After two years of talking the talk, Microsoft is apparently getting serious about bringing universal Windows apps to the Xbox One.
Microsoft will reportedly reveal the first universal Xbox apps during its Build developers' conference later this month and explain how the console is opening up to app makers, according to The Verge. Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Xbox, also wrote on Twitter that Microsoft will reveal more about Universal Windows Platform in general.
Microsoft first started talking about universal Xbox apps in 2014, as part of a broader push for apps that run across phones, tablets, PCs, and Xbox consoles. That system—now known as Universal Windows Apps—kicked off last year with the launch of Windows 10. Developers can now write an app for Windows tablets and PCs, and have it run on Windows Phones with little extra effort. Some notable examples come from Hulu, Netflix, Dropbox, Twitter, Uber, and Pandora.
But aside from some brief conceptual demos, Microsoft hasn’t explained how Universal apps will apply to the Xbox One. It’s unclear what sort of apps will become available on the big screen aside from the obvious video and music services, and to what extent games will be part of the plan. Will UWP, for instance, finally pave the way for buying a game once and playing it on any screen?
The news comes just after one prominent game maker sounded the alarm over Microsoft’s app ambitions. In an editorial for The Guardian last week, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney argued that Universal Windows Apps are Microsoft's attempt to monopolize PC gaming and put competing platforms, such as Steam, at a disadvantage. Sweeney later admitted, however, that he had no evidence for his claims and wasn’t clear on how UWP worked. It sounds as though Microsoft plans to clear things up soon enough.
Why this matters: By opening up the Xbox One to all app makers, Microsoft could break tradition from how game consoles typically work. While rivals Sony and Nintendo still maintain tight control over which apps and games are allowed on their platforms, Microsoft may finally be willing to let app makers shape the future of its console.