Microsoft ecosystem experience is better as a result. My Android phone compliments my Windows PC more than a Windows Phone ever did.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Yeah feeding the competitor ecosystem with high quality free apps is great... for Google
  • It's win for MS, too. From a business perspective, you retain millions of loyal customers and gain millions more for your services in both enterprise and consumer markets. Allowing those customers to be able to seemlesly use those services not matter the device is ideal. I personally believe that Microsoft efforts will benefit more than just those of us that like to use Windows devices, and that is the ultimate goal.
  • but it also makes it so much more easy for those loyal users to move on to Android PCs and Imacs since they can use all Microsoft apps on those competing operating systems. Hence, this looks like the beginning of the end for WIndows as a dominating operating system. Perhaps MS now sees Android as th e future? As a Windows 10 fan I am very nervous about this... very nervous....
  • "Hence, this looks like the beginning of the end for WIndows as a dominating operating system" We are WAY past that point. Windows is no longer the dominant OS sold on computers today. In 2018, Windows was on less than 20 percent of computers sold. Yes, that includes PCs, phones and tablets. Just 10 years ago, Windows was on 95% of all computers sold. MacOS and Linux made up the remaining 5%. Android is now the most used OS in the world at 40%, with Windows at 35%. In the U.S., it is Windows 33%, iOS 31%, Android 21%, Mac 9% and Chrome 3%. Windows has never had such competition. Basically, 1/3 of computer/internet users are using Windows, but 2/3 are NOT using Windows. Thus, Microsoft HAS to have apps and services on Android and iOS. MS - and everyone else - can see where things are going AND where they are right now. It was not a question of "making the right call". It was seeing reality and making the ONLY call they could make: Adapt or die.
  • Not sure where you got your numbers buddy. Windows OS holds 80% of the market share. Wouldn't be the most valuable tech company in the world with over 1 TRILLION in value. Android is free and works on everything from flag ships to $50 phones so of course it's going to be used to save manufacturing cost. Also Android and full Windows OS aren't in the same class. One is mobile centric while the other is desktop computing. Microsoft been leveraged Android and Linux years ago, teamed with Sony, their main competitor in the console market, to bring their gaming network intro a relevant stage, and has made humongous strides in cloud with most Fortune 500 companies on their product, and produces a product that most businesses couldn't do without in Windows. Not made up, you can Bing or Google it.
  • It's a big help that Chrome books are so cheap and that many schools accros the USA have multiple ones in every classroom.
  • I know Chrome OS has a terrible market share globally but it sits at 6% desktop share in the U.S. Given the bulk of those are young school children the potential for future loyal Google users is huge.
  • In my opinion Chrome OS in schools is doing our children a disservice. Who would hire you if your resume says..."proficient in Chrome OS"? MS should crank up their efforts in the education sector here in the US.
  • @ITMedCEO, I actually agree. Personally, youngsters using full Windows would be a much better idea. I can assure you that I am ambivalent when it comes to Chrome OS.
    It's a shame MS were unable to pull together a package that cash strapped schools could adopt.
  • Schools adopt Windows around the world.
  • Not my children, they absolutely hate the things, they can't wait to get home to 'proper' computers, like my Surface Pro 4 or Go, let alone the desktop which is regularly fought over. I've even considered getting one, it certainly would stop the kids trying to play games instead of their homework. If anything Chromebooks are showing the kids how bad Google is.
  • That's literally both less that what windows mobile once held globally, and what mac osx peaked at before the company nearly went bust. Yeah, potential for growth, but also potential for the entire project to be scrapped. And as discussed, not a valuable market skill, so that will also stand in the way of service loyalty.
  • I learnt it the hard way. If you want your child to become a carpenter when she or he grows up, let them go with the public school wave of Chrome and google docs... else you are better off with getting them a private tutor who can teach them MSOffice, or else they will have a really hard time in university and/or on their first job
  • You literally contradicted yourself with your own numbers. 20% and then 35%. 40% and 35% are also only marginal differences, and relatively irrelevant when you consider one is ad based volume sales, and the other higher margin software sales. It's apples and oranges. Especially confusing when you think about your catergorization of 'computers'. Are ATMs not counted, smartwatches, or smart appliances? Terminals, services, or IoT in general? Seems like you misnamed it. Google makes most of it's money on search, still does, android is just a vehicle for that little search box people often fail to remove (or the assistant, which goes to the same place). MSFT makes it's money from a diverse range of sources - video games, azure, office subscriptions etc, for which windows is a platform. Google could stop supporting android altogether tomorrow, and it wouldn't matter, so long as they has somewhere else to pimp their ad platform. Microsoft could not do the same with windows - the platform is intrinsically vital. If it fails, microsoft fails. Apple is actually a hardware company, at the heart. They profit from device sales, particularly the iphone. These are all very different models for profit. Which raises the question: how does microsoft actually gain significant profit from android apps? And if they do, why are their efforts on android so minimal? And if they invest in android more, will that subtract from their efforts with UWP, their windows platforms bridge to the future? Adapt or die indeed.
