VLC is now a universal app: Why do universal apps matter?

Sean Michael

VLC for Windows Phone

Cross platform media player VLC has been released as a free universal app for Windows powered devices. VLC was already available on Windows Phone, but the most recent release creates a unified experience between devices on various Windows platforms. The player allows users to view and listen to media in a variety of ways, summarized by the app description: “VLC media player is a portable, free and open-source, cross-platform media player and streaming media server written by the VideoLAN project. VLC media player supports most audio and video compression formats, files and streaming protocols.”

The new app has a long list of features and even already has “basic Windows 10 support” which they describe as being able to “use the app in a window and the content should behave the way you would expect when resizing the window.” It is a major step forward in making a popular media player feel at home in the Windows ecosystem. There’s also a minor update to the Windows Phone version with bug fixes and the app bar and music bar being merged.

VideoLAN, the makers of VLC, released a feature list for their new app including a change long that lists DNLA support being dropped but that it’s set to return.

Some features are dropped

•DLNA support. It is set to come back as soon as possible.

•Manually changing the album cover. That will be back next week (and will also be available on WP)

New features

•Creating a playlist, editing a playlist (early support though)

•Your videos are displayed in three categories: videos, camera rolls and shows. We automatically detect if a video is an episode of a show.

•You can see the upcoming shows of an artist

•Social sharing (« #NowPlaying Shake It Off – Taylor Swift »)

Bug fixes

•Hundreds of bug fixes

•You can finally open a video, or a music file from the Windows Explorer, with the VLC Universal App. Should work fine. If it’s not the case, tell us.

It’s obvious that VideoLAN has put in a large amount of time and effort to make into making VLC a universal app but that begs the question; why does that matter?

As one might expect, coding and bug fixing apps across Windows, iOS, Android, and across desktop and mobile versions is a time consuming endeavor. In fact, one of the reasons that some companies don’t have apps on Windows Phone is because they would have to create an entire app for a platform that has a small, or relatively small depending on where you are, market share. This problem is one of the core factors that led Microsoft to push universal apps. If an app can share a vast majority of its coding between all Windows devices, they are, in the opinion of some, more likely to take the time and effort to develop an app for the phone.

Spartan as a universal app

The makers of VLC seem proud to be releasing a universal app and cite the percentage of shared code: “Today we’re sharing ~80% of our XAML code and >95% of the C# code, and this will keep improving during the next couple of months.” They also aim to increase the percentage of shared coding in order to “provide the same core experience on phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.” Windows users may be familiar with Tweetium – VideoLAN is, and mentioned them in their post, as an example of using the same layout across devices.

In addition to lowering the amount of time to initially develop the app, having a universal app allows developers to get a two for one deal on bug fixing and updating. VideoLAN states that “[being a universal app] finally allows us to not only « code for two platforms », but also fix bugs on both platforms at the same time. This may be the best part for developers.” A regular complaint of Windows users is that many apps they enjoy play second fiddle to iOS and Android when it comes to updates and features. Being able to update multiple versions of an app at once makes it much more likely that a company will take time to keep it up to date.

VideoLAN’s approach to universal apps is exactly what fans of Windows want to hear. While VLC could have been limited to a desktop program, they made the effort to make an app that also benefits users of Windows Phone. Universal apps could be one of Microsoft’s last hopes to shrink the meaningful portion of the app gap. While many cite the numerical difference in apps compared to iOS and Android, the major problem on the Windows platform is that important apps are missing and some of those apps lack features and the stability provided on other platforms. Microsoft’s hope is that being able to code and update apps once will lure more developers to their ecosystem.

Windows 10 on many devices

Microsoft is pushing for their next operating system to run on all Windows devices. From the smallest Microsoft Band to the large Surface Hub Microsoft is seeking to have their operating system and the apps that run on it to scale between different form factors. To achieve this they will need the support of companies like VLC to develop universal apps to run on the platform.