Windows 10 S breathes new life into UWP — and paves the way for 'Surface phone'

The UWP is Microsoft's unified, core-based development platform that also provides a cohesive app experience for users across the breadth of Windows-based devices. UWP apps have the benefit of being more secure than traditional programs, in part because they are distributed exclusively through the Windows Store.

Their integration in the Windows 10 platform enables features such as push notifications, Cortana integration, Live Tiles, running background tasks, and accessing other app services.

This synergy of app features and the OS is Microsoft's Windows 10 vision of personal computing across its device family, including the anticipated "ultimate mobile device". Sadly, though Microsoft appealed to developers to update existing Windows apps to the UWP, few have. Furthermore, the Project Centennial (Win32), "Westminister" (Web) and "Islandwood" (iOS) app bridges were supposed to bring apps from other platforms to the UWP. But that didn't happen.

In the two years since Project Centennial's (and its companion bridges) introduction, it received little promotion. Microsoft has provided developers with the tools to do more with their apps but has failed to provide a compelling story as to why they should use them.

Every story needs a setting to propel the plot forward. The newly introduced Windows 10 S, which runs only Store apps, is the "setting" Microsoft's UWP story has always needed. Here's why

Modernizing Win32 apps for the PC

Microsoft's poor advocacy for the app bridges and a prevailing perception that UWP was phone-focused led to a muddying of what Microsoft's purpose of the UWP and Project Centennial has always been.

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Part of Microsoft's vision for UWP is modernizing Win32 apps for today's personal computing experience. This experience retains the traditional productivity-focused desktop setting but is also increasingly mobile.

Microsoft's personal computing vision requires a modernization of Win32 apps.

The UWP and the modernization of Win32 apps are part of Microsoft's long-term goal to facilitate a personal computing experience in which users can seamlessly move from a productive desktop experience to a fluid mobile one on a single device.

Surface phone should be more than a phone

Microsoft attempted to initiate (but failed to adequately communicate) this strategy with the necessary first step of bringing Win32 apps to the UWP.

A PC focus has always been the strategy

Last year I presented the following analysis:

Microsoft is aware that despite declining PC sales due to the increase in mobile personal computing, the PC is not dying — it is changing … combined with the fact that many personal computing tasks are still optimally facilitated in a desktop space. Personal computing then is both a mobile and static experience.Microsoft realizes that the 16 million legacy Windows apps will always have value. I believe that the company sees them as powerful tools that simply need to be updated, or evolved, to adapt to the new world of mobile and desktop computing. This juncture is where Microsoft's Project Centennial … comes in.This topic is usually discussed … within the context of how this Bridge will bring apps to Windows "phone." The argument that is often made is that no one wants desktop apps on a phone. Fair enough. But let's look at this from another angle.[This] Centennial Bridge strategy succeeds in updating the familiar desktop environment so that programs that we are accustomed to are adapted to a world with both static and mobile computing demands.

Smartphones are dead: Evolve or die, Microsoft's ultramobile PC strategy

At the time I wrote that a year ago, most people were focused on the phone's place in the UWP. My analysis highlighting Microsoft's priority of moving Win32 apps to the UWP to modernize the desktop experience likely seemed misguided. This is especially true since Microsoft's own messaging about its strategy was poorly communicated.

With the introduction of Windows 10 S and the absence of first-party phones, a much clearer message highlighting the accuracy of that analysis is emerging.

Project Centennial is finally a bridge to somewhere

Many developers didn't see the value in using the desktop app convertor and the Centennial app bridge to bring apps to the Window Store. Current PCs ran their traditional apps in their current forms just fine.

Even with Windows on ARM, cellular PCs would run their unaltered apps equally as well, as seen in the video below.

The ambitious vision of Win32 apps on a potential Continuum-enabled Surface "phone" didn't present a compelling story to developers either.

Microsoft's Project Centennial app bridge makes sense of Win32 apps on phone

Developers needed a reason to convert their apps to UWP. Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop may be that reason. Windows Chief Terry Myerson explained that Windows 10 S is the same Windows users and developers have come to know. The only difference is that it will not run Win32 apps.

