What it is: Microsoft’s new tools allow Android and iOS developers to port their code to compile and run on Windows 10.
For the longest time, people used Windows because of its huge software library. Because of this huge software library, more people bought Windows PCs, which encouraged developers to create more software for Windows in an accelerating supportive cycle. The key to Windows was less its technical features and more its software library that allowed you to run practically any type of program on your computer.
When the mobile computing era arrived, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s former CEO, laughed at the iPhone. Then the iPhone went on to earn more money than all of Microsoft’s products combined.
Microsoft tried to fight their way back into the mobile market by releasing Windows Phone, which came just in time for Apple to introduce the iPad and redefine the tablet market. While Microsoft had been focused on regaining the smartphone market, they completely overlooked the tablet market, thereby missing the second wave of mobile computing apps once more.
For years, Windows Phone has been a decent operating system, but its late entry to the mobile computing market meant that most developers wound up creating apps for Android and iOS instead. The number of apps available for Windows Phone remains far below the number of apps available for Android and iOS.
In the past, Windows attracted all the users because of its software library. Nowadays, Android and iOS are attracting all the users because of their software library, which Windows Phone can’t challenge.
That’s why Microsoft hopes their new Windows 10 will be different. Instead of hoping that developers will suddenly start writing apps for Windows 10, Microsoft released programming tools that let Android and iOS developers to take their existing code and recompile it to run on Windows with (hopefully) minor modifications. The idea is that Window can suddenly get more apps by letting developers recycle their code with a little effort.
By targeting Android and iOS, Microsoft hopes to get the largest number of apps available for Windows mobile devices. Of course, this promise faces two major obstacles.
The first obstacle involves technical issues. How easy (or hard) will it be to port Android and iOS code to run on Windows? The easiest this can be, the more likely developers will port their apps for Windows.
Yet in the short-term, this means developers will first target Android or iOS and then port their apps to Windows. This means Windows will always be a second choice for developers.
If developers target Windows first, then they’ll have the challenge of porting their Windows code to run on Android or iOS. Since Android and iOS currently dominate the mobile market, it makes more sense for developers to focus on Android and iOS first, and worry about Windows later. That means Windows will always get the latest apps after Android and iOS.
Ignoring the technical challenges of getting Android and iOS code to run on Windows, the bigger problem is that code won’t be optimized to run on Windows devices. That means Windows mobile devices will never have any compelling advantage over Android or iOS.
Back in the days of Apple II computers, people bought Apple II computers just to run VisiCalc. Later people bought MS-DOS PCs just to run Lotus 1-2-3. The key to any platform is to offer the software that people need. As long as developers don’t have to optimize their software for Windows, they won’t when they can optimize their software for Android and iOS. That means Android and iOS will always have the latest apps with Windows always coming in third place.
The idea of porting Android and iOS apps to Windows sounds appealing, but it doesn’t address the real problem that Microsoft needs developers to create apps specifically for Windows on mobile devices. Letting Android and iOS developers port code is a Band-Aid solution that solves the short-term problem of getting more apps on Windows, but completely misses the core problem of getting developers to write Windows apps first.
Given Microsoft’s current situation in the mobile market, porting Android and iOS apps to Windows is a temporary solution that ignores the real problem. That means in the long run, Microsoft will still be missing the mobile computer market anyway.