Continuum pushes apps to all devices
While the Universal App platform allows apps to run on almost all devices, Microsoft's Continuum concept ensures they're actually coherent. Ever run an old Android phone app on a tablet? If not coded correctly, text and images can look like Silly Putty stretched beyond all recognition.
Continuum, however, goes much further than just, say, reformatting an app for tablet mode. Continuum for Windows 10 phones harnesses the power of universal apps to redefine the phone as a computing device. An app formatted for a phone's small screen will "flex" to fill a widescreen computer monitor--yet live on the phone. That's powerful, powerful stuff. Microsoft's essentially said that if you have a Windows phone and access to a monitor (as well as a Bluetooth keyboard) you simply don't need a PC--your phone is your PC.
Furthermore, any universal app can apparently be run as a hologram as well, through Windows Holographic. Microsoft executives showed off Trimble's virtual CAD program, a spinning virtual globe, and more, all using Microsoft's HoloLens. A virtual video screen that followed its user around drew the biggest cheers of the day.
Nadella may as well have crushed an Apple Watch under his heel.
A cold dose of reality
Any good speech has a way of painting the future a rosy red. Outside of Nadella's reality distortion field, however, some analysts said that not everything's as simple as Microsoft makes it out to be.
"When they presented here, it seemed like it was a case of 'write once, deploy anywhere,' and that's definitely not going to work," said Avi Greengart, a research director for Current Analysis. "And if you talk to Microsoft privately, they will tell you it won't work, and they will tell you what they expect you to do is maintain a single code base, and to change it as needed for the different device form factors.
"If you design for an Xbox controller, it's not going to work on a touchscreen," Greengart said.
Several other key questions remain unanswered. We still don't know when Windows 10 will launch. We don't really understand how well an iOS app ported to Windows will run on the cheap Windows phones Microsoft is determined to sell. We still don't know for certain if the new "universal" apps will run on the Xbox One. We don't have confirmation of what cut of the revenues Microsoft will take for listing that universal app on its app store, or even when that universal app store will go live.
And while we don't know how many developers will buy into Microsoft's vision, we do know one that already has: King has ported Candy Crush Saga to the Windows platform. That's a huge name to add to Microsoft's developer list.
Apple might be the richest company in the world at the moment, but Microsoft clearly is the most interesting. And Microsoft has just set forward what can only be called a breathtaking strategy to reclaim its position atop the computing world.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.