A longtime concern about Windows Phone has been a shortage of apps in the Windows Store, but Microsoft on Wednesday took a big step to change things.
Developers of iOS and Android apps will be able to bring their apps and games to Windows 10, Microsoft's next operating system that's designed to run on Windows Phone, laptops and other devices, the company announced at its Build developer conference. Windows 10 is expected sometime this summer, but phones running Windows 10 are not expected until later in 2015.
Four new software development toolkits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with "minimal code modifications," Microsoft promised.
Developers will start with a code base, such as Android or iOS, and integrate that with the Universal Windows Platform capability, then distribute the new app through the Windows Store.
The four new toolkits will enable code already built on websites, with .NET and Win32, with Android Java/C++ and with iOS Objective C, Microsoft's Terry Myerson, vice president of operating systems, said in a blog.
In one example, Adobe will bring its Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements apps to the Windows Store by using the new toolkit for Win32 apps, Myerson said. Today, there are 16 million Win32 apps, and Microsoft is looking forward to having them grow their distribution by coming to the Windows Store, he added.
In another example, the Candy Crush Saga game was ported to Windows Phone with "very few code modifications" to its original Objective C code with the Objective C toolkit, he said. The Universal Windows Platform will also enable apps to become holograms.
Microsoft hinted in March at Mobile World Congress that easy development capability was coming to Android developers, but included iOS as well. Myerson laid out some of the vision in keynote remarks at Build on Wednesday, which was webcast, leaving a few of the details to his blog.
"We have this aspiration for you to love developing for Windows 10," Myerson told the Build audience. "Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever." He also said Microsoft hopes for Windows 10 to run on 1 billion devices within two to three years of its availability. Windows 10 will work on Windows smartphones, laptops, tablets and other Microsoft devices.
Having the relatively easy capability to convert iOS apps, and especially Android apps to Windows Phone, could help Microsoft, but not right away, analysts said. Android runs on about 81% of smartphones, while Windows Phone runs on nearly 3% and iOS nearly 15%, according to IDC and other analysts.
"This is a really big deal for Microsoft, but it will take years for it to make a potential difference on Windows Phone sales, unless something changes dramatically," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "With this move, Microsoft wants to get up to par with iOS and Android in terms of the number of apps available. This removes an objection, but doesn't give the reason to buy a Windows phone. Microsoft still has to create differentiated mobile experiences to get consumers to buy a Windows Phone."
Microsoft said in March that Nokia devices running Windows 10 are coming late in 2015.