Microsoft to iOS coders: Help us build a bridge to your apps

Microsoft wants Objective-C developers not only to port their apps, but to help build the tools to do it

the bridge 120782637
Credit: Thinkstock

How urgently does Microsoft want applications for mobile editions of Windows? First, the company promised free tools to iOS developers that would allow them to build Windows apps in Visual Studio using Objective-C. Now Microsoft wants those developers to help build those tools. 

Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled the GitHub repository for the MIT-licensed WinObjC, an Objective-C development environment for Visual Studio 2015 (including the free Community edition).

Also known as Project Islandwood, WinObjC is intended to "[make] it easy for iOS developers to build and run apps on Windows," per the blog post describing the release. Microsoft has also emphasized that the point of the toolkit isn't merely to port iOS apps to Windows, but to allow iOS programmers to "write great Windows apps that use as much of your existing code and knowledge as possible."

Rhetoric aside, it's not hard to see why Microsoft wants to befriend such developers. With the shelves of Microsoft's mobile ecosystem so embarrassingly bare and the sheer number of apps available for iOS, it constitutes a quick way to turn the latter into Windows Universal apps. Those apps, by Microsoft's logic, pull double duty by giving Microsoft's long-beleaguered mobile ecosystem something to do, while also running on non-mobile editions of Windows.

Too bad the vaunted plans for universal apps have since become the victim of reduced expectations, thanks to many existing Windows phones' inability to make the transition to Windows 10. Also, Objective-C itself has been steadily losing market share to Swift ever since the latter's introduction, due to its more appealing roster of features -- meaning Microsoft's bridge may well have been built in the wrong direction.

Microsoft has similar plans for a bridge from Android (aka Project Astoria), scheduled for public release in the fall. But a deeper, unsolved problem remains: What incentives exist for programmers to consider Windows as a mobile app target -- one exacerbated by Microsoft sending mixed messages about how it plans to commit to and execute a rejuvenated mobile strategy.