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Amazon Appstore on Windows 11 and WSA unplugged

Windows Subsystem for Android loading screen on Windows 11
Windows Subsystem for Android loading screen on Windows 11

Microsoft's recent announcement regarding the sunset of Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA) means the end of Amazon Appstore on Windows 11. This ripple is being felt throughout the tech press, sparking discussions about the company's technology shifts and the implications for users and developers alike. Here's an extract of Amazon's email

In this article, we delve into the murk surrounding this decision, examining its possible  background, reasons, impact, industry response, and future implications. Here is Microsofts announcement:

TL:DR: Microsoft has thrown in the towel. Use a Chromebook or an Android tablet if you want seamless Android. Use an Emulator from Android Studio if you want recently updated emulators of Android devices.

Contents

  1. Signs that a decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android was inevitable
    • Brief overview of the impact on users and the tech community
  2. What was the Windows Subsystem for Android?
    • Description of Windows Subsystem for Android
    • History of its development and integration into Windows operating systems
    • Key features and functionalities provided by the subsystem
  3. Possible Reasons for Microsoft's Decision
    • Industry and technical challenges leading to the sunset of Windows Subsystem for Android
  4. Impact on Users and Developers
    • Discussion of how the sunset affects users who rely on Windows Subsystem for Android
    • Potential alternatives
    • Implications for developers who have built apps or services for the subsystem
  5. Industry Response and Speculations
    • Reactions from the tech community to Microsoft's decision
    • Speculations on the future direction of Microsoft's cross-platform integration efforts
    • Insights into how competitors may capitalize on this move
  6. Conclusion
    • Recap of the significance of Microsoft's decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android
    • Final thoughts on the implications for users, developers, and the broader tech ecosystem

Signs that a decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android was inevitable

Microsoft's decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android came as a surprise to many, although not to us, as we've been here before, when BackBerry integrated Android API's and delivered the Amazon App Store in BackBerry 10, a late recussitation effort as part of the spiral into oblivion for their entire mobile phone empire.

Despite the initial excitement of a public preview in February 2022, followed by roughly bi-monthly releases there has been no release this Microsoft financial year, the last being June 2023. The fact that there have been no releases in over six months is a bellweather for any project. And with Microsoft, the financial year signals new objectives and intent or in this case, the lack of same.

Reading theough the innocuous sounding one liner release notes for the project you can see signs that indicate herculean development effort was undertaken. Take "Windows Subsystem for Android updated to Android 13" from January 2023. Imagine how much work, build, and integration testing that would have involved.

Nevertheless the move to end of life clarifies that the WSL approach to Android on Windows is, to Microsoft, a dead end. 

Brief overview of the impact on users

The only users who are impacted are those who rely on Windows Subsystem for Android for running Android apps downloaded from the Amazon App Store on their Windows devices. This cannot be a large group of users. The Amazon App Store is not Google Play, and does not have quite the same rich marketplace of apps, and crucially, cannot legitimately support Google Play Services meaning that apps which require them for example for push notifications just won't work out of the box. Its just too much effort to support a third App Store and its services for most App developers, so the Amazon App Store, with some notable exceptions, misses out.

What was the Windows Subsystem for Android?

Amazon Appstore on Windows 11

Description of Windows Subsystem for Android

Windows Subsystem for Android, introduced by Microsoft in 2022, aimed to bridge the gap between Windows and Android ecosystems by enabling users to run Android apps natively on Windows devices using a virtual machine technology. It is a Virtual Machine running the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) more or less as is, packaged up for the Windows Store, front ended with the Amazon App Store app as a way to install Android apps.

History of its development and integration into Windows operating systems

The development of Windows Subsystem for Android traces back to Microsoft's efforts to enhance the interoperability of its platforms and the success of the Windows Subsystem for Linux in providing users with seamless technology that worked with them inside of Windows. Competitively Microsoft's mobile app support in Windows has been somewhat lamentable since the demise of Windows Phone. macOS and ChromeOS have had great mobile device integrated and emulated capabilities for years now. All current Mac computers can run iOS apps direct from the App Store, and all current Chromebooks support both Linux and Android through virtualisation and crucially the Android support on ChromeBooks is completely seamless and includes the Google Play store.