Start 'em young

Microsoft strategically positioned Windows 10 S for the education sector. Beginning next fall, young students using affordable Windows 10 S-powered laptops will use various UWP apps to help prepare them for the future. The range of apps that will cater to these students and the tools Microsoft is providing educators (opens in new tab) demonstrate the traditional power of Windows with a modernized app model. This may be the practical UWP "story" developers needed to hear.

As a segue between post-secondary education and the "real world," Microsoft introduced the Windows 10 S-powered Surface Laptop. Targeted at college students, this $999 Ultrabook is positioned as a MacBook competitor. Like it's lower-end primary and secondary school-focused counterparts, the Surface Laptop is capable of performing all the productivity tasks common to Windows.

The company demonstrated this by converting its popular Office Suite into UWP apps, which will be sold through the Windows Store.

The conversion of the world's most popular productivity suite into a form that works as users expect on an app-focused version of the world's most popular PC OS may help Microsoft communicate its UWP vision. Developers may finally see benefits and maybe even a need to move their Win32 apps to UWP.

Microsoft targets children

By introducing Windows 10 S in the primary and secondary school environments, Microsoft is clearly attempting to familiarize children with the tools that the company hopes they'll use in the real world. The higher-end Surface Laptop is meant to do the same for college students. It is also meant to inspire OEMs to produce higher-end Windows 10 S laptops. Redmond hopes they'll be common in the market as today's primary and secondary students reach college age.

Microsoft is bringing one of the world's most used Win32 apps, Office, to this platform (and as other apps follow in time), so many users may find upgrading to the Pro version for access to Win32 apps (for $49) unnecessary. This would make Windows S more popular, relevant and an increasingly appealing OS option for OEM partners.

As OEMs bring a variety of Windows S devices to market, developers may be compelled to keep their apps relevant on an increasingly relevant platform by modernizing apps via UWP. And Microsoft's long-term strategy of "training" children, education institutions, college students and families on Windows 10 S may succeed.

This part of Microsoft's UWP strategy is critical to the success of the next part.

The future of the PC is Continuum

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella said the company is planning an ultimate mobile device. He recently reiterated that Microsoft's next device will not have the traditional phone form and function:

[We're] looking for what's the next change in form and function. [We] created that [2-in-1] category and made it a successful ... we'll make more phones, but they will not look like phones that are there today.

An important point to note within the context of this piece is Nadella's stress on the importance of Continuum's ability to turn a phone into a desktop:

This one particular feature that we have called Continuum, which is a phone that can even be a desktop.

Microsoft's goal with Windows 10 S, UWP and Project Centennial is to modernize the desktop experience. That trek does not end with Windows 10 S laptops, 2-in-1s and tablets. Microsoft's ultimate mobile device is also part of this strategy.

The company's goal is focused on a single device that can serve the full range of personal computing.

'Surface phone' is about personal computing

Personal computing takes many forms. It can be productivity-focused at a desk with a monitor and keyboard, consumption-focused on a couch with a tablet, or on-the-go, triaging emails or editing documents on a smartphone or laptop.

Microsoft wants to create a platform that will help users "do more" with one device. The fallacy some encounter when envisioning this is picturing Microsoft cramming a PC into a smartphone-shaped form factor. Nadella stressed Microsoft's targeting a new "form." With Continuum, which turns the phone into a PC, Microsoft's also targeting a new "function."

With Windows 10 S, Microsoft has a compelling message to get Win32 apps to UWP. In time, an ultimate mobile device will potentially be able to serve the full range of our personal computing needs. Through Continuum, it may be our productivity-focused desktop when connected to a monitor and keyboard, our laptop when connected to an HP Lap Dock-like device, or our phone and tablet possibly with a folding design with Cshell.

How Microsoft can ensure 'Surface phone' success

Whatever the outcome, Windows 10 S may finally be a reason for developers to embrace the UWP and bring their Win32 (and other) apps to the platform.

As I've been stressing, Microsoft is moving a telephony-enabled PC into the mobile space and Project Centennial will likely get a big push at Build 2017.

Read these:

If Microsoft doesn't kill at Build 2017 the Surface phone may be dead on arrival

Is early 2018 too soon for a Surface phone?