  • I wish that Microsoft put in a wee bit more into their apps and made them at least as good as the Windows Phone apps... At the time I last used an Android device, I had to drop it like a hot potato since the Microsoft ecosystem on Android was so so flaky... that was just a few months ago... since there are no choices around, this time around, I do hope that once I get my Xperia 1 replacement of my Windows 10 device in a few weeks,, I will never need to look back at Microsoft.
  • Everybody has already moved off mobile MS products so they can't possibly lose any more customers.
  • Don't tell the Surface team that info. They may think all these Surface sales numbers are all made up. ;-)
  • There is a mobile surface? I just see a bunch of laptops...
  • If we're going to start being silly, there are 1000s of mobile computers out there in the real world, being used to support businesses across the USA, they're running WinCE. One of my jobs is looking after this equipment, so I have a bit of experience - next time you're in Costco or other stores, take a look at what's being run on the handheld barcode scanners.
  • I don't give a crap what operating system the bar code scanners at Costco are using. Why would I or any consumer?
  • It matters because they represent a vast number of devices out there that are being used and require software from developers, but really I was just pointing out, if you're going to be stupid suggesting Surfaces aren't mobile, then why aren't you counting the huge number of windows devices that are.
  • Those only require one app that is custom made for them. When Snapchat (or whatever developer) looks at Windows installs to help them decide if they want to support it, they don't count Costco's product scanners. They don't matter for consumer developers.
  • You are not being silly, every time one of the millions tap their Presto card in the greater hamilton and toronto and ottawa areas, it is on a windows ce device. But we know that the next gen will likely not be windows, since windows is like dead and no longer interested in cool stuff... just making more money is the aim of that organization
  • And looking at the potential future, no one wants to stay with the so called legacy desktop... may continuum gracefully relent to the future of IT and discontinue and rest in peace, since even that dream of a Windows future is now no longer something we can pursue.
  • Do you know that 90% of Chinese manufacturing machinery runs on windows? that's what I saw the last time visited China for a business trip.
  • It's more likely for PCs to die out entirely than for macOS to overtake Windows in marketshare, let alone for Android to become anything more than a Wikipedia footnote on PCs.
  • Not sure what you're inferring regarding the PC/Mac OS part of your post. The Mac Pro and even Mac Book lines have been treated more as curiosities than real products by Apple for a while now.
  • So true... glad to see that there are others on the same frequency. Apple and Microsoft are out, as far as client side browsers and operating systems are concerned. But Apple still needs credit for not relenting. Reminds me of Shakespeare's King Richard the Second... some people do or die while some are cowards
  • Guys, how many times do I have to tell you that it was nothing like that? This was premediated sabotage. There was no need for Microsoft to block Skype for Business access on Windows 10 mobile on Office 365 subscriptions in December 2018 when Windows 10 mobile was officially supposed to be supported till December 2019. On premises Skype for Business still works on Windows 10 mobile and the only applications and services that have been blocked from Windows Phone in 2019 are Microsoft owned. Should I ever trust them again? What if a new CEO comes in 3 or 4 years and takes another U-turn? This is not the way you expect a professionally managed publically owned company to work. Premium phones cost thousand to two thousand dollars these days, more than premium laptops... consumers cannot be treated like carrots and cauliflowers. This is obscene. They could have easily continued support for Windows for a couple more years, based on the last sales of Windows phones on the Microsoft store. I still have a brand new sealed Alcatel Idol that I purchased from Microsoft Store... we as consumers should be the last people to try and justify their creepiness
  • This article pretends as if Microsoft wouldn't have made Office for iOS and Android if they didn't dump Windows Phone OS.... I hate to break it to you, but Office existed on iOS and Android before Microsoft dumped Windows Phone. No different than the fact that Office has existed on Mac OS for decades.... This is a completely unrelated to Microsoft pulling out from having their own ecosystem and platform that they could integrate across various screens. Microsoft has been making apps since the 70's so we all know they're more than capable of creating good apps on other platforms. Microsoft created a lot of good innovation in a short amount of time in the mobile space. It took awhile before a lot of things that Microsoft did became standard on other devices. So we have no idea what the future would have been like if Microsoft stayed in the game. Saying that years later they have some good apps on iOS and Android, doesn't answer that question at all... Not by a long-shot.
