Now that the same phone can have Windows or Android, will anyone choose Windows?

Read our full HTC One M8 with Windows review.

The launch of the HTC One M8 for Windows smartphone may not have been the biggest or flashiest event of the year, but don’t let this fool you into thinking it wasn’t important. This isn’t “just another new phone.” It’s a crucial release for both HTC and Microsoft, and its success or failure could shape the future of Windows Phone, and help determine HTC’s continued survival.

Microsoft needs some big guns, but it almost feels like it’s out of gas.

Regardless of what you think about Windows Phone, it hasn’t grabbed many buyer by the wallet since it launched in 2010. The buying public’s indifference to it has resulted in a paltry market share. Instead of showing the spritely energy one expects from a young, funky upstart, Windows Phone’s growth is slowing, to the point where it feels like the spawn of very heavy smokers. Industry analysts IDC showed Windows Phone was down to just 2.5 percent market share from 3.4 percent this time last year.

To improve this, Microsoft needs some big guns, but it almost feels like it’s out of gas. Samsung has stopped answering the phone, and Nokia has been the only major supporter of the platform for years. The whirlwind romance had resulted in a shotgun wedding too, and the Microsoft’s Nokia buyout hasn’t reinvigorated the platform yet either. In fact, it’s the opposite. Gone are the days of basketball-dunking executives, and cries of “AWESOME!” at press events, replaced with rumors of canceled projects and uninspired new releases. Microsoft hasn’t even decided whether Nokia phones should take its name or not.

Wheezy, jaded, and desperate

Clearly, something else had to be done. Microsoft needed to rustle up a properly exciting flagship smartphone the world would lust after. It needed to find a new friend, one which was also a little bit wheezy, slightly jaded, but still up for a challenge. A whiff of desperation wouldn’t go amiss either. On the prowl like an aging rock star, Microsoft found HTC in a bar, and as The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me played over the speakers, they found solace in each others arms.

HTC’s current situation isn’t all that different to Microsoft’s. It makes one of the very best Android smartphones available, and certainly the most attractive, but it doesn’t sell in the same numbers as devices from its competitors. It doesn’t crack IDC’s list of the world’s top five smartphone firms, putting its market share at less than 5 percent. Baffled, HTC has resorted to trying celebrity endorsements and weird advertising campaigns to pull in customers, but with limited success.

HTC One M8 for Windows

It knows there’s nothing wrong with the hardware, so what about swapping the software out for something else? It’s no coincidence HTC was in that bar, waiting for Microsoft to flash some cash. Transplanting Android for Windows Phone isn’t brave, or a last ditch attempt to win hearts, but a solid, calculated action that could be exactly what’s needed to revitalize sales. There are parallels with Nokia’s dilemma right before it adopted Windows Phone, only HTC is smart enough that it has pledged to continue supporting Android, too.

We want the same thing

Both HTC and Microsoft are looking for the same thing: Recognition. It’s not about success directly, but more about walking, talking, and looking like a success, regardless of market statistics. Do this convincingly and you instantly become more attractive.

Don’t for one minute think that hearts aren’t pounding at the thought of what’s at stake here.

HTC’s One M8 is the epitome of that model. If it were a person, it would have a high-flying job, drive a Porsche 911, speak with a posh accent, and walk with a confident stride that would make an Ultimate Fighting Champion look withdrawn. HTC’s choice of language at the launch event backs this up, saying the new One M8 was the best Android phone, and now the best Windows Phone. Take that, Nokia! You’re the has-been. Not HTC.

Outwardly, everyone’s brimming with confidence, but don’t for one minute think that hearts aren’t pounding at the thought of what’s at stake here. For Microsoft, it’s a test of whether the previous lack of cool, pulse-raising hardware was holding Windows Phone back, or if it’s that the software just isn’t desirable at all. For HTC, it’s a test of whether walking where others fear to tread can pay off, or if there’s a good reason why nobody is exploring Windows Phone at the moment.

Ultimately, it all comes down to you and me. If you’re teetering on the edge of the Windows Phone cliff, then does the presence of the OS on a phone that is identical to a modern, top-spec Android device push you to take the final step? The worried faces at Microsoft and HTC are both really hope you’ll bite.

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