Microsoft is providing ways for software developers to move applications from both Android and Apple iOS devices onto Windows phones, tablets, and other machines.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s vice president of operating system development, announced the new tools during his keynote speech at the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco. The company was expected to unveil tools for moving Android apps onto Windows, and it went a step further in unveiling a toolkit for moving iOS apps as well, sparking cheers from the hundreds of developers gathered in the keynote hall.
According to Myerson, Microsoft’s software development kit, or SDK, will allow developers to grab Java or C++ code that drives Android apps and then reshape into a Windows app that ties into services only available on the Microsoft OS. And he said that coders could use another SDK to do much the same with Objective-C code that drives apps on Apple iPhones and iPads.
The move is part of a larger effort to significantly expand the number of applications that run on Windows phones and tablets. In recent years, Windows mobile devices have been well reviewed, but compared to iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, they control a tiny slice of the market—2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, according to IDC—and, as a result, offer relatively few applications.
It’s a Catch-22 for Microsoft: people aren’t buying Windows phones in part because they lack the robust app ecosystems of iOS and Android; but app makers don’t want to waste time making apps for phones relatively few people use. Now, Microsoft is hoping to kickstart the development of apps by pulling in not only Android and iOS, but code that drives applications on older Windows devices and on the web.
Microsoft unveiled an early version of Windows 10 this past September, releasing a “technical preview” to a select group of testers. Like previous versions of Windows, the OS is designed for both businesses and consumers. According to the company, the new OS will run across a wide range of machines, from desktops, laptops, phones, and tablets to servers running in the massive data centers that underpin the world’s internet services and even the company’s new Hololens augmented-reality headset. “With Windows 10, we’re targeting the largest device family ever,” Myerson said.
The company is also pushing the idea of “universal apps” that run across all Windows 10 devices. This, like Microsoft’s efforts to pull Android and iOS code onto Windows, could certainly boost the number of apps on its operating system. But it should be said that refashioning existing apps is often easier said than done, even if you’re moving code from one type of Windows device to another. Moving from a disparate OS is even more difficult.
Myers pointed to game maker King as a successful example of a company that has already moved code from iOS to Windows. But he acknowledged the developers will want proof that moving an app from iOS to Windows actually works.