Not many believe in Microsoft anymore, and some have zero confidence in what it will bring to the table, especially in the mobile space. However, I believe Windows 10 mobile could be the beginning of a new era for Microsoft. I know what you are thinking – Microsoft is way behind their game. I don’t blame you- I was in the same boat until the new OS was announced. Microsoft is on its way to release its full version of Windows 10 at the end of July and, with it, the hope that it will save Windows Phones from hitting rock bottom. Microsoft is creating a positive vibe among consumers and developers with great ideas like One Application Platform, allowing porting of Android and iOS apps to the Windows ecosystem, and other great improvements of core features like Cortana and the new Internet Explorer (Project Spartan), among others.
Microsoft in the mobile space
We all know Microsoft has struggled immensely since the appearance of the iOS and Android operating systems. Therefore, a lot of consumers and developers have left the Windows environment and switched to its competitors. When someone asks, “What about the Windows Phone?,” usually the response is “Who cares about Windows”.
On the consumer side, as well as the enterprise, Microsoft is near the bottom in terms of market share. Figure 1 shows the percentage of registered Mobile Operating Systems as of 2014. Android has a dominance of roughly 52% market share, followed by iOS at 39% and Windows at 2.5%.
Microsoft has tried to gain developers’ trust, but so far have failed. But they have not given up and have worked very hard to get back in the game and do whatever it takes to raise those numbers. With this release of windows 10, some positive things can come their way.
One Application Platform
Even though Windows 10 is on its beta “preview” state, Microsoft has spent a lot of time working on a cross-platform operating system solution that will allow users to experience the so called Universal Windows Platform. What this means is that a user will be able to enjoy the same app as the full version of Office across various Microsoft hardware products, including Windows Desktops, Surface Tablets, Windows 10 Phones, XBOX and Raspberry Pi.
This is great news. The idea of one branch of code that builds one app package and is capable to run on all windows 10 platforms is ideal for any developer. With Windows 10 Core and Universal Windows Platform (UWP), apps will automatically adapt to the appearance of different types of devices, layouts, and device orientations.
Porting Android Apps to Windows 10
Project Astoria is a Universal Windows platform bridge toolkit that allows Android APKs to be run in the Windows 10 mobile environments. Say what? Say what? Yes, developers would be able to reuse Android code and build Windows 10 mobile apps. The process looks pretty simple. The company is providing an analysis tool in the Windows Developer Portal where a developer can drop an APK, and it reports what part of the code can be reused as well as alternative methods on what code can’t be reused.
Microsoft also will provide a way to redirect and map Googles Services for Microsoft Services. For example, if an Android app uses Google maps it can be redirected to use Bing Maps instead and so forth with all other Microsoft services.
Microsoft is also providing a Java API, and is allowing developers to use their current IDE such as IntelliJ or Android Studio to debug their converted apps in a Windows Phone 10 emulator using ADB (Android Debug Bridge).
Android developers have been waiting for something like Project Astoria before releasing apps to Windows devices. In addition, Visual Studio 2015 will support Java, which could be a potential breakthrough in attracting developers to switch platforms. Windows wants to show developers and users that they care and are working hard to make the right tools available to them.
Project A, as it is sometimes called, is a work in progress and is believed to coming right after the Windows 10 launch. Developers can join the Project A Preview program here.
What about iOS Apps?
Like Project Astoria, Microsoft is working on another project call Islandwood. This project is a little different than Project Astoria, but with the same end purpose. Islandwood is a Universal Windows platform bridge toolkit that focuses on running Objective-C and Xcode projects directly on Windows phone 10 using Visual Studio.
Even though it doesn’t have the nice feature of dropping the IPA (iOS Package App) to the analysis tool in the Windows Developer Portal, developers will be able to import Objective-C projects in Visual Studio and edit code.
The process is simple:
- Import Xcode project in Visual Studio,
- Make small changes to the configuration,
- Build and debug Objective-C code from Visual Studio using a Windows emulator or windows phone,
- Map Windows Services,
- Use the Universal Windows Platform API to extend a native look and functionality.
Ported apps can take advantage of multiple iOS API libraries that Microsoft has written. There is an extensive list of libraries that will be included, such as UIKit, OpenGL, OpenAL, ARC, CoreAnimation, CoreGraphics and more.
Unfortunately, the newest Apple programming language, Swift, won’t be supported with this first release of the project, but I personally believe if porting Objective-C is successful, Swift would be the next step to explore.
Project Islandwood is supposed to come right after Windows 10 is fully released this summer. For more information you can click here
Cortana, Project Spartan and other great features
There have been tons of improvements to the Windows Mobile environment, including better voice recognition, better look and feel, the enhancement of Cortana, new windows APIs and the introduction of project Spartan.
Cortana – The personal assistant has had a lot of improvements and is ready to make things easier for its users.
Project Spartan – The next generation of Internet Explorer. The biggest feature is that Cortana is included in the browser, and it pops when the search bar is tabbed. It provides answers or suggestions on search. Also, the new browser allows you to directly write on the web canvas and allowing you to save the notes you take while navigating the web.
Better Look and Feel – With the possibility of Universal apps, there are new apps that enhance the user experience, such as a new camera app, audio recording, context menus, better keyboards with neat features, fuller notification menu, voice commands with Cortana and a lot more.
Why I believe in Windows 10?
No one can truly say that the new enhancements to the Windows ecosystem will make developers and users switch. Nevertheless, where there’s a will there’s a way, and I believe Windows 10 is already bringing some attention among developers with positive expectations.
The opportunity and hard work Microsoft have delivered opens a new ground of possibilities. I am personally testing Windows 10 in my mobile and desktop environments and have really enjoyed the experience so far. I am currently developing sample apps for Windows 10 and I am looking forward to import some iOS and Android apps to my Lumina 920.