BARCELONA—You know that moment in spy thrillers when the hero suddenly realizes the scope of the evil genius’s nefarious plan? I had a moment like that at Mobile World Congress, when I sat down to talk with Greg Sullivan, Microsoft’s Windows Phone Director of Public Relations. Not that anything he said was evil. He just made me stop short and realize why Windows 10 really could change everything for Microsoft.
The reason why is encapsulated in one number: 1.5 billion. That’s how many Windows users exist worldwide, according to Sullivan. “We expect many will upgrade,” Sullivan said. How many? “Very many,” he repeated, with a dastardly smile.
Now’s the time when the hero puts together all the clues. A lot of people will upgrade to Windows 10. Windows 10 will work across all devices, from phones to desktop PCs and everything in between. Windows 10 will have universal apps that will work across all these devices. Let that all sink in.
What app gap?
Now think about the “app gap” that plagued lonely little Windows Phone. Once Windows Phone becomes part of this unified Windows 10 ecosystem, the app gap is gone. Poof. Obliterated from the face of the earth. In its place, a huge installed base of users will rise, ready and waiting for universal apps to work across all their devices. “You will suddenly have critical mass and a compelling reason for developers to make universal apps,” Sullivan explained.
Did I hear a cackle of glee?
It’s a great plan. Universal apps will be able to scale their interface to the screen size of the device, as Microsoft demonstrated at a press conference Monday morning. An Office app moved from a Windows Phone to a Surface tablet to the huge, 84-inch Surface hub display. The view redistributed itself neatly as it moved from device to device. Sometimes items shifted, but never so jarringly as to throw you off.
At the press conference, Microsoft’s Stephen Elop (the former Nokia boss) also confirmed that phones that shipped with Windows 8.1 will be upgradable to Windows 10. Universal apps will have their own icon in the Windows Store, Sullivan said, and we’ll hear more about them at the company’s Build developer’s conference, April 29 to May 1 in San Francisco.
Microsoft isn't the only evil genius plotting to rule the device world, of course. If Windows 10's universal apps gain any traction, a three-way fight with Apple and Google could develop. Now that would be fun to watch. Break out the popcorn, folks: This could be a very interesting year for the OS wars.