Getting developers to create apps for the mobile Windows platform has been a real problem for Microsoft for many years now. Developers have been coding for iOS and Android where the most of the people (and the money) live. However, if Microsoft can bring its plan to fruition, to have at least one billion Windows 10 devices in service within three years, that barrier to success may fall.
This plan was announced at the Microsoft Build 2015 Conference, and it included one clever and long overdue twist. Microsoft will now provide the tools necessary for developers to port their existing apps from the iOS and Android platforms to the Universal Windows Platform. This is a variation of the "if you build it, they will come" Field of Dreams theory. If porting apps to one billion Windows 10 devices is easy, then why wouldn't developers do it?
Universal Windows Platform
The key component for this strategy is the Universal Windows Platform, which allows developers to code once and have their app work and display properly on any device that runs Windows 10. Using Visual Studio tools, developers can create apps for PCs, tablets, phones, HoloLens, Surface Hub, Xbox, and Raspberry Pi.
But there's more to the Microsoft plan, because the company also announced tools that will allow developers to port their existing Android and iOS apps to the Windows 10 platform with minimal additional coding.
Build a bridge to somewhere
For existing Android developers and apps, there's a new runtime called Project Astoria available. These tools will allow developers to code for Windows 10 mobile devices from within their familiar Android IDE.
In similar fashion, Project Islandwood will give existing iOS developers the ability to code for those one billion Windows devices by importing Xcode directly into Visual Studio, where the existing code will be extended to include Universal Windows Platform capabilities.
These tools, along with other tools designed to make app presentation on the Microsoft Store easier to accomplish and more consistent across devices, will help the company grow its database of available mobile apps. If more apps are available for Windows 10 users, then the "lack of apps" stigma often applied to Microsoft Mobile devices will disappear.
Microsoft has finally realized that having solid hardware—in the form of Lumina smartphones, for example—is not enough. Users, regardless of platform, want the apps they want. When Kate Upton appears on television commercials during the Super Bowl touting the joys of playing Game of War, she's not talking to users of Windows smartphones... at least not yet. The future of Microsoft is riding on the success of this code-porting plan.
With the availability of Project Islandwood and Project Astoria, developers can now port their apps to the Windows 10 platform quickly and with very little additional labor. This means more paying customers for them and more revenue for Microsoft. A rare win-win scenario.
The only remaining question I have is: Do these tools work as advertised? We'd like to hear from developers who have tried it. Are the tools solid, or is this just pie-in-the-sky marketing malarkey? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.