Microsoft has finally figured out a way to bolster its piddling share of the smartphone OS market: by giving developers an easy way to port Android and iOS apps to Windows 10 so they can run on Windows devices, notably phones.
Onstage at Microsoft's annual Build developers conference, Windows division boss Terry Myerson said the company has developed an easy way for developers to reuse existing Android and iOS code to build apps for Windows.
"We're allowing you to reuse nearly all of the Java and C++ code from Android phone apps to create apps for phones running Windows 10," Myerson said. "To make this possible, Windows 10 will include an Android subsystem."
To rework iOS apps, Microsoft has developed an Objective-C compiler that recompiles applications written for Apple devices to work on Windows 10 mobile devices.
Microsoft's move to help developers easily rework their Android and iOS applications on Windows phones is a dramatic shift for the company and a tacit acknowledgment that it has so far been unable to develop a world class mobile app ecosystem to rival those of Google and Apple. Despite its best efforts, Microsoft has failed to claim any significant share in the smartphone market.
According to February metrics from IDC, Windows Phone accounts for only 4.2% of the smartphone OS market. Meanwhile, Android and iOS have claimed more than 93%. A key reason for that: Microsoft's fumbled early runs at the smartphone market, which hampered the growth of the broad app ecosystem that is today table stakes for success. If Microsoft truly hopes to be a viable third-place hopeful in the smartphone market, giving developers a quick and dirty way to port their Android and iOS apps to Windows could do much to bolster its app offerings and fill the holes in its mobile app ecosystem.
But in doing so, Microsoft is taking a big risk. It's giving developers one more reason not bother writing native mobile apps for Windows phones. Potentially more problematic: It's setting itself up to code behind Apple and Google to ensure apps ported to Windows continue to work well as those operating systems evolve. While the company clearly has the resources to pull that off, scrambling to keep up with Google and Apple is not at all a good place to be.