Will Microsoft's rumored Surface Phone be a reimagined Surface Mini?

Why 'Xamarin is the future of Windows Mobile

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

253 Comments
  • Thanks for reading folks!!! Microsoft's UWP strategy is a long-term plan that will take time to come to fruition. It is a platform, not a phone-focused play that has a PC focus to modernize the desktop environment. That message was getting lost due to poor communication, misinterpretations and the noise generated by "phone" chatter. As I shared in the piece Microsoft's goal has always been to modernize Win32 apps for the PC environment. I wrote about that in detail in April 2016 in "Smartphones are dead: Evolve or Die, Microsoft's ultramobile PC Strategy." This analysis is becoming clearer now that phone is a diminished part of the conversation and the introduction of Windows 10 S with its exclusion of Win32 programs from the OS highlights the place of Win32 apps being to the UWP via the desktop app convertor and Project Centennial. The UWP and modernization of Win32 apps and even a path to the ultimate mobile device are a bit clearer as I've outlined above. I've consistently argued Microsoft would be moving a Continuum powered telephony-enabled PC into the mobile space not the smartphone space. It won't happen tomorrow, but Microsoft is modernizing the PC and if successful, in time (several iterations deep)their plan is that it will be a desktop via apps converted to the UWP with Project Centennial when connected via Continuum to monitor, mouse and keyboard, a laptop with a Lap Dock-like dock, and tablet and phone with Cshell. Build, as I've been pressing, will likely see a big push of Project Centennial to get this ball rolling! If you jumped into comments before reading, please read first so that your comment will make as much sense as possible. A comment on the title is not a comment on the content😉 Well folks...LET'S TALK!!!
  • Good article Jason.
    It's been very clear for long time:
    Surface Phone will be powered by ARM and will run Windows 10S.
    It's likely to be released 'whenever is ready' - 2018 or early 2019.
    By that stage Windows Store will mature nicely with some big names added.
    I believe that MS should pay developers to convert any existing win 32 apps to UWP. Essentially all apps from the store will run smoothly on Surface Phone.
    Windows Mobile will be rebranded. Existing times ahead folks!!! Can't wait.
  • By that age the Store will be empty like Sahara desert, at least when it comes to mobile-specific apps. They may bring some win32 apps into the Store, but for the Store to be ready Microsoft needs phones. Any phones. Right now they don't have any, and even though I like w10m, I would talk anybody out of buying a Windows phone. Developers are leaving, companies are removing their outdated apps made in the Nokia/WP8.1 era... That's the sad reality.
  • Bingo. I was ready and waiting for developers to jump in the Windows Store with W8 apps but it never happened. Good luck convincing developers to create apps for a small number of users all over again.
  • Exacty. And only because Microsoft didn't want to bite the bullet, and release few more phones near the end 2016, and to stay focused on mobile. If they only did that, I am sure the situation would be a lot different. After they releaced w10m many started making their UWP apps, there used to be so much enthusiasm, but Microsoft prefered to kill that.
  • I think the big problem is that Microsoft kills products too quickly - or at the very least, removes support and interest so they are effectively killed. Windows 10 mobile is just over a year old (general release) and already Microsoft stopped it's Lumia line. W10M has improved greatly over the last year and although it is still being worked on - people can't buy a reasonably priced phone in various markets, and the 'next thing' is being hinted at that is not W10M (some sort of other mobile platform based on Windows 10S). If phones like the 550 / 650 and 950 were still available, I'm sure people would buy them. The Windows 10 platform is great for families and Microsoft Family actually works - unlike that mess Apple has or lack of anything from Google. Features of Microsoft Family I use are: 1/ Central hub for all settings
    2/ Able to set active hours and time centrally for Windows 10 devices and Xbox.
    3/ Able to set restrictions on store content suitable for specific age
    4/ Multiple logon for tablets (surface 3)
    5/ No nagging 'authorisation' if child wants to download 'free' age appropriate content.
    6/ Able to track family members and devices Having to go to every iPad to set Restrictions manually and to have to approve, multiple times, even free store purchases drives me up the wall. No point setting up app restrictions on Mac as it just breaks. I just wish Microsoft marketed the benefits of Windows 10 mobile and didn't assume everyone knows about Windows so everyone must know about Windows 10 mobile.