Key features and functionalities provided by the Windows Subsystem for Android

Among its notable features were support for running Android apps with full integration into the Windows environment, including access to notifications, file systems, and hardware peripherals. Here's a table of what was ✅ available or ❌ unavailable on the date of the announcement of end of support, from Microsoft's GitHub (MIT licence). There are some massive areas of development still required for a tuly seamless integration with the Windows host.

Current FeaturesFuture Roadmap
❌ Android Widgets
✅ Certain Audio Codecs
✅ Camera (front + back)
✅ ClearKey DRM or MPEG-DASH content
✅ CTS/VTS
❌ Direct Bluetooth access (and BLE)
✅ Ethernet
❌ File Backup/restore
❌ File transfer
✅ Freeform window management
✅ Gamepad
❌ Hardware DRM
✅ Location + GPS
✅ Microphone
✅ Multi-monitor/secondary display
✅ Picture-in-picture
✅ Print
❌ Quick tiles
✅ Software DRM (Widevine L3 support)
✅ Touch/Multitouch
❌ USB
✅ Certain Video Decoders and Encoders
✅ WebView
✅ Wi-Fi
✅ Window orientation
✅ Android 13
⏩ File transfer
⏩ Shortcuts
⏩ Local network access by default

Table: Microsoft WSA GitHub https://github.com/microsoft/WSA

Possible reasons for Microsoft's Decision

No prospect of Google Play and Google Play Services support makes the project not viable

Google Plays 10th anniversary rebrand (Press Centre image)

Several factors may have contributed to Microsoft's decision, including shifts in the company's strategic priorities, technical challenges encountered during development, and evolving market dynamics but there is no bigger gorilla in the room than the lack of support for Google Play. This is why the BlackBerry 10 example cited earlier is so important. Without Google Play and Google Play Services BackBerry could never deliver the apps required to be successful in the mobile phone OS arena at the time. BackBerry World (its own original App Store) failed, the Amazon App Store on BlackBerry 10 failed. BackBerry management, I believe, couldn't countenance the licencing requirement of installing Gmail, Maps, Photos, Calendar, Google Play Services including push notifications and so on pre-installed on their devices. Ultimately the whole operating system failed and BackBerry faded away.

Without Google Play and Google Play Services the number of relevant apps available is limited by the Amazon App Store to the point where the Windows Subsystem for Android becomes a toy and not a widespread useful tool like for example the Windows Subsystem for Linux has proven to be.

Update: 7th March 2024, this is all but confirmed by a PM Leader, presumably from Microsoft on 𝕏. 

Tweet explaining Google walked away, so WSA didnt have Play Services
Tweet explaining Google walked away, so WSA didnt have Play Services - (1765095934101438536)

You could sideload apps on to the device using the developer tool Android Debug Bridge (ADB) but that was never going to attract anyone but developers and tech hobbyists and was almost disavowed by Microsoft.

Google would likely never licence Play Services and Play Store without applying its rules about installation of Googles apps and services, and Microsoft would likely never want to embark on such a licence discussion on its own Windows platform.

In concusion. Android may well be open source through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), but Google licences Google Play and Google Play services under fairly strict criteria and this is a significant control point over the platform. The only significant vendor to bypass this control point so far has been Amazon with their own AOSP derived Fire OS and the Amazon App Store. But demand for Fire OS is fuelled by cheap brilliant tablets for consuming Amazon content like movies, music, books and games. Its a false equivalence to think Amazon App Store on AOSP on Windows could harness any of that success.

