During this year’s Build (Microsoft’s annual developer conference) Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Executive VP of Windows and Devices Group Terry Myerson, and a handful of their associates unveiled some big news regarding the company’s developer tools. First up was Windows SDK.
The Microsoft big wigs were quick to point out that the new Windows 10 Anniversary SDK doesn’t just have a couple of dozen new features and APIs, but thousands of them. Microsoft listened to customers and developers alike and the result was the creation of one of their most feature laden SDKs, based mostly on developer feedback. Furthermore, the SDK release will allow developers to easily integrate Windows 10 and its innovation in almost any app they plan on building.
This means that developers can bake in features like that of Windows Ink and Windows Hello into their app projects. Even Microsoft’s gaming platform is getting in on the action as well. Xbox One owners can boot the device on Xbox Dev Mode and, in effect, turning the device into a developer kit.
The Windows 10 SDK and other improvements have all been released to further Microsoft’s concept of a Universal Windows Platform. The idea behind the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is to create a seamless experience across all devices, be it smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet or what have you. It is meant to open up new possibilities that developers and users interact with Windows devices, going past basic inputs and outputs and even beyond touch and mouse clicks.
Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, received some much appreciated attention during Build 2016. According to Microsoft, nearly 1,000 apps are already using Cortana but with the recent improvements this figure will likely grow fast. This is most likely due to the advancements that Microsoft has made with their Cortana Intelligence Suite.
Formerly known as Cortana Analytics Suite, the Intelligence Suite gives access managed big data and advanced analytics. Then there’s the collection of intelligence APIs known as Microsoft Cognitive Services which gives systems the power to understand and interpret speech, visual cues and auditory inputs. Finally, the Microsoft Bot Framework enables developers to build intelligent bots regardless of the programming language being used on a wide array of platforms. Combined, these APIs and tools are meant to drastically increase app use and engagement, since Cortana will be able to (in theory) predict when to suggest and connect the user with the appropriate app.
Microsoft also rolled out its Windows Holographic SDK and emulator, which will allow developers who have access to the HoloLens Development Edition to expand the Windows user experience through holograms and gives the developer a platform for holographic computing.
The success of apps like Pokémon Go showed the industry that the market was ready and waiting for augmented reality apps, and with HoloLens Microsoft is trying to get in front of what they believe to be the next big trend: mixed reality. Holographic apps turns smartphones, tablets and even laptops into 3D hologram projectors. Needless to say, HoloLens is yet another tool that Microsoft is using to promote the use and idea of UWP, since holographic apps can be shared and access using different devices.
Cross-device is a term that was synonymously used when Microsoft describe UWP and there was a slew of tools that were also released to promote this idea and to make it easier for developers to implement when creating their apps. Not the least of which is the desktop app converter codenamed Project Centennial. As the name suggests this tool will give developer an easy to execute method to bring their desktop apps to smartphones and tablets via the UWP and the Windows Store.
Then there’s Bash. The popular command-line tool has finally made its way to Windows 10. Thanks to a partnership with Canonical, fans of the Ubuntu now scripting language have access to Bash by downloading the shell found in the Windows Store. The preferred scripting language of many developers, Bash shines because of its minimalistic style and ease of use.
Microsoft likes to point out that their tools and features are for “Any Develop. Any App. Any Platform”. This lines up nicely with their UWP agenda and Xamarin will definitely help make it all possible. Xamarin’s role will be to help bridge the gaps between the various platforms that exist today. Xamarin’s ability to share a common app code between Windows, iOs and Android apps make it an invaluable tool for .NET developers. For Microsoft, Xamarin is a tool that they can use to increase the number of available apps in the Windows Store, as developers who would not usually code for Windows OS now have an easy way to do so.
When it comes to app development Microsoft is arguably behind the curve, especially when their competitors (Apple and Google) command such a large portion of the market share. However, they have started to step up their game in a big way over the recent years, in the careful and calculated manner that has characterized Microsoft. Wanting to avoid the catastrophe that befell the likes of Blackberry, the Windows team knows that what they sorely need right now to foster growth and adoption is apps, and lots of them. By focusing on giving developers the tools they need to make said apps, Microsoft is stating that they are here to play the long game.
More apps means more user engagement, but this meant that the app creators, the developers, needed to be enticed to create apps for Windows. The revenue and opportunities generated by Google and Apple cannot be ignored, and Microsoft could not have taken a better approach. Instead of taking a competitive approach, an “our way or the highway” approach, Microsoft realized that at this point the best way to compete with the other giants of the industry was to play nice. By creating tools and features that allows developers to work and post apps across multiple platforms and operating systems, Microsoft gave developers a convenient and hassle free method to produce Windows apps without purposely coding them.
Build 2016 was a big step in securing the future of Microsoft, Windows and its app endeavors. The tools and features Microsoft revealed in that event made industry developers pause and take stock at the new developments within the software giant. With this, the future looks bright again. Microsoft knows that their future lies not in finding more users, nor does it rely on brand recognition, but in providing their loyal customer base with stellar apps.