The move marks a radical shift in strategy for the world’s biggest software company, which still dominates the personal computer market but has failed to get any real traction on tablets and phones, partly because of a lack of apps.
Microsoft has found itself in a circular trap, as many developers will not build apps for Windows phones which have few users, and few people want the phones which have fewer apps than Android or Apple Inc phones.
Allowing Android apps onto its phones and tablets could be a shortcut to breaking out of that trap. But the strategy runs the risk of making Windows phones less attractive if they are merely seen as emulations of Android devices.
“The only approach to succeed today is to recognise the multiple developer ecosystems out there,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at tech research firm IDC.
Microsoft executive Terry Myerson made the announcement at the company’s developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.
He said Windows phones will run a subsystem which would enable them to run apps written in Android code, although the phones would still use extensions provided by Windows.
For example, an Android restaurant-finding app would automatically use Microsoft’s Bing maps for directions rather than Google’s maps, as it would on an Android phone. That is a crucial distinction because Google gets revenue from ads on services rather than from the Android system itself.
Myerson also said Microsoft’s developer software will be compatible with Objective C, the main programming language used by Apple, meaning that it should be easy for developers to bring their iOS apps to Windows phones.
Google declined to comment. Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Microsoft, which bought Nokia’s handset business last year, has only 3 percent of the global smartphone market. By contrast, Android phones, led by Samsung (005930.KS), control 81 percent of the market and Apple 15 percent, according to Strategy Analytics.
Microsoft is scheduled to release its new Windows 10 operating system this summer, which for the first time will run across PCs, tablets and phones.
Microsoft shares fell 0.4 percent to $48.96 on Nasdaq at mid-afternoon-Reuters