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Next up for Microsoft: Close the app gap

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 22, 2015
While eyes will be on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. campus today as it touts Windows 10 for consumers, its Build developer conference slated to start in three months will be just as important to the upgrade's future, analysts said today.

While eyes will be on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. campus today as it touts Windows 10 for consumers, its Build developer conference slated to start in three months will be just as important to the upgrade's future, analysts said today.

At Build, which will run April 29-May 1 in San Francisco, Microsoft must make the case for Windows 10 to developers, who have largely shunned its separate mobile and touch-based app ecosystems in favor of Google's Android and Apple's iOS.

"It will be critical how they engage developers," said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in tracking the technology company's moves. "Making it as easy to develop once for all Microsoft platforms is key."

"They have to be clear, both for consumers and developers, how they will benefit from this 'universal' app approach," added Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

Both were referring to what Microsoft has called "universal" Windows apps, ones that allow developers to call the same APIs and leverage much of the same code to create software designed for multiple devices, from smartphones and tablets to PCs and hybrids. Universal apps — and the associated single OS, that concept dubbed "OneCore" — are the cornerstones of Microsoft's effort to decrease development time and expense, and thus tempt more to commit to the currently-anemic platform.

Microsoft is expected to focus on Windows 10's universal apps at Build.

Before the launch of Windows 8, then-CEO Steve Ballmer boasted that Modern app developers — Microsoft once dubbed them "Metro" apps — would have hundreds of millions of customers, basing that on the number of PCs sold annually, plus anticipated upgraders. "It's going to create a heck of a lot of opportunity for folks in this room to make millions," Ballmer claimed in October 2012.

That opportunity did not materialize when Windows 8 stumbled badly. Microsoft hopes to reignite developer interest and make up for the lost three years by first, streamlining app creation, and second, pushing all Windows users, on all platforms, toward 10, where they become potential app customers.

Even though the experts said Microsoft had to wow developers at Build, they were skeptical the company could pull it off.

According to Miller, Microsoft's pitch sounds familiar. "We got Metro [with Windows 8] and no one could figure that out," Miller said of Microsoft's contention that its new Metro apps would appeal to both owners of touch-enabled devices and those who stuck with keyboard and mouse. "Now, it's the same sort of thing: Microsoft says you can develop a runtime across all modern platforms with some reasonable work.

"The problem is it's really that last mile that is the hard part, that sets your app apart," Miller added, referring to the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design and coding that would still have to take place on a universal app destined for multiple device categories.

 

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