Switched On: ­­­Behind enemy lines

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology. This week marks the ninth anniversary of the column.

DNP Switched On Behind enemy lines

A decade ago this month, and a year before the debut of Switched On, Apple made the decision to release iTunes for Windows following what was reportedly a profanity-laced debate among Apple's executive team. The decision cemented the iPod's place as the best-selling portable media player and started the company's string of successes beyond the PC.

Most of the time, the various major ecosystem vendors work on improving their own products and helping their closest partners. However, sometimes companies see an opportunity to plant seeds in the gardens of their competitors for a variety of reasons. For example, Google Maps for iOS became a priority after Google was booted as Apple's default maps provider. Microsoft's SmartGlass, which runs on iOS and Android devices, allows the Xbox more flexibility in creating a second-screen experience, while the Wii U bears the expense of a tablet in every box. Apple's Boot Camp seemed like a value-add that required nominal effort once the company switched the Mac to Intel processors.

But two recent moves -- or at least reports of them -- by Google and Microsoft would have the two rivals transplanting their hearts right into the chests of competitors, presumably to have them burst through the host like a creature from Alien.

"Chrome OS" in Windows 8

Chrome and its namesake OS have been gaining market share, in part because of the low price of Chromebooks. And while its move to Android and iOS has shored up Chrome's numbers, the desktop is still important. Browser vendors haven't rushed to embrace Microsoft's "Modern" touch interface, but an experimental version of Chrome would create a Chrome OS-like user interface as a full-screen app in Windows if Chrome were the default browser.

On one hand, just about any Modern app is good news for Microsoft these days.

On one hand, just about any Modern app is good news for Microsoft these days. However, the design of Chrome OS is about as much of a true Modern app as Office is these days. And ultimately, the progress of Chrome, with its focus on HTML-based apps that look and act virtually the same everywhere, further compromises the differentiation that all OS vendors are seeking to achieve.

Windows Phone on Android

Unlike the implementation of the Chrome OS interface as a Modern Windows 8 app, Microsoft is apparently talking to hardware partners about putting the full Windows Phone operating system in Android devices. This might involve using the same phone hardware for both operating systems or actually dual-booting the same phone with Android and Windows Phone.

The former option would represent a bit of a throwback as many of the first Windows Phones had guts largely repurposed from Android devices -- but not from state-of-the-art ones. Now, though, Windows Phone supports a broader array of components as well as larger screens and faster processors, which might make parity easier. Besides, with Microsoft's imminent move to produce its own hardware, and with overwhelming market share in the Windows Phone category, it may care less about differentiation from third parties.

The dual-boot scenario is harder to picture.

The dual-boot scenario is harder to picture. Dual-boot options require a restart by definition. And while phone boot-up times can be faster than those of a PC, that kind of switching isn't very convenient on the go. Some have criticized the amount of extra space that two operating systems might take up on a phone with limited resources. If Microsoft really wants to reach out to Android users, another option could be offering support for Android apps riding on top of its operating system, similar to what BlueStacks has done. However, as we've seen from BlackBerry, adopting Android compatibility can be a double-edged sword that lowers the incentive to produce native apps.

When one is behind enemy lines, there's a greater risk of being captured.