Build 2015: What to expect at Microsoft's biggest event
Microsoft's annual developer conference, Build, kicks-off today and marks an opportunity for the Redmond-based giant to show-off some of its latest advancements and prove to developers that Windows remains important in a world where most users are happy with their iOS and Android mobile devices.
However, whereas Apple and Google have gradually iterated on their established platforms each year, Microsoft is in a disruptive period where it has lots of products and innovative ideas floating around which are yet to be tied together in the company's "Universal" vision. On top of this, Microsoft has also faced leadership changes in many positions.
Window 8 was a disaster. A disaster with a core great idea, but one which was forced down legacy users' throats whilst also introducing a separate - now defunct - operating system called Windows RT just to confuse users further and leave developers wondering what benefits they have for creating applications for Windows over platforms with growing users (and profits.)
Luckily, Microsoft's entire attitude seems to have changed for the better under Satya Nadella's stewardship. We're seeing Microsoft have a less-arrogant approach to software and supporting their customers even if they choose to use a competitor's platform as we've seen with the fantastic Office apps for iOS and Android.
Proving the best experience is Windows
Everyone knows that Apple offers a tight-integration between all their products, but not everyone wants - or frankly has the money - to use just Apple devices. Google is tightening up integration between Android and Chrome OS, but it's little threat to the 91% share of the desktop OS market which Windows holds.
We hope, with Windows 10, Microsoft will continue supporting their customers on other platforms with tight mobile integration. Will a business want to invest in expensive Apple devices which employees with iPhones can interact with, or Windows 10 devices which can receive calls and messages from iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and maybe even BlackBerry?
There will have to be, of course, exclusive benefits to being a part of the Windows ecosystem. For users, this could be things like the announcement that gamers will have the ability to stream games from the Xbox One to a Windows 10 PC. For developers, it will be the fulfilment of a single app store to target all devices powered by Windows whether desktop, smartphones, tablets, console, or even HoloLens if rumours are correct.
Single Windows Store
Microsoft has promised a single app store for their OS since the original pitch of Windows 8, and they've failed to deliver. It's a powerful concept, but if it stays as that much longer then arguably Microsoft's biggest playing card could be handed to a competitor.
In fact, just earlier this month we reported Google's release of a tool called 'Arc Welder' which brings Android apps to Windows, Mac, Linux, and of course its own Chrome OS.
The time for Microsoft to deliver on this is literally now or never. Thankfully, all early-indications show that the company is ready to deliver on this in a big way.
Filling the app-gap
One of the biggest barriers to user-adoption of Windows is the still-present app-gap where users find many of their favourite applications are either missing entirely, left without support, or are forced to use third-party clients which are increasingly being shut-down or token-limited.
Certainly the situation is much better than it was, even if Microsoft has resorted to building apps to fill some of the biggest omissions themselves. It's a vicious cycle; without apps, few users want to switch to Windows. Without users, few developers want to spend time creating apps.
It appears Microsoft is looking to Android to fill that app-gap for users, at least for the time being. Certainly it's a risk, but a lot less of one than ignoring the situation. Rather than emulating Android apps, Microsoft will unveil new ways and tools for developers to bring their apps to Windows with just small changes.
As users increase, Microsoft will be hoping developers will see the benefit to being able to create for Windows first and natively deploy to all of their ecosystem.
Just small changes
Despite such UI similarities that Android was claimed a clone of iOS at one point, it allowed code posted from iOS to Android to not look that out of place in terms of design. Porting from iOS / Android to Windows Phone wasn't such a seamless process due to the Metro / Modern UI being such a departure from the design of its competitors.
Microsoft has been experimenting more in recent times with universal elements across platforms such as the infamous "Hamburger" menu system. Ensuring that only small design changes, as well as code, is needed for developers to move their apps to Windows is essential for their OS to gain the same kind of traction as Google's platform.
Whether you're a fan of Microsoft's Surface line or not, few will argue that it's not innovative and beautifully-designed on a level that few PC OEMs achieve. Still not perhaps on the level of Apple's renowned hardware design, but a great piece of kit nonetheless.
In the Surface Pro 3, we winessed the small but powerful addition of a kickstand which can rest at any angle. It's time for a Surface Pro 4, and we're looking for Microsoft to innovate again.
At the least Windows Phone faithful will want to hear about a new flagship.
Microsoft blew minds with the announcement of HoloLens. Whilst they've kept quiet and left other players to show their little projects, the research teams at Microsoft have been building a system which takes AR on its biggest leap-forward yet.
If there is one way to gain the attention of geeks like me, it's create the kind of system you would find envisioned in Star Trek and place it in front of our eyeballs. Better still, allow us to create apps for it.
HoloLens is said to run universal apps, so once again if you choose to build for one device then you're building for the whole Windows ecosystem.
We're not entirely sure how this will work, but we're about to find out.
Do you think we'll see anything else in particular at Build 2015? Let us know in the comments.
For information on more events like Build 2015, visit Developer Events.