  • However, I'd argue at least when windows phone was a thing they were at the very least trying to prioritize it over other platforms. And part of the strategy, if I remember correctly, was to have the more capable app (or in some cases it was built into the OS natively) on windows phone even if it was offered on another platform.
  • They never prioritized their own mobile OS over anything, it was always iOS first, then android then WP/WM at some later point (and more often than not, wasn't even released at all)
  • @theefman, that's how I remember it too. I recall all the angst from WM fans that MS were releasing their best products on Android/iOS first.
  • 2015 data from Forbes magazine:
    Financially Microsoft is one of the biggest winners from the growth of Android as a platform, thanks to its wide range of patents. Samsung's royalty payment to Microsoft in 2013 was for over one billion dollars ($1,041,642,161 and fifty cents), roughly $3.41 per device. With roughly 300 million Android handsets sold last quarter, that could be another billion coming to Redmond.
    If you go with Android's total installed base of 1.808 billion smartphones, at that $3.41 value, Microsoft's take from Android could easily reach six billion dollars.
    Need to say more?
  • I have posted this for years. Microsoft makes money off every Android device that's sold. I never knew why Microsoft didn't use the money they earned from their Android funds and turn it back around and invest it back into their own mobile system. I guess it's better spent as a dividend. I'm not a fan of articles like this, because Microsoft has been investing in Android and iOS for years. This is nothing new.
  • I don't see how this could be "feeding the competitor" when Microsoft will release a Android device!
    If android is where microsoft mobile apps can shine, so be it!
  • If your reason to go Android is to use YourPhone app, do yourself a favor and buy the recent Samsung phone -- it will be half-useful there. There rest of Android manufacturers or 2-year old Samsung phones -- not so much. I would also wait until the silly limitations of YourPhone have been removed... like non-configurable 25 most recent photos, but that might fit your use pattern.
  • The Surface Duo is a no-compromise mobile Surface device! I will have access to all my apps I use daily including my employer's apps. As I watched the Duo reveal during the Oct. 3rd event, I was thinking I would have to give up all my apps except for the Microsoft ones and find work-arounds. Then it was announced that the Duo will run Andriod, I yelled "YES, NO-COMPROMISE!!".
  • I am die hard WP guy, I adapted to change, I went with Pixel 2 XL, an android HW with MSFT services and apps in use. I was ecstatic like you said when it said Android OS, which eliminates the App Gap argument and noise plus MSFT can skin the daylight out of Android to make it theirs and for MSFT services fans. Get this, known fragmentation issues associated with android should not be an issue with MSFT Android device(s)
  • I suppose you don't have to worry about an "app gap" if you're not even in the game. That's how Microsoft dealt with it, let's be honest. By giving up. They gave up on trying to convince developers to support their mobile platform. Although I personally experienced no app gap--everything I wanted or needed was, in fact, available on the Windows mobile platform, and with a much better user experience--that clearly wasn't the case for most. But it's sheer folly to pretend that Microsoft somehow "won" by caving in and simply attaching themselves to the coattails of another OS, this time just hoping to convince users to continue using Microsoft products on someone else's OS. As for your assertion that Android fragmentation won't be an issue, I find this to be quite humorous. There will always be Android fragmentation. It exists extensively now, and will continue so. I'm sitting on an S10 with Android 10 beta--which doesn't support as much as Android 9 did.
  • Fragmentation doesn't matter and never really did. Every phone with Google Play Services will be kept to to date for several years. That is all that matters. When it comes down to reality, Windows phones were more fragmented. There are very few app incompatibilities between Android 4-10 devices as every Android 4 device is still being updated regularly with modern APIs! Looking at Windows phone, version 7 isn't compatible with version 8 apps and they aren't compatible with version 10 apps. The hardware that went into these phones was so far behind many of them weren't updated. That is fragmentation that actually matters.
  • But it hasn't been completely dropped, you are still getting updates and new apps may be compatible. Android 4.4 was released 6 years ago! Not a bad run.
  • @bleached: you are confusing Android the operating system and the Google Play services. In Windows world you argument would have sounded like: kernel.dll has an overflow bug, allowing privilege escalation, but .NET services are still being updated...
  • That is a ridiculously specious argument to make. What you're referring to is generational differences between Microsoft's various efforts in mobile operating systems, not fragmentation within the same generation as is the case with Android. And as for forward compatibility... are you serious? I would no more expect a Windows Phone 7 device to run Windows 10 Mobile apps than I would expect a 1st generation Xbox to play games designed for an Xbox One X. Windows 10 Mobile was *backwards* compatible with Silverlight apps designed for previous generations of Windows phones. It is, however, reasonable to say that anyone with an interest in Windows phones probably agrees that Microsoft badly handled the generational differences in Windows phone platforms and support for older hardware to be upgraded to the newer operating systems.
