More evidence that Microsoft's plan to port Android apps is dead

Nothing is confirmed, but Microsoft isn't talking about the project at all.

Microsoft's Project Astoria, a plan to build an emulator for Windows Phone that would allow Android apps to run without requiring a recompile, appears to be on hold for unknown reasons.

Windows Central has dug up evidence that the project, one of four announced at the Build conference earlier this year, has been put on indefinite hold, but it did not ascertain why. The site says Microsoft is not openly talking about it anymore, or even privately discussing it with developers.

One source said "the Android app porting is not going as planned."

At the Build show, Microsoft announced four projects for porting software to Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile. They are: Project Westminster, for porting Web apps; Project Centennial, for porting Win32 apps; Project Islandwood, for porting iOS apps to Windows Phone; and Project Astoria.

Astoria was the only one where the apps were emulated rather than ported. Early Insider builds of this layer for Windows 10 Mobile let consumers sideload APK files directly, which made piracy easy and also disincentivized developers to make native versions of Windows apps anymore.

Windows Central points to other signs that Astoria is dead in the water: 

  • The Project Astoria forums have gone silent since September, with developer questions unanswered by Microsoft, including inquiries about the project's future.
  • Recent Windows 10 Mobile Insider builds have had the Android subsystem completely removed, including build 10586 (commercial shipping release).
  • Microsoft is no longer openly talking about the project, even under NDA.

It also said the Astoria team was 60 to 80 people, versus five for Islandwood. Porting iOS apps is apparently a lot easier than running Android apps in emulation. WC says Islandwood is doing well and that the upcoming Facebook universal app for Windows 10 looks to be an iOS port. 

Microsoft responded to me with the same comment it sent to Windows Central: 

"We're committed to offering developers many options to bring their apps to the Windows Platform, including bridges available now for Web and iOS, and soon Win32. The Astoria bridge is not ready yet, but other tools offer great options for developers. For example, the iOS bridge enables developers to write a native Windows Universal app which calls UWP APIs directly from Objective-C, and to mix and match UWP and iOS concepts such as XAML and UIKit. Developers can write apps that run on all Windows 10 devices and take advantage of native Windows features easily. We're grateful to the feedback from the development community and look forward to supporting them as they develop apps for Windows 10."

If Astoria does up and die, is it really a big loss? Almost any app worth having is on both iOS and Android, and if it's a major one, it will get ported. So long as Islandwood goes forward, Astoria wouldn't be a tremendous loss.

But the need for Islandwood still underscores a major problem with Windows Phone: it doesn't have apps, and it doesn’t have major app vendor support. Its app store is still sorely lacking. It's a shame. I've owned Windows Phones and I like the OS and the tiles system, but found it missing one popular Apple app after another. Microsoft needs to work on that.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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