Microsoft's invasion of Android phones just took a new turn. Up until now, the company has strong-armed device makers into pre-installing Microsoft apps on Android phones. With the Samsung Galaxy S8, however, Microsoft is selling its own version of the phone called the Samsung Galaxy S8 Microsoft Edition. (There’s also a Galaxy S8+ edition.)
The specialized phone comes with “Microsoft customization” that is applied when it's unboxed and connected to Wi-Fi. Microsoft says the customization adds a “best-in-class productivity experience with Microsoft applications such as Office, OneDrive, Cortana, Outlook” and so on.
It sounds like these phones are just generic Galaxy S8 devices with a special script built-in that automatically downloads Microsoft’s various Android apps when you set it up. It’s not clear if Microsoft also downloads its Next Lock Screen as part of the experience.
The Microsoft Edition phones are available for pre-order now and start shipping on April 21. You can’t order them online, however. They're only available from Microsoft retail stores in the U.S. That suggests this is a trial program to gauge public interest in a Microsoft-centric Android phone. It’s not known if Microsoft has ambitions beyond that.
The story behind the story: The Galaxy S8 Microsoft Edition is an interesting turn of events for the company’s approach to Android. Samsung and Microsoft first signed a cross-license patent agreement in 2011 that resulted in Samsung paying licensing fees to Microsoft. A dispute over payments in 2015 changed that deal and although the terms of the new deal weren’t publicized, Samsung began pre-loading Microsoft apps on its phones and tablets soon after.
The deal with Samsung may have expired, forcing Microsoft to take a different approach. That’s just speculation, but the reality should become clearer if more Microsoft Edition Samsung phones show up in the coming years.