The feature is, as of February 2022, only available to select Windows users, and members of the Windows Insider Program, so it’s still very much a preview feature – but it will continue to be improved and rollout to more users over the course of 2022.
While this may be a new feature for Windows, the ability to run Android apps in a Windows environment has existed for some time – Using a process known as emulation. Windows’ inbuilt virtualization is a form of emulation (Virtual Machines). Essentially, what it does is launch a piece of self-contained software that hosts the relevant software you want to run. So, instead of having a separate device that runs Android, you have a piece of software running as a virtual device on your Windows system, which in turn runs Android software inside it.
Because of the differences in how Android and Windows hardware and software are built, it’s not really possible to make one piece of software run on another operating system without some kind of emulation to “translate” between the two.
Another important point to note is that Windows’ access to Android apps is done through Amazon Appstore – you’re required to have an account with Amazon to download and install apps, and the available apps are limited. This is partly because most versions of Android run software called “Google Play Services” in the background, and some apps have come to rely on this to work. Because Microsoft has not partnered with Google, apps that require Google Play Services will not work, limiting the available apps.
There is a possibility that something may be worked out between Microsoft and Google in the future to assist, but since they are in direct competition with each other, it seems pretty unlikely, at least for the moment.
Solutions such as Bluestacks and other similar Android emulators have been around for some time, but of course, this means you have to install and trust additional third parties with your data – which may not be desirable for some users. The difference here is that Microsoft is taking steps to build it into Windows to give users more options without turning to third-party solutions.
In some senses, it’s an acknowledgement by Microsoft that other platforms (Android in this case) have some software and features that Windows users might want to use and benefit from. Since the pandemic began, people have been working from home more, and not necessarily on Windows devices either. Chromebooks have seen quite a surge, and of course, with Chrome OS comes the ability to run Android’s huge selection of software. By including a way to use some of that library alongside the existing huge library for Windows, Microsoft may add something very valuable for its users.
While this feature is only available to a small selection of users, and has some pretty hefty system requirements (you can’t run it without a relatively new processor and an SSD, currently) and some large caveats, it’s interesting to see the direction that Microsoft are looking to take for the future, to open up the platform and widen its usability rather than restrict its users to apps built only for Windows.
Potential future versions of this software could see better support for a wider variety of useful apps and tools, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they can do with it.