It’s the normal news cycle. On Friday, we found out that Microsoft might be killing the Project Astoria bridge. On Monday, everyone writes about why they think it happened. I felt like I should throw my hat into the ring, as I have a theory that no one seems to be voicing.
First, a little backstory. Microsoft announced four “bridges” to help close the so-called “app gap” and bring more apps to the Universal Windows Platform.
- Project Westminster Project Westminster allows developers to package a web app as a universal Windows 10 app. When I say a web app, I mean any web site. Seriously, you type in a URL and you get an app.
- Project Centennial Project Centennial is Microsoft’s plan to bring Win32 apps to the Windows Store. While these Win32 apps will be considered universal apps, they will not run on ARM, meaning they won’t run on Windows Phones.
- Project Islandwood Project Islandwood brings iOS apps to the Universal Windows Platform. Developers can use their existing Objective-C code and with a little bit of work, compile it into a Windows Universal app. Project Islandwood doesn’t support ARM at the moment, but it will.
- Project Astoria You know what Project Astoria is. It’s why you’re reading this. Project Astoria allows developers to port their existing Android app to Windows 10. There is no need to recompile it, as the APK runs through an emulated environment.
Earlier this year, the tools for the private Project Astoria preview leaked and Windows 10 Mobile users from all around started flashing Android apps to their Windows phones. Microsoft disabled the leaked tools and eventually removed the Android subsystem from the Insider Preview builds.
Finally, last week, Windows Central published a story stating that Microsoft might actually be giving up hope on Project Astoria.
Many bloggers have published theories about why Microsoft might be breaking this promise. The general theory is that developers would no longer have any reason to develop for Windows. Personally, I don’t think this is true since this was the argument against Android apps long before Project Astoria was even a dream.
Other theories include legal concerns. Peter Bright of Ars Technica writes:
Both Islandwood and Astoria also have something in common: their questionable legal status. If Oracle eventually prevails over Google and the US courts assert that APIs are copyrightable, Microsoft’s wholesale lifting of both iOS and Android APIs for Islandwood and Astoria would be in legal hot water; Apple would be able to demand that Microsoft kill off Islandwood, and both Oracle and Google would have legal basis to oppose Astoria.
Microsoft did release a statement that Project Astoria was at least delayed, suggesting that developers use one of the other bridges:
We’re committed to offering developers many options to bring their apps to the Windows Platform, including bridges available now for Web and iOS, and soon Win32. The Astoria bridge is not ready yet, but other tools offer great options for developers. For example, the iOS bridge enables developers to write a native Windows Universal app which calls UWP APIs directly from Objective-C, and to mix and match UWP and iOS concepts such as XAML and UIKit. Developers can write apps that run on all Windows 10 devices and take advantage of native Windows features easily. We’re grateful to the feedback from the development community and look forward to supporting them as they develop apps for Windows 10.
Let’s back away from the why and let’s try and figure out if Project Astoria is delayed or destroyed. All Microsoft said is that Project Astoria is “not ready yet”, but they were very careful not to say that it ever will be ready.
Microsoft already broke a very public promise a couple weeks ago when they announced that they will not offer unlimited OneDrive storage to Office 365 subscribers. The fact that they might break yet another promise might be something that they’re trying to keep a lid on for now.
OK, let’s get back to the why. Is it to keep people developing apps for Windows? Probably not, as they wouldn’t have done this in the first place.
Is it due to performance issues? I don’t think so.
Is it because people flashed Android apps on their device without the developers’ permission? Probably not, since this is something that’s already doable on ALL Android devices.
Was it due to the threat of legal trouble? I don’t see how it could be. Even if APIs are copyrightable, Android is open source. You’d think they would kill Project Islandwood before Astoria.
Was it because Microsoft wanted developers to make their Android apps into Windows apps and users started flashing them on their own? Of course not. Users were excited that they could get new apps. Why wouldn’t Microsoft want that for users?
No, my theory is that I don’t think there was any way to claim ownership over an Android app. As far as I can tell, any old idiot can download the Snapchat APK (or any other APK) and package it as their own Windows 10 app and submit it to the Store.
Hell, I was waiting for someone to release the “Google Play Bundle”, that would be bundled with APKs for Google Play Services, Android System Webview, YouTube, Google+, Google Maps, and the Google Play Store, all bundled into a universal Windows 10 app.
I just don’t see any other possible reasoning behind this. Microsoft doesn’t have access to your Google Play Developer Console, so you really can’t prove that you own an app. Anyone could have submitted anything that wanted.