If the release of the Surface Duo wasn’t enough sign that Microsoft is getting more used to Android, how about this? A report from Windows Central claims that Microsoft is working to build support for Android apps into Windows 10.
The effort is codenamed “Project Latte,” and according to the report, it would “enable app developers to bring their Android apps to Windows 10 with little to no code changes.” The Android-on-Windows apps would be packaged as an MSIX file and distributed through the Windows Store.
Much of the hard work for this has already been done, thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that already ships in Windows 10. WSL is a virtualized Linux kernel in Windows, making it easy to deploy developer-focused Linux tools. run through the Windows command line. Microsoft is also testing support for Linux GUI apps in WSL and GPU acceleration. Android, which runs the Linux kernel, is expected to plug into the WSL for app support, so Microsoft primarily needs to deploy a version of the Android Runtime (ART), which already runs on Linux, is open source, and has x86 compatibility has. Unofficially, it is already possible to run Android apps on WSL using Anbox, a project dedicated to running Android apps on full GNU/Linux.
Microsoft wouldn’t be the first to build support for Android apps into another operating system. Google does it in-house with Chrome OS, allowing the company’s web-facing laptops to run all of your favorite phone apps. For running OS developers, too, Android apps are often seen as a solution to close the app gap. Blackberry tried to stay afloat in the OS wars by building Android support into Blackberry 10, but eventually gave up and just started producing true Android devices before leaving the market. Samsung’s “Android killer” Tizen OS has an “application compatibility layer” that runs Android apps on the Linux-based operating system. Jolla’s Sailfish OS, an operating system billed as the spiritual successor to Nokia’s MeeGo OS, also supports Android apps.
Microsoft also thought this was a great idea in 2015, when the now-cancelled “Project Astoria” was supposed to bring Android support to Windows 10 Mobile. The next company to venture into this ball is Huawei, which, following the US export ban, wants to develop its own “Harmony OS” for smartphones with support for Android apps (after passing them through a special compiler).
The disadvantages of non-Google Android are known at this point. Android-on-Windows doesn’t have access to the Play Store or Google Play Services, which many apps depend on for things like Google-issued login, push notifications, maps APIs, and a million other things. Windows would basically count as an Android fork. For apps written for the non-Google ecosystem, you can simply run your favorite apps, assuming a browser version of them is no longer preferred.
The report says that Microsoft “hopes to announce Project Latte next year and could ship as part of the fall 2021 release of Windows 10.”