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Microsoft's universal app platform is big play for mobile, but can it deliver?

Kristin Burnham | March 6, 2015
'Write once, run everywhere' is a big promise to make.

Still, it's hard to count out a company with huge resources and a new CEO who finally seems to understand the new world order.

Microsoft's Gallo described some of the capabilities that will enable developers to engage customers across devices. These include adaptive UX, including considerations for screen layout and user controls; natural user inputs, such as speech, inking, and gestures; and cloud-based services, including Cortana AI, OneDrive and Applications Insights.

As Gallo explains it, the mobile experience has been mainly about the devices themselves. What users want now is a mobile "experience" that follows them regardless of the device they're using, so interacting with an app on their PC flows naturally over to the tablet when they switch to that device. It's highfalutin talk, and it's what Microsoft says it's enabling with the universal platform.

But Facemire says there are questions about how effectively the cross-device strategy can work, especially when it comes to user interface elements.

"There's no reason why you can't come up with a developer platform that will allow you to build apps on laptops, phones and tablets," he said. But how users want to accomplish a task on a phone will vary significantly from how they would get there on a laptop, he said.

"Even though I have one code base, there are so many conditions that I go down only if I'm on a certain device. Supporting the use cases and interaction-types in a single code base, without making it so conditional, will be their biggest challenge."

Microsoft will provide more technical details about its universal app platform at its Build conference in April.

Should it realize the vision, the upshot will be significant, Facemire said.

"If this does work, people will be building apps for phones without targeting the phone," he said. "We've seen ecosystems drive hardware adoption. Microsoft and BlackBerry don't have great ecosystems. If this succeeds, the positive momentum will expedite Microsoft's success in mobile."

 

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