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Should Apple run Android on their iDevices?

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The controversial Steve Wozniak has spoken time and again about Android. Apple’s co-founder, and the engineering genius behind the earliest Apple products, is actually quite fond of Android, it turns out. Woz says he uses an iPhone as his primary device, and has actually admitted being “frustrated” by Android in its early iterations. However, Android has since matured, and Woz has lauded the advantages of the platform in terms of functionality and customization. In an interview a couple of years back, he highlighted that iOS devices are ultimately more user-friendly, but Android offers much more “if you’re willing to do the work to understand it a little bit.”

Interestingly, in a recent interview with Wired at the Apps World North America conference, Wozniak has made a wild suggestion, at least coming from the Apple co-founder. He says Apple should run Android. “There’s nothing that would keep Apple out of the Android market as a secondary phone market,” he said, highlighting that the company “could compete very well.”

Better design?

Woz highlights Apple’s manufacturing prowess, saying the company does better in terms of “stylings and manufacturing” compared with other handset manufacturers. True enough, Apple’s product lines are built with precision, engineering quality and user experience in mind. The design and manufacturing process actually goes through dozens and dozens of tweaks, dummies and prototypes, all under stringent secrecy, before the company actually announces a product or an update. While not everyone might be satisfied with iPhone designs and specs, these devices undoubtedly have “admirable build quality” compared with other devices.

Of course, there’s nothing really stopping Apple from launching an iPhone that runs Android instead of iOS, or Android alongside iOS for that matter. Android is meant to be run on a wide array of devices, and Apple would likewise have to license Google services, in order to provide the best Android experience with the likes of official Google Play, Gmail, Maps and other services.

Would this make sense for Apple? Perhaps offering Android as an alternative might be possible as an after-market modification. Apple’s support for Windows on its MacBook and iMac lines through BootCamp come into mind. Even the third-party Parallels platform lets Mac users run Windows applications right within OS X. The fact that Apple’s notebook and desktop line is powered by Intel makes it easier for the hardware to run Windows. Perhaps the same could also be the case for iPhones and iPads, with their ARM-based SoC.

A suggestion could be for Apple to fork Android, which is the approach that Amazon has taken with its Kindle Fire line of tablets and e-readers. Apple wants greater control of the user experience, after all. And so an iOS-like UX atop Android could be ideal.

But is there an incentive?

But will there be an incentive for Apple to run Android? We have recently been featuring Nokia’s rumored Normandy or Nokia X platform, which is an entry-level to mid-range device reportedly running Android. For Nokia, it makes sense to explore the possibility of marketing an Android device, given Windows Phone’s paltry market share compared with iOS and Android. An Android-based Asha phone (or whichever brand or product line the phone ends up in) would help Nokia regain traction in the low-end market. This also gets Nokia access to the growing Android app marketplace. Even BlackBerry is taking this approach by supporting direct Android APK installation in the latest iteration of BlackBerry OS. In fact, the latest BB OS release runs a stripped-down version of Android Jelly Bean!

Apple, however, does not have a numbers problem, in terms of the size of its application marketplace, and the profitability of its platform for both the company, advertisers and developers.

For all we know, some Apple engineer somewhere might probably be running an experimental build of Android on an iDevice in one of Apple’s secret labs. But to launch a consumer-oriented device running the competition’s operating system might sound a bit crazy.

But wait, wasn’t apple supposed to be for “the crazy ones”?