Microsoft to Pitch Cross-Device Capabilities to Developers

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When 5,000 software developers descend on San Francisco’s Moscone Center for Microsoft Corp.’s

annual Build conference on Wednesday, they will hear a familiar promise from the company brass,

backed up by the tech giant’s latest technology.


Microsoft will press its case that developers can write an application once, with the company ensuring it

can work on any Windows device, people familiar with the company’s plans said. Developers can write

programs for the Windows 10 operating system and have them run on PCs, tablets, smartphones, game

consoles and, eventually, Microsoft’s Holo Lens augmented-reality headgear.


The key is a technology dubbed Universal Windows Platform, or UWP, software included in Windows

10, which was launched in July. It allows developers to achieve a consistent look and feel for applications

on any device that runs the operating system.


UWP is Microsoft’s answer to a troubling trend for the company. The focus of app development has

shifted away from personal computers, where the popularity of Microsoft’s Windows PC operating

system gives the company a strong position, to more widely used mobile devices that run Apple Inc.’s

iOS and Alphabet Inc.’s Android operating systems.


Microsoft’s smartphone efforts date back to 2003, when the company launched Windows Mobile, an

operating system for mobile phones aimed at business users that failed to catch on. Microsoft in 2010

altered the strategy to target consumers with the renamed Windows Phone. But that new strategy hasn’t

been any more successful. Windows Phone was installed on just 1.1% of all smartphones sold world-wide

in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Gartner Inc.


“The sins of the past continue to haunt them,” Forrester Research Inc. analyst J.P. Gownder said.


Microsoft scaled back its mobile-device business in July, writing down about 80% of the $9.4 billion it

paid for Nokia’s handset operations in 2013 and cutting 7,800 workers, mostly in its mobile-phone

operations, at the time. Since then, Microsoft has stepped up efforts to develop apps that run on the

more popular iOS and Android devices.


Microsoft is betting that developers already creating programs for the 200 million PCs that run Windows

10 will take advantage of UWP to allow apps to run on other devices. That, in turn, would bolster

Microsoft’s position on the variety of devices where the company currently isn’t as strong.


“This is the best option Microsoft could have come up with,” Mr. Gownder said.


Microsoft and other companies for years have promised programmers the ability to easily build cross-

device programs.


Microsoft’s Windows 8, released in 2012, included software known as Windows Runtime, a UWP

predecessor that helped developers create programs for smartphones and tablets, as well as for laptops

and desktops.


Such technologies haven’t always fulfilled their promise. Games developed for a console with a controller

that has buttons, triggers and thumbsticks, for example, can be less fun to play on a PC equipped with a

mouse, or a mobile phone with a touch screen. And apps developed for PCs, such as personal-finance

programs, often are of little use on a smartphone or game console.


Microsoft has said it believes UWP will be more successful because Windows 10, unlike earlier Windows

versions, is designed to run on a variety of Microsoft devices.


San Francisco-based PicsArt Inc., which makes a photo-editing app of the same name, tried Microsoft’s

earlier cross- device technology but found it still needed to maintain multiple versions of the app

separately. Using UWP, the company says it has been able to “develop one package that works across all

platforms. Because of that it’s easier for us to build and maintain.”


PicsArt counts more than 65 million monthly active users on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.

Although its Windows Phone audience is the smallest, UWP appears to be helping it find new users on

laptops and desktops that run Windows 10. Since releasing the UWP version of the app in December,

PicsArt has added “hundreds of thousands” of Windows users each month, said Wilson Kriegel, the

company’s general manager and chief business development officer.


“If Microsoft has hundreds of millions of [Windows 10] users in the future, we view that as an

opportunity,” Kriegel said.