  • I agree with evertything you said, but I would only add one thing. Lumias 550, 650, 950 would be old by now, and most would consider them old since they will lose support in less than a year. So they should either announce that those phones will get their support extended by one year, or annouce new phones - almost the same, but with newer hardware. That especially holds for Lumia 650 which has too weak chipset. Some of them could come with fingerprint scanners since that is a thing nowadays, but oh well...
  • For Windows Store to get ready, the most important apps are those popular desktop apps.  Now the biggest audience are desktop users and they need to install desktop apps. Microsoft is now trying to make users get used to the store by having their favourite win32 apps available in the store. The point lies in the habit of using Windows PC - currently users have no such a habit of visiting the store.  If they have that habit, it becomes much more effective for developers to bring even mobile apps to the store.
  • Yes, I agree with that part, but I was replying to this:
    Surface Phone will be powered by ARM and will run Windows 10S.
    It's likely to be released 'whenever is ready' - 2018 or early 2019.
    By that stage Windows Store will mature nicely with some big names added.
    Windows Store may mature nicely, it has good chances, but it will not mature for Surface Phone. It may not actually be a phone as we imagine it today, but if it doesn't have basic functionality which other phones have, it will have no success. At least very few people would want to replace their phones with Surface Phone.
  • This is so true. Don't underdstand why MS keeps expectimg today's consumers to be magically transformed into walking cyborgs. We will still use smartphones to make calls. All the talk is always about computing, why are there so many social apps avl now if always in an email, spreadsheet, word document, powerpoint, one note etc was the case? People will compute when necessary and don't when not.
  • Exactly, and even those enterprise users will want to use those "unenecessary" apps such as Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc. It's no longer simply about the communicating.
  • Arm can support full Windows 10 no need for the Windows 10S unless it's a low powered phone.
  • ARM can support Windows 10 if it is high powered phone, i.e. if it is powered by Snapdragon 835. If not, it can't handle even Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S only helps some users who would prefer to have everything in one Store because they are not knoweledgeable enough to install what they need to the web, but above all - it helps Microsoft to put under their control what we can install on our machines.
  • Windows 10 S will only help Windows Mobile if it's actually successful... but there is no evidence of that yet.  Right now, it's just another attempt by Microsoft to get developers to create sandboxed apps. Mostly likely, Microsoft will give up on it when it is not instantly successful, and do another "retrenchment" or "reboot". lol
  • WinRT was all about only being able to run Store apps.  W10S is all about only being able to run Store apps.  Seriously, how on earth does this breathe life into UWP?  Where's the data to show developers are still hot to develop for Windows, period?  Who is really developing even Win32 programs on a scale that's anywhere close to that of iOS or Android?  Microsoft has been reinventing its goal and its target audience so often and so many times that who really has any confidence?  
  • Let's not forget, RT was Windows 8 .. W10S is Windows 10. Aside from the reasons Daniel pointed out in his article about the difference between RT and S ...people despised Windows 8 on Tablets/Laptops/Desktop ...Windows 10 is a product that's A LOT more popular amongst those same users ...so while I'm not saying this will necessarily make it a guaranteed success, it's definitely a choice that wont go down badly with consumers like Windows 8 rt Let's not forget the normal version of Windows 8 was already a product most users loathed and avoided, so the RT version wasnt going to do it any favors either. There was also no plans whatsoever for converting exe to apps and the store itself wasnt even Universal. If you bought an app on pc for example you would have to repurchase on phone. ...Windows 10 is an entirely different game, there is a plan in place and a wider range of products to make use of it.
  • Windows 8.1 on tablet, was/is awesome. Might have been an ugly duckling on PC but nothing short of amazing on a touch UI
  • Windows 10 S has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the small screen.  The success or failure of it will not control the future of mobile.  The store can be full of applications that aren't UWP or optimized for the small screen. 
