Leak reveals ‘Universal Store' apps for Windows + Windows Phone

We’ve known, for some time now, of Microsoft’s plans to narrow the gap that exists between its smartphone and PC apps. Indeed, there has been considerable speculation across the web in recent weeks and months about just how the company intends to implement this, particularly with rumours swirling about plans to consolidate Windows Phone and Windows RT into a single OS in the near future.

Following days of leaks related to Windows Phone 8.1, the latest revelations, via @AngelWZR on Twitter, give some indication of Microsoft’s vision for future development.

The slide above clearly refers to ‘Universal Store apps’, signposting the ability for developers to “create a single app that targets Windows Phone and Windows”. It also describes some elements of the development process going forward, referring to two separate Visual Studio UI projects – one for each of the subtly different user interfaces employed on handsets and larger displays – along with a single “shared solution” template.

A second slide points to common UI elements across Windows and Windows Phone and indicates that 80% of XAML can be shared, with no changes at all, in apps developed for the two platforms.

The slide also notes that, when an app’s development is complete, Visual Studio will produce two AppX packages – one for the Windows Store, and the other for the Windows Phone Store – indicating that Microsoft will ditch XAP packaging in favour of AppX for its smartphone apps with Windows Phone 8.1, bringing it further in line with Windows 8.x.

These latest leaks appear to confirm that Windows Phone 8.1 will be a hugely significant step towards a unified app ecosystem across Microsoft's platforms, with the ability to run near-identical apps both on Windows PCs and handsets marking a major milestone in the journey towards ever-closer OS integration. There remains much that we don't yet know, of course, but given how much info keeps on dripping forth of late, there's a good chance we'll know a lot more before Microsoft officially reveals Windows Phone 8.1 at its BUILD conference in April.

Source and images: @AngelWZR (1 / 2) via WMPowerUser

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They should just allow users to sideload apps like you can with android. Everything on the surface RT and windows phone have to come from the market. On the Surface Rt the market to me is a POS thats always crashing and saying your not connected not to mention its slow as hell. I wanna be able to download a application and click install, isnt that the experience we're suppose to get when they say "unified"?

Might want to reset your device. The Store app has never crashed on me once on my Surface RT and I'm not kidding. Yes it sometimes takes time to connect which can be irritating but no crashes.

Microsoft is missing a huge profit center here by not offering desktop software via the Store as well. Think of all the developers who sell software via their own websites. MS could use the Store as a means to showcase these programs (as long as they meet certain qualifications) and if the dev wants to actually sell thru the MS store he can as well.

Honestly a single software source that guaranteed safety from MS for Windows should've been done a LONG time ago.

Dunkleybwoy said,
They do offer desktop software through the store, they have since Windows 8 first came out.

Don't they just send you to the third party developers website?

Right this needs to offer a hosted and trusted solution. Much like Download.com in the (very) old days used to be a reasonably safe place to get a program from.

MS hosts the file, certifies its virus free, malware free, crap free for a small percentage of the sale.

This is the way I imagined it as well, at least for now. What they need to do next is admit that for non-touch PCs the 'Windows' app interface isn't optimal either. So why no add another AppX package for those devices (desktops and laptops)? Right now that is still the biggest segment of the Windows market. I'm sure developers are interested in adding some tweaks for those cusomters.

Naturally Microsoft should do the heavy lifting. Like by default make Windows detect that a device as a large screen and show the appbar onscreen instead of forcing users to use a swipe gesture. It's little things like that which make the modern UI feel more of a hazzle and reduce productivity.

In the long run I hope Microsoft is able to create one UI that out of itself adapts to the platform's specs. So developers simply create the UI elements and they get rearranged based on the system specs. For example the interface scrolls horizontally on portrait devices such as phones and vertical on landscape devices such as tablets.

I was about to completely agree with you, but then I stopped. Lets look at an example of a basic list with items in the application bar:

On a small screen, you have a list that scrolls, and if you tap an item, it expands inline. That's how my app works. On a large screen, you can tap the item and have the expansion happen in the split-pane.

So while it's a great idea, it would require Microsoft to create a UI for every scenario, otherwise you hit the corner cases that make it impossible to do properly.

Yes I would love it to happen, but I don't see how it's practical. Yet.

I'm not following you. You are talking about the appbar?

The way I picture it is rather straight forward. The functions on the appbar need to be organized based on importance. So when you have a small screen and only 5 functions (circles) fit in view than all the other functions are below view and you need to pull up the menu (three dots) to see the rest.

When you have a larger screen more (if not all) functions are visible on the appbar. Naturally as a dev you should be able to not include certain functions incase the functions dont lend itself to smaller screens.

Lastly the user should be able to decide whether he sees the appbar (circles) or only three dots on the bottom (visual cue that there are functions hidden). Pulling it up a little bit should then show the bar, pulling it up further should show additional functions that dont fit the bar (depending on screendsize). The default setting for this should depend on your device. Non-touch should have the bar visible by default.

Cross-platform app development is nothing new. Java, wxWindows, Qt, Appcelerator Titanium, Xamarin, PhoneGap, Sencha... They've always been second citizens to native applications developed for a particular OS since the "feel" just isn't the same, and there is also the problem with developing for the weakest links.

I.e. you can't assume mouse input despite a device having a mouse attached, so you need to consider touch input in the UI, which makes the elements larger than necessary even if you would have a mouse attached, which annoys users. (this is just the most basic example; others can involve networking and cellular support, GPS and geolocation, type of graphics card, what you can assume about performance, in essence "knowing your target" and optimizing for it)

With a unified platform from the OS developer themselves, Microsoft is entering new ground. There is at least no longer the problem with the "feel" since that will per definition be the same. You can't make an app not feel at home if the OS interface was made to be identical on all platforms.

I think it could be a success, although this would suprise me, due to the weakest link problem that would still be unresolved. Many others before them have run into a dead end here, when exploring this. Java wasn't the revolution it was meant to be, and further attempts by others are niche products at best.

It is no coincidence that Microsoft would be unique in going this direction, bold enough to do it to the operating system interface and app store. That's because this is problematic, and it's a hard problem to solve when going beyond human/computer interface compatible devices such as phones and tablets. It's not as easy as just releasing a generic platform and giving the developers the door keys, then cashing in on the success. If it worked like that, all current operating systems would have cross platform interfaces.

Edited by Northgrove, Feb 13 2014, 11:44am :

Nice post. I think touch screens will grow quickly over the next few years, including desktops. If you have a tablet and/or a smartphone, a touch screen wouldn't be so hard to get used to on the desktop.

My boss has a 19" Vaio tablet and believe it or not, you get used to the touching the screen and, for me at least, became a quick habit. I went back to my Windows 7 desktop and wanted to touch the monitor.

hagjohn said,
I went back to my Windows 7 desktop and wanted to touch the monitor.

Ever since I got my Surface, when ever I use a laptop I find myself moving my fingers towards the screen instead of the touch pad. I constantly need to remind myself the screen isn't touch enabled. Another couple of years from now and most of the laptops here at work will be replaced due to end of life and everyone will have touch screen laptops. I'm eagerly looking forward to this.

Would love the ability to run Windows Phone games that I purchased on my Surface.

Even with scaling I would love to run both Final Fantasy games on a larger screen.

Sooner this is done, the better. It'll really encourage development on the platforms. It looks really well though out as well, XAML is really adaptable.

well, I'd love to run current windows phone apps on my windows tablet, I mean they could use current windows phone UI apps on a windows tablet without needing to rebuild the UI to fit windows (turn tablet to portrait mode, but it would be difficult for non-touch devices like laptop or desktop)