Impact on Users and Developers

Discussion of how the sunset affects users who rely on Windows Subsystem for Android

Users accustomed to running Android apps on their Windows devices using Windows Subsystem for Android will have to find another solution. Its over.

Potential alternatives

In light of Microsoft's decision, users may explore alternative methods or third-party solutions for running Android apps on Windows devices. There are many of these of varying technologies and capabilities. My thought is that the mose likely to be kepts up to date with long term roadmap and current versions of Android is Android Studio itself from Google. This is an Android Development environment, but it also includes the latest Android OS emulators. We've written about how to install and use it extensively on this site. For example here Installing Android Studio Canary for Mac (Apple silicon).

Implications for developers who have built apps or services for the subsystem

Developers who invested time and resources in building apps or services for Windows Subsystem for Android will need to reassess their strategies and explore alternative distribution channels or platforms to reach their target audience. There is no point continuing with this journey. Existing code specifically added to support Windows Subsystem for Android should be deprecated. 

Industry Response and Speculations

Reactions from the tech community to Microsoft's decision

The press response to Microsoft's decision has been univeral in its highlighting of the issues of lack of support of Google Play, while some have expressed disappointment or frustration while others have speculated about wider malaise in the company's future plans.

Speculations on the future direction of Microsoft's cross-platform integration efforts

Microsoft's decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android raises questions about the company's broader cross-platform integration efforts and its commitment to supporting diverse ecosystems in the long run. 

Insights into how competitors may capitalize on this move

Apple and Google already offer compelling developer operating system tooling to enable developers to build iOS and Android apps including emulation of iOS on Mac computers and Android on PC's Macs and Chromebooks. More ordinary end users who don't develop apps can use a Mac or a Chromebook today to use iOS or Andoid apps from the App Store or from Google Play. Its not clear to me that competitors have more work to do. Microsoft has simply thrown in the towel.

Conclusion

Recap of the significance of Microsoft's decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android

Microsoft's decision to sunset Windows Subsystem for Android marks a significant turning point in the company's cross-platform strategy and underscores the challenges of bridging the gap between disparate ecosystems. The Windows Subsystem for Android delivered Android apps via the Amazon AppStore, the only mainstream successful Android alternative to Google Play. In our opinion Google Play could never be legitimately made available to the Windows Subsystem for Android due to licencing pre-requisites unlikely to be palatable to either side. In our opinion developers likely already use more flexible technical tools like Android Studio. Consequently, again, in our opinion, the adoption of the Windows Subsystem for Android was too narrow to sustain its development.

Update: These opinions now appear to be confirmed.

Apparent confirmation that Amazon Appstore was the weakest link in WSA
Apparent confirmation that Amazon Appstore was the weakest link in WSA – 1765081967257931791

Final thoughts on the implications for users, developers, and the broader tech ecosystem

As you look at the amount of effort put in by Microsoft, and presumably Amazon and others, into the Windows Subsystem for Android, its clear that it has been wasted. It is a cautionary tale in investing eraly in new project developments by big tech which might be subject to cancellation. It is easy to say 'could have told you this would happen' after the fact. But there must have been sufficient of a business case for revenue from the Amazon Appstore to take the project forward in the first place. This appears misguided.

WSA found out too late that Google exert control over Android via Play Services
WSA found out too late that Google exert control over Android via Play Services

Every time I've been asked to take an app which uses Play Services to the Amazon Appstore its been prohibitively expensive or unsupported by the development tools being used or both, so the barrier to entry here is high.

Whatever you concluded about this episode I can't help thinking it is better to stop projects that are never going to get to fruition rather than leave them on minimal support to gradually decline.


 See also 

Update: 20:20 7th March 2024: It appears I am correct to point at lack of adoption of Amazon Appstore and absence of Google Play Services and Google Play as being the likely reason for the project failure. I have updated the article with confirmation from a PM leader presumably from Microsoft on 𝕏 referred to in this article – https://9to5google.com/2024/03/07/windows-subsystem-for-android-shutdown-reason/