Microsoft to let Android and iOS developers create apps that will run on Windows 10

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is working to address its most glaring deficiency in mobile—a lack of applications compared to other platforms.  The company announced today that it will let developers that have written apps for Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS port those apps to become Universal apps for phones and tablets running Windows 10.

Microsoft announced the new strategy during the opening keynote of its Build developer conference in San Francisco. The software firm is employing different tools to help Android and iOS developers get their apps onto Windows and then add extensions that will make them look and feel more like other Windows 10 apps. However, the goal is the same: to increase the number of apps running on the platform, spur developer enthusiasm and make it easy for them to port their apps.

There are more than 340,000 Windows Phone apps, compared to more than 1 million apps for Android and iOS. To address this gap, which has persisted for years and according to analysts stunted Microsoft's growth in mobile, Microsoft is introducing two new software development kits.

The decision is an acknowledgement that Microsoft could not catch up by having developers just code for Windows 10. It also reflects the philosophy of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to have Microsoft work with other technology and mobile companies like Apple and Google to make the software giant relevant in a world of mobile devices and cloud computing.

For Android, Microsoft will let Android apps run as a subsystem on Windows 10. Android developers will be able to submit versions of their apps, written in Java or C++ code, to the Windows store as APKs so they can run on Windows 10 devices. Android developers should be able to start submitting apps to the Windows 10 Store in the next few months, according to ZDNet.

Meanwhile, iOS developers will be able to use their existing apps coded in Objective-C and work with a Microsoft compiler tool so that iOS apps can work on Windows 10.   

"Enabling these on-ramps to Windows differentiation is the right strategy," Terry Myerson, president of Microsoft's operating systems group, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's good for the developer, it's good for the…user, and it's good for Microsoft."

"We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications," Myerson told The Verge. The reasoning is that by porting their apps to Windows, developers can take advantage of unique aspects of Windows and add them to their apps, like the Cortana digital assistant, Xbox Live, Live Tiles and more.

According to ZDNet, because most of the apps that will be ported over are built for devices running chipsets based on architecture from ARM Holdings, and won't support mice and keyboards, they are not going to be designed to run on PCs and desktops. The main goal is to get the apps, which were designed for mobile devices, onto mobile gadgets running Windows 10. "The theme is to start with your existing code base, and then extend," Myerson told ZDNet. "We want to embrace devs where they are."

That's somewhat different than Microsoft's main pitch around Universal apps, which are that Windows 10 apps are designed to run on a wide variety of devices, from phones to tablets PCs and even giant displays, and adjust their look and feel based on the device that a user is using.

The strategy could backfire though, especially if it turns off developers that spent years developing for Microsoft, or leads customers to choose other platforms when they upgrade their phones after having grown comfortable with Android or iOS apps designed for Windows. The apps might also turn out half-baked, since Microsoft is not requiring Android and iOS developers to use Windows features or design elements. Additionally, developers may choose to not port their apps at all.

The work with developers is part of a larger ambition within Microsoft to make Windows 10 a platform people actually want to build apps for and use as consumers and business users. The company's Windows 8 platform fell flat with both groups. Yet Microsoft is not setting its sights low: the company wants Windows 10 running a billion devices in the near future.

"Our goal is within two to three years of Windows 10's release there will be one billion devices running Windows 10," Myerson said during the keynote. According to Re/code, Nadella later clarified that Microsoft's goal is to achieve that figure by its fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1, 2017 and runs through June 30, 2018.

Microsoft announced other news during the keynote. The company announced a new Windows 10 feature called "Continuum for Phones." As The Verge explains, it lets Windows 10 smartphones turn into desktop PCs when connected to larger screens; the feature had been available for tablets. The feature is one way Microsoft is showcasing the capabilities of Universal apps.

Myerson also said that Windows 10 will support carrier billing for all Windows devices, not just phones. That will allow customers with phones and relationships with their carriers but without credit cards to buy apps. "Windows will have the largest carrier billing footprint," he said. Myerson noted that in emerging markets Windows application purchases have gone up 8x when carrier billing is enabled.

Also, Microsoft's new Web browser, which had been codenamed "Project Spartan," will be called "Microsoft Edge."

For more:
- see this The Verge live blog
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this ZDNet article 
- see these two separate Re/code articles
- see this The Verge article

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