Microsoft courts iOS, Android app makers for Windows

Microsoft's plan to regain popularity
Microsoft's plan to regain popularity   

Microsoft has released tools to make it easier for Google Android and Apple iOS developers to make their apps available for Windows phones as well, in a bid to turn around its struggling smartphone unit.

Windows phones have struggled to gain any significant market share, resulting in a lack of developer support and available apps. Now, Microsoft hopes to change this, announcing the news at its developer conference Build in San Francisco.

Normally, developers would have to write separate codes for iOS, Android and Windows Apps. However, the toolkit released by Microsoft on Thursday should allow developers on rival platforms to create a Windows version of their app with "minimal code modifications."

The apps would then be distributed through Windows' own app store.

Microsoft kicks off Build conference
Microsoft kicks off Build conference   

For instance, if a developer were to make a Windows' version of an Android app, it would use Microsoft's own services for search, such as Bing, rather than Google's search function.

'Sign of weakness'?

Microsoft has traditionally kept its platforms fairly closed, but the change of tack is an attempt to catch up in the fiercely competitive smartphone market.

"It is a sign of weakness from Microsoft that they have to take the step and put their resources into developer tools that allows developers to port apps to Windows, rather than spending that on adding new features on Windows itself," Ian Fogg, head of mobile at research company IHS, told CNBC.

"Microsoft is now in exactly the same kind of position as those challenger platforms were in the 90s when it was dominant in the PC market."

Developers will still need to modify any iOS and Android apps and this could hinder any spike in developers rushing to the Windows platform, Fogg added.

"They have reduced that barrier but there is a still a very significant barrier," he said.

Windows 10 'gamechanger'

Microsoft is set to unveil the hotly-anticipated Windows 10 later this year. At Build, CEO Satya Nadella hailed it as the "Windows built for this era of more personal computing."

The ability to write one code for Windows 10 apps and scale them across all devices running the operating system has been touted by Nadella as one of its best features.

Microsoft

At Build, Microsoft demonstrated how the so-called "Universal Apps" could be integrated with products such as Cortana—Microsoft's version of Apple personal-assistant software Siri—or the Xbox games console.

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"We believe Windows 10 could be a potential game changer for the company as it looks to emulate the success of transitioning Office to a mobile/cloud world, by creating a tightly woven integrated ecosystem with its ubiquitous operating system across devices," Daniel Ives, analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said in a research note.

More announcements around Windows 10 are expected during the Build conference, which will run until Friday.

The company has also unveiled its new web browser, Microsoft Edge, which will replace Internet Explorer on Windows 10.