A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the life state of various Microsoft products over the years. Is the Windows Phone dead? Or is he alive? Is Microsoft Band dead or alive? Is the Microsoft Store dead? Or is he alive? In recent weeks, we’ve seen a new target – the Universal Windows Platform.
For those uninformed, Microsoft has been offering what it calls Universal Windows Apps since Windows 8. Developers were promised that they would write an app once and have the user run it on Windows tablets, Windows PCs and Windows Phones. Over the years, Microsoft iterated and refined the Universal Windows Platform until it was really easy for developers to build cross-platform apps in Windows 10, and then it all fell apart.
First of all, as you know, Windows Phones haven’t taken off as much as Microsoft expected. A mix of poor hardware, slow software iterations, and buggy apps/no apps ended up suffocating a once-promising platform, and Microsoft is pulling the plug this year. For Windows tablets, they haven’t taken off either. Microsoft OEMs used to offer small tablets, but the only version of Windows tablets you’ll see now are just part-time tablets. These are devices intended to be used as laptops, but with some tablet attributes. The Windows operating system itself has largely negated any tweaks Microsoft had made to the tablet form factor, and the tablet mode that currently exists is more or less vestigial.
In other words, the UWP platform lost most of its potential user base very quickly within a few years.
Now, while UWP apps remained present and useful on Windows 10 laptops and desktops, they faced their own problem.
The challenge is threefold.
- Nobody makes apps for Windows of any kind: Quick, tell me about the last cool original app for Windows you’ve heard of, there are hardly any. Don’t take my word for it, check out the list of Digital Trends apps for Windows and learn about time travel to 2011, then check out the same apps for macOS.
- No one is creating new relevant UWP apps: In a valiant effort to prove that Windows app development isn’t dead, a group of UWP developers announced; an update to an old YouTube app, another Windows Reddit app, and two more Spotify clients. Always be my heart. Now I have tried all these apps, and they are well designed and work well. If you like UWP apps, you’ll probably like them. The problem is, that’s exactly where the platform was half a decade ago in 2014. It’s arguably even worse, once upon a time apps like Fhotoroom and Foundbite could be found on Windows , today only pale imitations of services that already exist elsewhere are not only the norm but the best of the platform. Granted that social media apps might not be the best kind of apps for the Windows desktop and laptop, where are all the beautifully designed task managers and messaging apps? Or note-taking apps? Or calendar apps? You can find them on competing platforms, but you won’t find them in the store.
- Microsoft has moved away from the UWP: With the exception of OneNote, Microsoft has discontinued development of previous Office apps for the UWP. The firm has also stopped building its Xbox application in UWP, preferring to develop it in Electron. Finally, the Edge browser was migrated to a Chromium fork, with UWP considered one of the “headwinds” that hampered development. Nothing says a vote of confidence like not using the new tools that were once touted as the future.
Three years ago I said:
If Microsoft […] backtracking on plans to improve the Universal Apps Platform in any way for short-term benefits will be bad for Windows as a whole.[…] That would be like saying, “We can’t get developers to build for Windows anymore.” Sure, people are using apps designed for Windows in business, but all of the exciting new apps are for iOS, Android, the web, and even OSX, with very few being for Windows 10.
A platform that cannot attract enthusiastic new developers is either dead or dying. Legacy apps won’t be useful forever, and 7 million apps of which only less than a hundred are still relevant today is not something to be proud of.
This statement is truer than ever today. While it can be argued that the UWP is not dead, the fact remains that it never caught on. It’s being revamped into what works for today’s developers as bits and pieces that can power their Win32 apps. An argument can be made that UWP still survives in new Windows apps, it’s a language trick. What people meant when they said UWP is dead is that the original vision for Windows mobile apps is for all intents and purposes gone.
You can say that Microsoft will once again bring it to the fore on “HoloLens 2, Surface Hub 2, Windows on ARM, IoT and Windows Lite” as Windows Central. Daniel Rubino does it, and they can very well do it. And that would be lovely. However, you can fill several books with everything Microsoft has planned for its Windows app platform that has yet to be confirmed. What is more important is how the developers react to the platform. It could
to return to rise to relevance in an unplanned push, but since the devs didn’t choose it before, why would they now?