The question facing app developers following Microsoft's latest 'universal app' invitation

Shane Schick

When you're the third choice--and a distant third choice at that--the only option you have is to be the best third choice imaginable. That, in essence, is what Microsoft proved with the latest plank in its "universal app" strategy. 

In the weeks following its recent Build conference, how many developers have seized eagerly upon the software giant's decision to allow iOS and Android apps to be ported over to Windows 10? It's probably too early to know real numbers, but I chuckled when I thought about the likely reaction of Apple developers in particular. How many of them were even in the audience at Build? Aren't most Android developers more focused on the upcoming Google I/O event? Although it probably pleased Microsoft's shareholders, an invitation to port apps, in this case, is like saying anyone can come to your party when it's obvious most of them are already at a kegger for the most popular kids in school. 

Of course, not all developers will turn their nose up at Microsoft's overture. Nor should they. Although it has failed to dominate on smartphones and tablets as it has on the desktop, Microsoft's reach, resources and R&D budget are nothing to sneeze at. For app developers, who often struggle to be discovered or monetize their work, the ability to easily expand their potential audience without investing in a lot of work and investment in cross-platform development tools is no doubt something of a gift. 

Then there is the nature of Windows 10 itself, which is being deliberately engineered to work in a multi-device world. It's not entirely clear that users will immediately embrace or   are really asking for the ability to seamlessly move from PC to smartphone and back again. Some might argue that Microsoft is still in recovery mode from Windows 8, otherwise known as The UI That Underwhelmed. Still, if the universal app approach takes off, iOS and Android developers could benefit from riding Microsoft's coattails. 

In so many of the research reports I read, the theme surrounding the mobile platform wars seems to be the same: develop for iOS if you're really concerned about driving revenue, but aim first at Android if you're all about a bigger install base. Where does that leave Windows 10? Here's a thought: Maybe Windows 10 is for experimentation. With conceivably less competition and an OS that should function consistently across form factors, Microsoft's audience could help some developers fine-tune their apps for improvement on iOS and Android as well. 

The bottom line for some developers is that porting to Windows 10 probably can't hurt. That's not the strongest-sounding way to attract dev loyalty, but Microsoft has little choice but to welcome iOS and Android apps with open arms. Otherwise, its universal apps will be leaving out a sizeable chunk of the existing app universe.--Shane