A Microsoft representative shows a smartphone with Windows 10 operating system at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover in this file photo from March, 2015. REUTERS
Microsoft’s plan to make its new version of Windows a mobile hit by letting it accept tweaked Apple and Android apps has met an obstacle: some of the software developers the company needs to woo just aren’t interested.
Windows phones accounted for just 3 percent of global smartphone sales last year, compared with about 81 percent for devices with Google’s Android system and 15 percent for Apple and its iOS system, according to research firm IDC. One reason is that Windows doesn’t run as many or as attractive apps as its rivals.
“Windows phone will have to gain a significant share of the market before this becomes something that saves us time and/or money,” said Sean Orelli, a director at app development firm Fuzz Productions in New York, which makes apps related to Citibank, the New York Post, and Conde Nast, among others.
For Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company, there’s a lot at stake this summer as it rolls out Windows 10, the first operating system designed to run on PCs, tablets and phones. If developers don’t embrace the new platform, it will seriously damage the prospects of the new operating system, which Microsoft hopes will power one billion devices in two or three years.
Interviews with more than a dozen developers found just one planning to move an app from Apple or Android to Microsoft. That’s King.com, which ported its popular Candy Crush Saga game from iOS to Windows 10 “with very few code modifications” and will be installed automatically with upgrades to Windows 10, according to Microsoft. King.com confirmed the move but declined to comment further.
Eight developers said they aren’t planning to develop for Windows 10 at all. Four who already have Windows apps said they would continue to do so.
Because Microsoft hasn’t actually unveiled its new set of tools to turn apps into a Windows format, developers did not rule out any move, and a Microsoft spokesman said that “it is still early” and many software companies want to explore the tools over the coming months.
Because of that trend, “it’s going to be hard for developers to prioritize building for Microsoft,” said John Milinovich, Chief Executive of URX, a mobile ad service that creates links between apps.
Windows, closely tied to the stagnant PC market, is a big but static business for Microsoft. It’s likely worth $20 billion in revenue this fiscal year, analysts say, compared with almost $30 billion for its Office business, out of total expected annual revenue of $93 billion. The company’s server software and cloud-computing businesses are growing much faster, with cloud-computing revenue forecast to triple to $20 billion by 2018.
Erik Rucker, head of mobile at Smartsheet, which makes an online tool to manage projects, said he doesn’t plan a Windows app version. He doubts tweaking an iPad or iPhone app for Windows would be simple.
“We’d end up writing a whole bunch more code,” to move over an Apple app that was tightly integrated with the device, he said.
For Jason Thane, general manager at General UI, a mobile app developer based in Seattle, the cost of developing a Windows app from another system would need to fall to about 10 percent to 20 percent of the cost of building it.
“I’d like to at some point, but we’re not working on it yet,” he said. “It’s a function of resources.”
The best experience was always going to be achieved with tools made for a given software system, said Christopher Kamsler, manager of mobile development at Gannett, and even with those his team had to tweak the app to work for different sized devices.
It’s an uphill battle for Microsoft, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at tech research firm Forrester.
“Android and iOS are in the zone, the Windows guys just aren’t there yet,” he said.