Univeral apps have become something of a Holy Grail for Microsoft. Promising to solve the eternal chicken-and-egg app development problem that its various software platforms have increasingly suffered from in recent years, the feature is a core part of the Windows 10 package and central to the ethos of the 'new' Microsoft.
As a key part of Redmond's software empire, the Xbox One is certainly among the list of devices to receive such support, and it seems that in anticipation of events later in the year, the firm has begun to shift tack slightly on app development for the console. Since the introduction of apps for the Xbox, Microsoft has kept a tight rein on exactly who could develop for the system. With universal apps slated to be available from November onwards however, preparation has begun to take maximum advantage of the coming opportunity.
According to Tom Warren of the Verge, Microsoft will explain its plan fully at the coming BUILD conference in April, it also expected that developers will be allowed to turn retail Xbox Ones into full developer kits. Alongside this, a full SDK preview will be released in May, giving developers enough time to begin developing apps for the summer time-frame. Beta apps will be made also be made available, allowing developers to test their programs with the community, creating a different app environment completely. Existing Xbox One apps will continue to be supported following the introduction of Windows 10, but without updates they will be limited in functionality when compared to the others that will be available in the app store.
Questions have also been asked about the role of Kinect in this new open future. As is the case with any custom designed piece of hardware, development for it requires special effort on the part of the programmer, and often this effort doesn't pay off. Much as is the case on the Wii U, where developer use of the GamePad controller is limited, use of the Kinect has steadily fallen, especially since the introduction of a retail option omitting the peripheral entirely. When universal apps arrive, whether Kinect will continue to play a part in Xbox's future will have to be seen.
Hopefully this move away from a restrictive app development environment will have its intended effects. As Microsoft has sought to establish tight control over development on its various software platforms, so developer interest in these areas has waned considerably. This in turn has had an effect on user adoption, with the likes of Windows Phone especially fighting a strong bias over a perceived lack of apps.
As the firm found, and continues to find, its greatest successes with its relatively open Windows software platform, it is clearly an article of faith for Microsoft that restoring this state of affairs will go some way towards bringing it back to the top of the heap. Only time will tell if its assertions prove to be true, what is for sure is that Redmond is pulling out all of the stops on its journey.
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