  • You're assuming people will continue making Win32 apps built for desktops. Here's news, desktop is dead, Win32 development on the non-gaming space has slowed down to a crawl and consumers don't care about going to websites and downloading .exes. Future apps will be in UWP, even those not found in the store will incorporate a UWP front end.
  • Surface phone should run full windows 10 pro, and nothing less, albeit with ARM octacore with the 4 slower cores emulating code in the background. C Shell will put screen in tablet mode on native 6"-7" screen and desktop mode when projecting to monitor.
  • dude, ask yourself a question.... such a device with so much power and a big screen.... how long will it run on one charge? It wont even finish a working day. There MUST BE a difference between a MOBILE phone vs. LAPTOP/ Tablet. Mobile phone is not just about APP, its about telecomunication capabilities too
  • I agree about power and usage for these types of devices.  For most people, their mobile devices go through bursts of usage (on for a minute or two, then off again).  Contrasted with a laptop or tablet, which is on longer, with each use.  And the more features a device offers, the more it'll be on.  That's not even counting the constant connection that mobile phones have with their cellular providers. I think that for a powerful device to actually last the day, they need a way to moderate how much power it uses, whilst in use.  I'm pretty sure battery life on S will be better, simply because it manages how UWP apps perform.  If they could find a way to offer decreased performance on the hardware (like underclocking the processor when not in use), that could help as well.
  • It's not that the device will have to run only on battery. Would you at work or home just use battery? The other thing this could open up is that the actual device could stay in your pocket. You could use a foldable 10" screen which too comes with its own battery. You just put a Bluetooth speaker and a Bluetooth mic on a Bluetooth screen. When you get back to the office you're gonna plug it into your 28" monitor and use your Bluetooth keyboard with your Bluetooth mouse when you get home you're just gonna plug into your 52" TV. I mean right now what do you have at home or work? You have a screen, a keyboard, mouse and a box with the computer in it. A phone can be the same thing just on a smaller scale with the keyboard and mouse on your 10" foldable display. It's even possible to have a small keyboard separate from a display and a headphone and mic in one ear. You want to answer a call quick the foldable display can have a small screen on one side so you can see who's calling and a speaker and mic for taking a call. Software guys need to think hardware.
  • Well the Galaxy S* with an octacore and a 6.2" screen gets about 8hrs worth of battery life. Why do you feel a WoA device would fare any worse?
  • about 1 hr.  But I have noticed that most windows phone users never leave their homes anyways since they do not need apps.  So it's a moot point.  They can just leave them plugged in all the time.  
  • Or most Windows Phone users can get around without need of apps, whereas Ios and Android users can't even poor a cup of water without an app.
  • Their parents basement doesn't require an app.
  • Its possible that they go out, but they aren't the kind of zombiefied pedestrian walking with his phone in front of his face.
  • That's where the W10 on ARM comes in.  The ARM processor technology will improve drastically in the coming years.  SD835 uses a 10nm process chip.  The 7nm process chips will arrive in 2018.  TSMC plans to build a $16 billion fab to manufacture 5 nm (2020) and 3 nm (2022) chips.  The power efficiency will be greatly improved on the new generation chips.  The battery life could be extended to all day or longer. The Cellular PCs would certainly be benefited by the new ARM technology.
  • Plus there's advancement coming in battery technology. Especially with the use of graphene. So, in a few years we could very well see multi day mobile use between charges.
  • Many tabs have GSM capabilities. The distinction got blurred many years ago !
  • Agreed, Surface Phone has to be Windows 10 Pro. That's what I'm hoping to, to finally bring my phone to office and have it connected to my keyboard, mouse and monitor, and answer my whatsapp messages from my keyboard. The day that comes true I will only carry this device.   
  • It's pretty simple, WM will run Win 10S, plug it to the dock and it will run Win 10 Pro through Continuum. So you have enough battery to use it as a phone and when you plug it you have a desktop mode and it charges the Windows Phone, it makes sense i think. Anyway i'm excited to see what they will announced at Shangai, wait and see...
  • Jason! I said this!... You must be reading my comments, because everytime! Seriously.
    We must be on the same page 📚
  • Lol....great minds think alike🙂
  • Here is my comment, the very first comment, on Zacks article "MS introduces Surface Laptop, a laptop for Students"...............................