  • Fragmention, as in one Android phone doesn't look like another or is a version or two behind, doesn't matter at all. That is actually Android's biggest strength and the reason it grew so big. Being open meant freedom for the manufacturers. Freedom from Microsoft's strict rules about their software and compatible hardware. An Android phone from WP7 era is still being updated and is compatible with new apps. You don't expect that of WP7, but "fragmented" Android is doing it.
  • > An Android phone from WP7 era is still being updated and is compatible with new apps. *Some* Android phones from WP7 era could still be updated (I would love to see the concrete example) and *some* new apps might still run on these phones.
  • > Windows 10 Mobile was *backwards* compatible with Silverlight apps No, Silverlight runtime was ported to Windows 10 Mobile... and to the Windows 10 Desktop, and to MacOS... You are confusing (one of) the frameworks for app development with the underlying operating system.
  • When the Duo launches, the "You'll have to pry my Windows Phone from my dead hands" crowd will still find something to moan and groan about. I'm hoping the Surface team will also release a single screen phone device, but the Duo is one device I cannot wait to arrive.
  • I hope they release a single screen version as well. Wife wouldn't want a dual screened device since she doesn't do any productivity. When she does, it's on a Chromebook and that's once in a blue moon. But a single screened phone by Microsoft would probably be something she would adopt, considering she may move away from iOS. She enjoyed Windows phones, (L1020 was her favorite phone ever according to her).
  • There are hundreds of single screen Android phones to choose from and you can put the Microsoft Launcher on them all. Unless she has a specific issue with iOS that Android solves, there really isn't a reason to switch. Android is quite polished these days, but if you are used to iOS, why bother?
  • Did Microsoft Launcher learn to turn landscape? Last time I tried it insisted on portrait operation on Android 9/Pixel XL 2016.
  • seeing my Android Launcher in landscape on a mobile phone sucks a big-time. I hate it (that can never happen on iPhone)
  • I think it's based on screen size. It doesn't do it on my 5.7" phone, but it definitely can turn landscape on my 8" tablet
  • "It turns out, however, that it doesn't matter what the platform is underneath." Yes. Someone finally gets it. No one cares about Operating Systems. The fewer, the better. For users AND developers.
  • Yes, lets forget about all that competition stuff, the foundation of our modern economies, and become beholden to massive mega-corporations like Omni Consumer Products who do everything for us so we don't have to exercise any brain cells making decisions like "what is the best product for my situation?" Since when has competition resulted in better outcomes for consumers anyway?
  • There is plenty of competition. Two is plenty. As someone famously said "I don't see the point in a third mobile OS". Who WAS that genius who realized this obvious truth? Neither did developers see the point. Thus, exit Windows phones, stage left. Just as 2 Operating Systems were plenty for the last 30 years in PCs (Mac and Windows, Linux never went anywhere on the desktop for a reason), 2 mobile Operating Systems are enough today. More than that just causes too much fragmentation and extra work.
  • That might be true if it weren't for things like PWA and UWP, both of which can target Android and iOS too. The operating system itself is becoming obsolete when you can develop once and have your app on all devices. As a developer myself, I target all three, and all of my apps are PWA/UWP
  • So you create mediocre iOS and Android apps so you can also have them work on a dead Windows platform? Makes sense.
  • > The operating system itself is becoming obsolete when you can develop once and have your app on all devices. I have heard this argument around the time the Darthmouth BASIC was introduced... :)
  • I wish Microsoft were allowed to fix Androids God awful file and storage management, I honestly hate this Google world I'm forced to live in but Microsoft makes it as bearable as possible
  • My sentiments precisely.
  • My Windows Pc is not fully sync with my iPhone. Soon, I’m switching to MacOS to get all synced. I don’t worry about Windows because I’m not losing anything. All the windows apps are available on MacOS. Therefore, Windows 10 will die. Maybe windows 10 will be available on another OS just like Cortana.
  • Exactly. MS needs to up the game on IOS to keep from bleeding PC users. And iPhone locked down, blah blah bad excuse. Get it done.
  • I wish I could say the Microsoft on Android experience was anything other than 3rd rate, but I can't. And, as of the S10 beta, there is no support for Cortana at all, which is a critical aspect for me. Just as some others have tried, I, too have attempted to configure Android to bring something resembling feature-parity with the experience I had on Windows phones. Unfortunately, Microsoft seems to be focusing on features I care nothing about at the expense of features that are most important to me. I feel like someone who used to dine on lobster and I'm now settling for carp.
  • @Painfully_Candid, you need to accept MS has moved on from Cortana at least in the consumer space. In fact, I recall MS even stating they were doing this. Look, I