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Of Microsoft’s many challenges in mobile, none loom larger than the app deficit: it only takes a popular new title like Flappy Bird to highlight what the company is missing out on. Windows 8 apps are also few and far between, and Microsoft is stuck in a position where it’s struggling to generate developer interest in its latest style of apps across phones and tablets. Some argue Microsoft should dump Windows Phone and create its own "forked" version of Android — not unlike what Amazon has done with its Kindle Fire tablets — while others claim that’s an unreasonably difficult task. With a new, mobile- and cloud-focused CEO in place, Nokia's decision to build an Android phone, and rumors of Android apps coming to Windows, could we finally see Microsoft experimenting with Google’s forbidden fruit?

Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company is seriously considering allowing Android apps to run on both Windows and Windows Phone. While planning is ongoing and it's still early, we’re told that some inside Microsoft favor the idea of simply enabling Android apps inside its Windows and Windows Phone Stores, while others believe it could lead to the death of the Windows platform altogether. The mixed (and strong) feelings internally highlight that Microsoft will need to be careful with any radical move.

The Android decision will ultimately fall on the shoulders of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Why would Microsoft want to do any of this? The answer is simple: "embrace, extend, and extinguish." It’s a phrase Microsoft used internally to describe its own strategy for disrupting standards and competitors in the 1990s. While Microsoft has been trying every trick to convince developers to build for Windows Phone and Windows, it has to answer the mobile reality the company faces. Embracing Android and extending it to the Windows and Windows Phone app stores could help Microsoft temporarily in the app race, but it might also stem the flow of consumers choosing Android- and iOS-based smartphones and tablets.

Consumers sign in to Android devices with their Google accounts, and in to iOS with their iCloud accounts. By comparison, relatively few are using Windows 8 machines or Windows Phones to sign in to Microsoft’s own cloud services. Microsoft is making moves with OneDrive and other apps across Windows, iOS, and Android, but the overall app shortage on Windows and Windows Phone is the larger concern. If Android apps or even Office, OneDrive, and other services on rival operating systems help pull people over to Microsoft’s devices and platforms, then it might not matter if consumers are opting to use Android or "Metro" apps on Windows or Windows Phone, as long as they’re using a Microsoft account to sign in to their device and utilizing Microsoft’s services. Nokia’s upcoming "Normandy" Android handset will also push consumers towards Microsoft’s services, alongside having the benefits of being a low-cost handset running some popular Android apps.

For Microsoft, the idea of Android apps running on Windows is as much about preventing more consumers moving to Android as it is building up consumer use of its cloud services. If Microsoft can convince more consumers to purchase its own Windows-powered devices because they now have access to key Android apps, then that might just help its own tablet and smartphone prospects. While any realistic implementation of Android apps on Windows will not likely be ready until Microsoft’s Windows 9 work is ready in 2015 at the earliest, if at all, Microsoft faces an ongoing battle over the cloud and the long, slow decline of the PC in consumer markets. The software giant is also considering free versions of Windows Phone and Windows RT to entice OEMs to produce devices, but embracing Android and enabling it could be the next step. Microsoft is never going to "extinguish" Android, but its long-term success requires that consumers look at its hardware and services seriously. Windows 8 was enough of a big risk on the PC side, but Microsoft now has to decide whether it wants to make an equally big — and unorthodox — bet on mobile.

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