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ExtremeTalk: Windows 10 mobile can run iOS, Android apps — do you care?


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At Build this week, Microsoft announced that it’s going to offer a platform for iOS and Android developers to move their apps over to Windows devices. This appears to be done in slightly different ways. Android is at least partly emulated, while iOS isn’t, but Microsoft is adding support for the Objective-C programming language. There’s also talk of building a Web interface for universal applications.

Microsoft’s goal is straightforward: It wants Windows 10 to be a development target for Android and iOS developers, and it’s hoping that making it easier to port programs will encourage developers to support its own software. It’s also obviously hoping that consumers who might otherwise be turned off by the lack of applications will instead adopt Microsoft’s platform.

Windows 10 will also ship with an updated browser: Microsoft Edge

Windows 10 will also ship with an updated browser: Microsoft Edge

It’s a reasonable goal, particularly given that iOS and Android currently account for 96.3% of the mobile OS market — the question is, will it work?

Cross-platform compatibility

The history of operating systems and products that offered cross-platform capabilities as a major selling point isn’t a compelling one. Unlike backwards compatibility, which has often been extremely important to end users (imagine if buying a new PC or smartphone meant no existing applications would work on it), cross-platform compatibility is often perceived as a last-ditch attempt to create a relevant market for one’s own product.

The most obvious example of this is likely IBM’s OS/2. When OS 2.0 debuted, IBM marketed it with the tagline “a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows.” In many ways, this was objectively accurate — OS/2 could run more than one DOS application at a time and could even run multiple copies of Windows in parallel, with each copy sandboxed into its own virtual DOS machine (VDM). Despite being arguably more advanced than any OS Windows had shipped, OS/2 steadily lost ground. In more recent days, BlackBerry built its own cross-platform compatibility with Android applications — yet this has done nothing to stem the tide of users fleeing the once-mighty smartphone vendor.

UI elements are always going to clash between various platforms.

UI elements are always going to clash between various platforms.

Cross-platform compatibility is great if your goal is to snag that one Android game or iOS application that you don’t have access to, but it’s a poor means of building a software library. Android apps running on Windows 10 won’t look like Windows applications — they’ll look like Android. iOS applications that don’t receive UI overhauls will look like iOS apps. You may snag a few buyers already on the fence, but if someone is heavily invested in the Android or iOS ecosystems, they’re unlikely to switch over to something new — not if Windows 10 mobile doesn’t offer them an intrinsic reason to make that leap.

If Windows 10 mobile were set to debut with a real cutting-edge handset design — a flagship to make Samsung and Apple weep — then Microsoft might have a cogent argument for why cross-platform compatibility made sense. Lacking such an option, it’s simply not clear that anyone is going to buy a Windows 10 mobile device based on this feature. The great irony of Windows Phone is that it’s reportedly a far better OS than Windows Mobile ever was, yet has enjoyed a fraction of that operating system’s market share.

As an iOS user (I have an iPhone 5c) I don’t see any reason to consider Windows 10 mobile based on this capability alone — but I’m also not terribly invested in the Apple ecosystem (my tablet is Android and I use a Windows 7 PC). What about you? Would you switch to Windows 10 mobile if the Android and iOS application compatibility was there — or do you want native applications? If you’ve been on the fence, what would get you off of it?

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