Universal Windows Apps: A health check

Last year, we wrote about Microsoft’s new Windows Universal Apps (WUA). WUAs are Microsoft’s recognition that their separate and non-compatible app stores for the Windows 8 PC and Windows Phone weren’t doing a lot to attract developers or customers. UWAs work on any device running Windows 10 and mean that, with a little configuration, developers can buy apps one time and know they’ll work on devices of any size, shape or input method.

Windows 10 was released last summer and is currently running on more than 110 million devices. Over four months into its release, is Microsoft’s new approach to apps paying off?

Why the need for UWAs?

Windows 8 and 8.1 are generally regarded as one of Microsoft’s worst moves of recent years. The so-called ‘metro’ design was almost universally unpopular (certainly with corporate users) and turned a lot of people off the OS. In comparison to Google Play and the Apple App Store, apps built for Windows 8 and Windows phone were few and far between.

As a result of these two failings, both the Windows mobile and PC app stores weren’t going anywhere. Microsoft were dealing with a ‘catch 22’ situation. Customers weren’t interested in the app store because there weren’t many apps. Developers didn’t want to build apps because there weren’t many customers. And so UWAs are Microsoft’s answer. The aim is to help developers build apps in one go, written in whatever programming language they like, and have these work more or less perfectly on desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, Xboxes and the HoloLens.

The gamble is that by making it easier to build apps for any device, developers will be tempted back to Windows. So is the gamble paying off?

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

On first impressions, UWAs have been something of a hit. A lot of major apps are now available in the store for multiple devices, including:

  • Adobe Photoshop Express
  • Dropbox
  • Netflix
  • Twitter (and soon Facebook and Instagram) – will bring some of the world’s largest social networks to Windows
  • Shazam

Many of these apps are household names, with millions (if not billions) of users worldwide. Letting their users download their apps direct to their device will certainly help the Windows Store grow and attract new custom.

Business Insider has reported impressive figures for visits to the Windows 10 app store; in the weeks following the app store’s release, Microsoft reported over 1.25 billion visits in just ten weeks. Equally, developer revenue had increased by a factor of four over that same period.

There’s always a ‘but’…

While there’s a lot of potential with Windows 10’s approach to apps, there is still a lot of uncertainty around the future and the relevance of what Microsoft is trying to do. Let’s have a look at some of the doubts out there:

 1. The Verge has reported on a number of major companies not updating or even canning their apps for Windows Phone, including Mint, American Airlines, Bank of America and Pinterest.  Even Microsoft haven’t kept apps for the Office Suite as well updated on Windows Phone as they do on iOS and Android. It’s hardly encouraging.

 2. It’s not really universal. Microsoft has come under criticism for describing UWAs as ‘universal’ because, well, they only run on Windows devices. If you actually want to build an app that runs on Windows, iOS and Android, you really need a platform like Xamarin.

 3. If your customers are only going to use your app on one device, there’s no real motivation to build a new universal app. Say you have an app that’s designed for desktop gaming that you’d already built for Windows 7. Windows 10 is backwards compatible so your app will continue to work on the new OS. So, unless you really want to expand your reach to mobile, there’s not much motivation to build for the new app store.

4. Will popular mobile app developers bother with Windows 10 anyway? Say you work for Snapchat. Your app was designed purely for mobile users and you already have many millions of customer on iOS and Android. Would you be motivated to build a Windows 10 app for the tiny number of potential Windows phone customers? The fact that your app will work on the desktop or Xbox is hardly relevant if your app is all about mobile.

 5. Microsoft wrote off its Nokia acquisitions this summer. This indicates a de-emphasis on mobile from Microsoft, and will make developers more cautious about building an app for Windows Phone when the future is unclear.

So, what has our health check of UWAs shown? To be honest, it’s probably too soon to tell. Windows 10 was released less than six months ago (at the time of writing), so predictions of its success or failure are probably a little premature. We’ll be following the future of UWAs closely however, so keep checking back for more in the coming months.

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Comments  (3 )

on Mon, Feb 15 2016 12:03 PM

Are UWP apps the most recent iteration of "jupiter" (en.wikipedia.org/.../Windows_Runtime_XAML_Framework)?  I'm very eager to try out this stuff.  Are you expecting to show us some controls to help us along the way?  That is what I was hoping you would allude to in this posting.

One thing I'm hoping for out of UWP is a performance improvement.  Hopefully something like that can be achieved by moving more of the u/i computing down to native code.  As great as a WPF app is, it can be a touch more sluggish than I'd like - especially given that most would consider one of these to be a "native windows app".  I'm not a c++ guy but, even as a c# programmer in Windows, I want my stuff to be a little bit more snappy.  Not to be confused with say, a hybrid HTML5 app built with Cordova.

Mukesh Singh
on Mon, Feb 22 2016 4:14 AM

Yeah you are right, Microsoft's Windows 8 and 8.1 and there windows mobiles are the part of Microsoft black days i think but as we all know they will come up with something new and grasp the market again here you can learn windows application development without any coding skills www.consagous.com/how-to-create-windows-10-application-without-any-coding-skills

Greg Pringle
on Fri, May 6 2016 12:39 PM

I am disappointed to not at least see some preview controls for UWA. I think we can all agree Windows 8 apps were a bad idea and we have all had our fingers burned by Microsoft (probably not as badly as you have!) .   However they have left us with a poor choice for Enterprise applications.. web, WPF or UWA.   Writing serious software in javascript is like travelling back in time 10 years, and I think the future of WPF is uncertain.  Who wants to invest a lot of time in yet another soon-to-be-cancelled Microsoft framework.  So I am left with the ugly choice of having to find another control library besides infragistics and port my Win 8 apps over to that so I can have some hope of not being obsoleted right away.