Continuum Could Spark Third-Party App Development For Windows 10

Despite all the commotion revolving around Windows 10, there is one feature of the operating system whose impact is flying under the radar.

Continuum on Windows 10 makes the OS a versatile platform for both desktop PCs and mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, and experts say that will fuel third-party development for Microsoft's lagging app ecosystem.

Stephen Monteros, vice president of business development and strategic initiatives at Sigmanet -- an Ontario, Calif.-based Microsoft partner specializing in app development -- said that with all Microsoft devices running on the same OS as the PCs, it will be easier for developers to build for them, and it will give developers more incentive to do so as they'd be tapping into the larger Windows PC market in addition to its growing mobile presence.

[Related: Windows 10: Channel Chimes In With Pros, Cons of OS]

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"I view what they are doing here as a positive for app development. It's going to open up the market," Monteros said. "Tying the devices together opens up the app development community to the platforms they are going to be using. In tying mobility together with Windows 10, it shows they are in tuned to what's really going on, and that means the developers will come."

Microsoft's app ecosystem has been holding back its mobile business for a long time: As of this month, the app store for Windows Phone has about 340,000 apps, behind Google Android's 1.6 million apps, Apple iOS' 1.5 million apps and even Amazon's 400,000 apps, according to statistics organization Statista.

In the most recent numbers from research firm IDC, Windows Phone had just a 2.7 percent worldwide market share in 2014, behind iOS' 14.8 percent share and Android's 81.5 percent share. The poor numbers forced Microsoft into a $7.6 billion write-down of its Nokia business earlier this month.

Patrick Moorehead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy -- a leading tech analyst firm based in Austin, Texas -- said that Continuum on Windows 10 could lead to Microsoft bolstering its third-party mobile app presence in a profound way.

"Continuum is a really good value proposition. I love the vision of it," Moorhead said. "This is truly the first time that modularity has ever been executed well. Developers are driven by money, so they have to believe in the vision and believe people want to buy an app. Microsoft has made it so easy to have cross-platform applications across phone, tablet, 2-in-1, desktop and even Xbox. They made it really easy to do that. That attracts a developer, even if they don’t completely buy into Microsoft. … Now is the time for developers to get excited about this."

Moorehead notes that many app developers established themselves on Android and iOS. Because of this, they may not have had much interest in Microsoft as they made their money on the larger markets of the bigger mobile brands. But by having the same coding binaries across platforms, Windows 10 allows mobile developers to tap into the large market of Windows desktop PCs, especially in the enterprise.

"Microsoft owns business as much as Apple owns consumer," Moorehead said. "There is a promise with Apple in the enterprise, but Microsoft has been there for 25 years. They own it. If you want to get access to a new market you don’t have access to, writing for Windows 10 is a smart move. It's the strength of power that Microsoft has in desktop. With Windows 10, developers can move from one platform to the next and have a very, very similar experience. It's a single binary that runs across all the devices, just modified to a smaller display."

Windows users will argue that despite the lack of third-party apps compared with Google and Apple, Microsoft's mobile ecosystem does support many of the most popular apps on the market. But what may be the bigger issue is the lack of app updates for these apps. Some of the most popular apps in mobile are updated on iOS and Android quite often, some as frequently as every two weeks. With Windows Phone, this was never the case. A popular app may be on a Windows mobile device as well as an Android or iOS device, but the version that runs on a Windows device will not have been updated as recently, making the Android and iOS versions of it that much better.

Moorehead says adding Continuum as a feature "makes Windows 10 a much more viable platform to invest in. … As developers see the success of Windows 10, they will be motivated to update the apps on a more frequent basis."

Will this allow the Windows app ecosystem to catch up to that of Android and iOS? That would be a big bet to put down, but in terms of enterprise applications, Microsoft appears to be in a good position.