Windows 8 cobranding with Android may backfire for Microsoft

All business in the front and party in the back, this category is the mullet of mobile devices.

At CES, dual-boot devices running Windows 8.1 and Android revealed a conflicted situation for Microsoft. In the struggle to make Windows 8 relevant in mobile, the OS has been cobranded with Android on these devices.

Microsoft’s OEMs missed the point. Relevancy is measured in terms of digital life, the amount of time mobile users spend engaged with a mobile internet ecosystem. According to Chetan Sharma’s research, Microsoft ranks seventh in importance. In a similar unpublished interactive survey of 300 industry insiders at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco, Google led the digital life market, with Apple in second place, while Microsoft finished in the back of the pack.

With dual-boot tablets and notebooks, Microsoft is willfully sacrificing valuable digital life for Windows 8. As Richard Windsor of Radio Free Mobile reported from CES:

"The idea is that the user uses Windows 8.1 when he or she is working and Android when at leisure. This is a crazy proposition as the whole point of Windows 8 is to make an environment that is optimized for both use cases, and it’s telling that the OEMs feel the need to add something else."

Splitting productivity time using a keyboard with Windows 8 and then rebooting for leisure time via gestures with Android just compounds the problem, because it stagnates users’ curiosity to search for new Windows 8 apps. This reduces some much-needed traffic to the Windows app store, which, compared to Android and iOS, is currently a ghost town.

Dual-boot teaches a user to boot Windows 8 for compatibility with Microsoft’s old ecosystem and to boot Android to use the new mobile ecosystem. This points to a glaring problem. If Microsoft is to fix this, Windows 8 users need a reason to spend their entire digital life in the Windows 8 ecosystem; when the user toggles from desktop to mobile they have to think –there’s an app for that – and download a Windows app.

Once upon a time, Windows users helped one another make Windows applications work. Given the dominance of earlier Windows versions, Microsoft had an army of users to help other users make Windows work. Mobile has completely changed user behavior. Mobile users download an app, give it a few seconds to satisfy the need that influenced them to download it, and if the app fails, they uninstall it and try the next app in the category. According to NetMarketshare, Microsoft retains 91% of the desktop market share, but Windows 8 only accounts for 10% of that. So a user’s chance of solving a Windows 8 problem through the help of another user who understands Windows 8 is only one in 10. According to Windsor:

"The Metro [the old name for the Windows 8 UI] user experience is perfectly capable of offering a good experience for Digital Life."

If Microsoft is to become relevant in mobile, it needs to convince users of the value of this UI without the army of helpers it once had. Cobranding with Android doesn’t help, it hurts. Dual boot and virtualization isn’t a solution any longer in the consumer mobile market because app developers motivated by a good business model in target devices will port their apps. Dual boot emphasizes the limited number of apps available for Windows 8, and proves that Microsoft has not convinced users that it’s a good OS to begin with.

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