Once upon a time, personal computing was virtually synonymous with Windows. The 16 million Windows Win32 programs that developers have created over the lifetime of Microsoft’s desktop operating system are proof of that. But nothing lasts forever.
Microsoft’s struggling UWP strategically positioned to meet business challenges in mobile and to modernize its desktop platform. Its “One Windows” vision creates a shared development platform, store, and user experience (unlike its competitors’ multiple operating systems for different types of devices) for all devices.
Microsoft’s development and ecosystem issues affect its entire family of devices, not just phones. The success or failure of developer relationship building will have a profound impact on the future of Microsoft personal computing. This seems, however, that Microsoft is not making full use of its available tools to resolve the issue.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Xamarin in 2016 signaled that Microsoft may be integrating Xamarin’s tools with its universal application development tools in a way that has yet to be implemented.
Xamarin allows mobile app developers to use C # to target multiple platforms at once. With Visual Studio and UWP, Microsoft could potentially use Xamarin to position Microsoft as the mobile application development platform. The ability to use a single tool to target all mobile platforms as a single mobile target allows Microsoft to influence the way developers view mobile. Using Xamarin to develop for a single Windows-Android-iOS target raises Windows (or UWP) to the same level as iOS and Android.
With Xamarin, Microsoft is equipped to attempt to change the perception of mobile development developers from the current disparate view of the iOS and Android duopoly to a composite Windows-Android-iOS mobile platform perspective.
Why “Xamarin” is the future of mobile for Microsoft
The magic of the wand
Wand Labs, which Microsoft acquired in 2016, offers a messaging-based approach to using apps. Created by Vishal Sharma, a former Google employee, Wand’s messaging-based technology potentially fits well into Microsoft’s “conversations as a platform” strategy.
Wand’s goal was to bypass the need to install apps and solve the difficulty of sharing the information stored there. It does this by dividing applications into components called “atoms” and converting an application’s information into virtual applications which then reside in the Wand plug-in. “Atoms” are a user instance of the application. A song atom could therefore be shared with a person who does not have the application, and the receiver could then play the song via an application capable of understanding the atom.
After the acquisition of Wand, Sharma said
In 2013, my team and I set out … to integrate services into the chat experience … to take advantage of the sliding scale, natural language capabilities, and third-party services to enable users to easily access and share any authorized service or device.
As part of Microsoft’s platform game to use messaging platforms to “do things” via bots and AI, Wand’s messaging-based solution seems perfectly suited to help solve, less in part, the problem of applications.
So where is the magic?
Filling the Application Gap: Wand
Application bridges and progressive web applications
In 2015, Microsoft introduced application bridges. The Android Astoria Bridge has been canceled. The remaining bridges allow iOS, Win32, and web developers to bring apps to UWP through the Islandwood, Project Centennial, and Westminster Bridges, respectively.
Project Centennial saw the most activity of the Three Bridges with announcements and sessions at Build 2017. Stefan Wick, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, also provided updates on Project Centennial via LinkedIn. With the launch of Windows 10 S, the next cellular PCs, and potential ultramobile PCs to follow, a modernized desktop experience through Centennial apps is paramount.
Microsoft’s recent adoption of Google’s Progressive Web Applications (PWAs), which make the web experience more app-like, is a sign we could see more activity with Westminster. Westminster allows developers to convert a progressive web app page to UWP activation features like notifications, Cortana integration, live tiles, and more.
The untold story of the app gap: the mobile web
Since much of our app behavior revolves around six core apps, and mobile web properties are used at higher rates than apps, Westminster and Progressive Web Apps can help Microsoft bridge the gap between applications.
If Microsoft puts its weight behind Xamarin, Wand, app bridges and bots, it can move forward in building relationships with developers that will help it bridge the gap between apps. If not, the story of these investments may continue into the future.