Last week at /Build/ Microsoft announced four bridges for getting new apps into the Windows Universal store – the app store that will be used across devices on Windows 10. Two of these were expected and uncontroversial, the inclusion of Win32 apps and hosted Web apps. The latter two were far more disturbing. Codenamed Astoria and Islandwood, these programs are specially targeted towards Android and IOS developers. It allows them to reuse much of their code in the creation of universal Appx files. What this does is that it lowers the barrier for entry into the Windows Phone store. Rather than code from scratch, the devs can simply reuse the app code and swap around proprietary APIS for Microsoft’s replacements. They can also change the UI to match MDL2 should they choose to do so.
For Microsoft, this is a clever way of getting more devs. For devs who aren’t sure about WP, they can dip their toes into the OS via a ported app. If the app gains traction, it would be very easy to justify creating a native Windows Phone app. Whether to shareholders, financially or as a matter of personal pride, once the demand is tangible and not hypothetical, they will come. Alan Mendelevich of AdDuplex explains the intent better and in more depth here.
Now what does this mean for WP developers? Some developers have speculated that large companies which develop Windows Phone apps may decide to scrap those projects in favour of Android/IOS ports. This directly affects their livelihoods and jobs so they would be disturbed. However, Windows Phone has long supported porting apps – though not as simple as Astoria/Islandwood- and webapps.
It is more likely that the organisations who would use ports were unlikely to bring Windows Phone apps to the platform in the first place, or would have abandoned Windows Phone after doing the barest minimum just like Instagram and Tumblr have done.
When people think – why develop for Windows Phone when you can develop for Android and IOS? They are thinking of native Windows Phone devs who develop exclusively for Windows Phone. Indeed so was I when I wrote this article. But my mind was changed by one simple thing. The Windows 10 TP2. You see, while the Windows 10 TP1 left the Office Hub intact, TP2 removed the Office Hub leaving Windows Preview users with no way to access Office documents. Only on Windows Phone does that last statement make sense.
“Apple removed iWork leaving IOS devices with no way to access Office documents” is as nonsensical as “Google removed its Office suite leaving Android users with no way to access office documents”.
Windows Phone has existed for five years. In five years, no Windows Phone developer has created a basic office suite. There is only ONE competent third party email app- MetroMail. The other apps are all fluff. The majority of the calendar apps on Windows Phone – while competent – do nothing but what amounts to presenting a skin over the native calendar app. I can’t think of a single one that reaches the level of Sunrise Calendar or Accompli.
There are of course many good and competent apps in their own rise like Supporting Computers and their suite of photo apps like Fhotolens and Fhotoroom, Disqus and various YouTube clients like MyTube and Tubecast. The developers of these apps have nothing to fear. If you have a good app, you will get noticed and people will use it.
It is the former category that I have no sympathy for. The Windows Phone store has belonged to Windows Phone developers exclusively for 5 years, if the vast majority of developers have been unable or unwilling to create powerful and innovative apps, then so be it. They’ve had their chance, let others have a try. I doubt that the developers of useful apps are quaking in their boots. Just like Pocketcasts isn’t going to kill of other podcast apps or Instagram(snicker) didn’t kill off 6tag, the free market will decide the rest.
“Why develop for Windows Phone then?” The same reason you’ve always developed for Windows Phone. Nothing has changed on that front. Except that now you get to leverage the full power of the Windows Universal Platform and target multiple platforms as well. An Android and iOS port is nothing when stacked up against the sheer potential and UX benefits native apps bring, and developers would do well to remember that.
The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of WMPoweruser. Criticism and civil discussion is welcomed in the comments section below as always.