    "MS needs to keep going with this.. Train a new generation of youth that MS is where it's at.. They need to fill W10S with EXCLUSIVE apps, and pave they way for a mobile device that's so productive, kids, and adults, will have no choice but to have one... MS, if they really want, doesn't have to ride on the back of Apple, or be at the mercy of Google. They need to take Windows back. W10, and the Surface brand are the BEST!....... Yes, I brought up mobile again, because I believe that mobile is where it's at, and that everything MS does with W10 is one more foot in the door of mobile for MS... And, through Panos, and his team, MS should gain inspiration for the future, not this current boring/aging system of smartphones, and relatively incapable mobile apps. One day, soon, I want to see Panos showing a pocketable Surface device with the same amount of passion he just explained the craftsmanship of the Surface LT... I won't stop asking for, hoping for, and dreaming about, a "Surface Phone" until It's in my pocket.
    This event made my passion for a Surface Mobile device even stronger. Come on MS!!!"""
  • Gonna be tough putting a Hololens in your pocket! https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/3/15533668/microsoft-alex-kipman-phone-a...
  • It'll run by bluetooth off of the pocketable part, and just be a pair of sunglasses on your nose. 
  • You think Google Glass had it right?
  • Let's see how well Windows 10 S sells first before we say that developers have any reason to bring Win32 app to the store. If it plays out like you say, perhaps. But with the $49 upgrade to Pro, it more likely gives Microsoft a reason keep supporting Win32 as is.
  • How do you think it will sell priced for schools at $199.? that is sureley a no brainer.
  • That remains to be seen. The laptops that will be sold at $189 might not appeal to schools, much as they do not appeal to schools today. Microsoft certainly isn't selling Surface Laptops at that price, not even to schools. The ones at $189 will be made by Del, Toshiba, Asus, and the like. And remember, there are Windows laptops today at that price, which aren't exactly blowing up the education market. Very little has changed with this new announcement for the $189-299 price range.
  • At the $189-299 price range, you'd get laptops with Atom chips, 2GB RAM, half of which is taken up by services for Win32 apps running in the background. The base specs for Windows 10 S is higher than Windows 10 Home and schools will get built-in education management tools which made Chromebooks so popular among educators and this may convince schools from switching to Chromebooks.
  • It isn't only the price of the device that makes schools gravitate to ChromeOS. It is how easy they are setup and manage. I don't see how Windows10S becomes competitive in this area. You still have the complexities of deploying and managing Windows. Google cloud services are so good and accessible anywhere. students won't have that luxury with Office.
  • You must have mistyped "androidcentral" in your search bar. By your comments it seems you belong there
  • No, I just forgot that you cannot be a Microsoft fan without being stuck in their bubble.
  • Microsoft's latest announcement has answered my question, "What about UWP?"
  • Things are getting much clearer now. But till things pan out give us some segue hardware MS.
  • So u acknowledge that your titles are click baity?? ;)
  • I'm afraid that this will be another failed attempt at Microsoft. The Windows Store will never take off and Microsoft are fooling themselves if they think it will. There's no need for the Windows Store at all.
    Phones => Dead
    Xbox => It's for games, people don't care about running apps on there even though may use some but it's not the platform for it
    PC (inc Surface) => Can install Win32 apps so why bother with the store. Most people install cracked software so why bother paying through the store when you can download for free
    Mixed Reality Headsets (inc HoloLens) => However much fun it is, it's still a fad at the end of the day and people won't be lining up to buy these I think Microsoft's strategy to focus on the cloud is their best bet as Windows slides into irrelevancy with google taking over in the years to come. However, with the latest figures showing Amazon's AWS making better profits and market gains than Azure, I just hope Microsoft don't do a Windows Phone on Azure but judging by their past ways, I've started migrating my software over from Azure to AWS.
  • Great article and explanation beyond the short sightedness of most of the audience here, but the question is, has Microsoft's inability to bring these things to market speedily and market them in a clear manner stalled adoption before it's began?
  • Agree with you and here i share an article from internet echoing some of the things you've been saying: https://hololens.reality.news/news/alex-kipman-just-said-what-all-holole...
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