SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft announced an update to Windows at its Build developer conference Tuesday, encouraging developers to write applications for the operating system.
Windows 8.1 and Phone 8.1 come with a host of new features. In addition, it can be licensed free for OEMs developing mobile devices with screens under nine inches. Perhaps most significantly it is based on a common runtime that allows developers to create "universal apps" that run on Windows tablets, phones, PCs and, eventually, wearables.
“Google and Apple, they have a different approach -- they want you to create one app for phones and tablets and a different app for phones and laptop,” David Treadwell, corporate vice president in Microsoft’s Operating Systems group, said during Tuesday’s Build keynote. “[Microsoft has] streamlined every phase of the development cycle.”
Microsoft demoed so-called universal apps on Windows 8.1.
Opinions were mixed on the extent the new offerings will fire up Windows developers.
The moves could capture the attention of Apple and Android developers because they make "Microsoft somewhat hardware agnostic,” analyst Rob Enderle told EE Times. “[Universal apps] really is the way of the future. Now that we’ve moved to the concept of virtual machines, there’s no reason for anyone to develop for a specific microprocessor anymore.”
Enderle said the universal development platform could fix the Windows issues and increase sales, Others aren’t so sure that Microsoft hasn’t missed the mobile boat. Aubrey Kagan, engineering manager at Emphatec and a speaker at EE Live, said he thinks Microsoft is “rudderless.”
“This will only matter if Microsoft gets a greater market share of mobile or ends up being the big guy in the wearables game,” he said. “All these offerings make a difference to me, but Apple has kind of a cult following, and a developer wants to get his product to as many people as he can, so he’ll go with Apple.”
Microsoft intends to expand its development platform into the Internet of Things. As Intel purchased a wearable startup and rolled out its Edison platform, Microsoft may enter the game with easy programming for a variety of niche IoT products.
“We’re not at the point where the IoT market has decided to consolidate around one firm. Where we had Apple leadership for much of the last decade, that’s gone now,” Enderle said. “Whether or not the other vendors will let Microsoft do this is the question.”
Open science activist Javier D. Garcia-Lasheras questioned whether the company is coming too late to mobile. The multi-platform development approach may also be flawed, considering different devices consume radically different amounts of energy and processing power.
“I don’t know if this will be a very powerful approach, because if you try to use the same app in low-power devices, like the Internet of Things, you have wasted resources for running the virtual machine,” he said. “It would be more effective if you programmed for specific architecture. It’s very difficult to make an app that has the same binary, that will be executed in the same way.”
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times