What is the future of Windows 10 and what will happen to UWP: Part I

Microsoft HoloLens

Windows 10 has been one of the biggest changes to Microsoft’s operating system for decades. It features an all new design, a bunch of new features, a new personal assistant, a notification center, and a whole new platform. That platform, which perhaps marks the biggest change with Windows 10, is called the Universal Windows Platform, and it’s a replacement for the old, so-called, Win32 platform that has been in use since 1993.

The current state of UWP

Now, you may think how stretched out mobile apps can replace serious programs like Adobe Photoshop or Visual Studio. Short answer: they can’t. Not for now, in any event. The Universal Windows Platform, typically shortened to UWP, is in a very early stage. It has fewer Application Programing Interfaces than Win32, and therefore can’t be as functional.

APIs allow for everything from starting up an app to breaking your system. UWP apps slowly gain new APIs with every major Windows 10 release, like the Anniversary update. With each release, UWP apps are closer to replacing the legacy Win32 code that may be seen as superior today, but definitely won’t be in the future.

Currently, UWP is a more limited addition to the programs likely already running on your computer. There is a good chance that you’re using Chrome to read this article, for example, as it is the most common browser used to view our site. Chrome is a Win32 program. So are Word, Spotify, GIMP, 7zip and many other utilities that are usually installed immediately after getting a new computer.

Replacements exist for some of those apps, like Edge, Word Mobile, Groove Music, Photoshop Express, and 8zip, respectively, but those are usually relatively underpowered and not enough for the power user. Fundamentally, this is caused by the lack of APIs. Developers simply can’t yet make the apps better because there is nothing to “plug into.”

What’s next?

It’s not a secret that Microsoft is now focusing on UWP and the API expansion. Microsoft is now focusing mostly on UWP apps, and many people are not happy about that decision because they only see the present, not the future. The future is a clean and non-fragmented Windows, running on all your devices. On your phone, gaming console, computer, laptop, tablet, you name it. Unlike Win32, UWP will support all of these devices, and thanks to the development of the platform, these platforms could get a lot more serious than a Starbucks app.

With declining PC sales, desktop computers may come to an end in the future and get replaced by other form factors. Some suspect it may be tablets that will take the crown, and some suspect that it may be our smartphones with features like Continuum. However, I don’t think it will be any of these two and neither does Microsoft. This is why they are so heavily investing into the new universal platform.

The revolution

Back in 2007, Apple announced something “ridiculous and pointless” as some people thought: the iPhone. It was called a failure by many tech sites and companies, and even Microsoft’s former CEO, Steve Ballmer, ridiculed the device. He publicly stated, in an interview, the quote below and regretted it a few years later:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

But his thinking was quite logical, actually, at least based on the information available at the time. The iPhone was expensive, it lacked features that regular cell phones enjoyed, and it was big, different and weird. And here we are now. It’s 2016, and Apple is the most valuable tech company in the world. They revolutionised the personal computing market by entering it with something new and different. And now, so has Microsoft.

Today, nobody can imagine themselves walking around with a big HoloLens on their head or spending $3,000 for one. But as opposed to Apple, Microsoft has announced the product before releasing it. Microsoft made a Developer Kit and priced it so high to make sure regular customers don’t get the unfinished software and hardware and then start judging it by the flaws that would result in Microsoft losing this market.

Holograms are something science-fiction movies have made us believe will be a standard in the future. And why not? The HoloLens may replace all your devices with just one in the next 10 years. The form factor may be as thin and small as today’s sunglasses are, the look may be less weird, the battery may be much better, and so on.

But just as with this article, these are just speculations. The iPhone was in an almost identical state as the HoloLens is now–in a very early stage.

What will happen to UWP?

But where will Windows 10 be in a year? Probably not in a much different position than it is today. The Mobile version of the operating system will continue in decline, Xbox will grow, PC sales will continue to fall, and so on. A year is often said to be a lot of time in the tech industry, but not in this case. Microsoft is aware that they lost most of their markets. PCs are dying out and their smartphone OS is almost extinct. That is why they are thinking about the future battle instead of winning this one.

But let’s say that Microsoft might try to fight a little in the mobile market, too. How could they do that? The Islandwood bridge for iOS apps is clearly not working. And so what is working?

The answer is simple: the $400 million Xamarin acquisition that Microsoft made back in February. If developers want to reduce the work that needs to be put into their apps for iOS and Android, they can use Xamarin, which is now free for everyone. The next big thing may be coded using Xamarin.

While most developers don’t target their apps towards Windows 10 Mobile, they would automatically do so by using Microsoft’s tool. Fully 90% of the work to develop a Windows app would already be done, and so why not do that 10% yourself and “get over it”? That would automatically work on Xbox, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, HoloLens, Hub, IoT, and more. Most developers would consider the extra effort well worth it–there’s not much work, after all. This may cause the next “Snapchat” to be released for Windows alongside its Android and iOS siblings.

This also leads back to HoloLens. If an app would work on Windows 10, it would work on the holographic unit too.

The future of personal computing

Imagine Windows 10 in ten years. It will most probably be called just “Windows.” You won’t have a traditional desktop PC in your room, but rather all you will have is a HoloLens. If you need to sit down and work in front of a desk, you just fire up Word and use your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to do what you have to do. Think of it like Continuum for Phones, but a step further. You won’t even need a screen anymore. You will have all your files in the cloud, and by using the glasses, you will just edit them wherever you go without begin limited to any device except your head.

Then, what about Xbox? My prediction has been that it would gain users over the course of a few years. But Microsoft isn’t interested in hardware, and so why would they continue making the Xbox? Well, HoloLens may once more be the answer. You can already stream your Xbox One to the HoloLens and play it from there, technically, without a screen. All you need is the Xbox, HoloLens, and a Bluetooth Xbox One S controller.

In the future, gaming may be fully in the cloud. Some Win32 services have already shown up offering an entire library of games streamed to your console for a monthly fee. What if that streaming became a standard? Then you could play Final Fantasy XXIII on your sunglasses.

Conclusion

Now, I can understand that such forward thinking may be a little much at first. But the point isn’t to understand the logic behind it. That is Microsoft’s job. The point is to understand the result. Thank you so much for reading. And stay tuned for part two.

Thanks to Ezhik for some research!

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