Much to the dismay of some viewers watching at home, Microsoft's BUILD developer conference today actually focused on technologies designed to benefit developers. However, some of the new developer technologies shown today may end up having profound impacts on Windows users. While Microsoft has never had any issues with making software available for Windows on the desktop, the same can't be said about Windows in the mobile space. Windows Phones and tablets have suffered from a lack of applications compared to their Android and iOS counterparts, and Microsoft hasn't been able to convince many developers to make Windows a priority for their mobile applications. Given this situation, Microsoft had to find another solution to the problem, and today at BUILD they showed what may very well be it.

The first big announcement was Project Astoria, which enables support for running Android applications programmed in Java or C++ on Windows 10 phones. During the keynote this was described as an "Android Subsystem" within Windows. The end result is that developers can bring their Android applications over to Windows 10 phones with minimal effort. There will still be issues with applications that link into Google Play services for features like Maps and location, but there are now far fewer hurdles for developers than there have been in the past. Microsoft demonstrated this during the keynote by showing the Choice Hotels application for Android running on a Windows 10 smartphone. The demo did run into a few issues, but it was still impressive to see.

What's even more remarkable is Microsoft's work to allow developers to use existing code from iOS applications programmed in Objective C to make Windows 10 applications. This new initiative is called Project Islandwood, and it allows developers can take their existing applications written in Objective C, have Visual Studio convert the Xcode project into a Visual Studio solution, and compile it for Windows 10. The demo shown on stage showed an application written for the iPad being compiled to run on Windows. Not only did it work well, but the application itself was not just a basic app. Apps using UIKit and Core Animation compile fine as Windows 10 applications, and it will be very interesting to see just how far this solution can go in bringing complicated applications over to Windows.

The demonstration during the keynote was a mathematics game which utilized the UIKit framework and Core Animation, and had very complication visual effects and animation. Despite this, the demo worked even more smoothly than the Android application demonstration, and even worked with input using the mouse. Microsoft also revealed that the ability to easily bring applications programmed in Objective C to Windows 10 is not something coming in the distant future, but is a technology that exists now and has already been put to use by game company King in bringing their Candy Crush Saga game to Windows Phone.

One important thing to note is that while Project Islandwood for iOS applications allows developers to create universal Windows apps, Project Astoria is strictly for bringing Android applications to Windows 10 phones.

These two announcements from Microsoft may end up being a game changer for Windows 10 applications on the desktop and more importantly on mobile. Developers still need to be convinced to focus on Windows, but if moving applications over from iOS and Android is as easy as Microsoft has claimed then it shouldn't be very difficult to get developers on board. Only time will tell how this ends up playing out.

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  • mkozakewich - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    One of the great tragedies of our time. Windows' interface is so much better than Android's or (to a lesser extent) iOS's. But an entire operating system is garbage if all the biggest developers don't code for it. That requires huge network effects.
  • Speedfriend - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    "But you still need to convince a whole lot more than 3% of phone buyers to buy something they know lags far, far behind the big boys."
    3% now, but I'll bet that Windows Phone market share passes iOS within 3 years.

    If Microsoft get this right, together with what they are doing in the cloud, could make them the investment opportunity of the year.
  • steven75 - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    I'll take you up on that bet. Has anyone ever won any significant market share through the "recompile on our platform" strategy? That gives your users second-class software at best, usually worse.
  • Schnydz - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    Second class software at best??

    ~ I don't know about that. If candy crush is any proof than I see no quality issues here. I've played the app on both iOS and WP and the UX is practically identical. No lag, nothing. So, before you go off assuming the worst maybe you should hold and be a little more objective here.
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    If the UI is identical that means one of two things:
    1) The UI fits one platform better than the other, and looks out of place on the second.
    2) The UI is special and fits neither platform, offering a sub-par experience.
  • Nagorak - Friday, May 1, 2015 - link

    A phone is a phone. There is largely no real difference in the UI of Android vs iOS vs WP. They're all variations of the same theme and having basically identical apps running on any of those platforms works just fine.
  • SirPerro - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    Actually that makes no sense because all google apps make extensive and intensive use of the common Google APIs obviously.

    Google opening the APIs to windows phone? Yes, that's not gonna happen.
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    I was helping students learn how to program Android apps, and I was appalled to find that they were encouraged to just use all the Google libraries by default so they could do maps or stuff whenever they needed.
  • name99 - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    "A better Android than Android; A better iOS than iOS"?
    Yeah, that ended well the last time it was tried. You'd figure MS would remember that, but perhaps everyone involved has retired by now.
  • Zak - Thursday, April 30, 2015 - link

    What claim do the have? That Google doesn't want to make apps for their platform? Isn't that exactly what Blackberry said? That developers should be forced to make apps for their platform? And they got laughed at all over the net.

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