Microsoft’s mobile strategy: connecting the dots


Microsoft sponsored this Mobile Dev Memo analysis of its mobile strategy and the integration of Xamarin into Visual Studio.

Almost since the inception of the company, building platforms has been a big part of Microsoft’s corporate strategy: Windows is a bedrock of computing, having allowed many paradigms of modern application usage to bloom. But mobile has forced change upon every participant in the personal computing space, and Microsoft is no different: as of late, Microsoft seem to be pursuing a non-platform based mobile agenda that could make the company a major player in the app ecosystem: to become the development and services foundation upon which app developers rely in producing products for the other platforms.

Microsoft has recently published two guides to building and operating apps — for Windows, iOS, and Android — that incorporate its full suite of both backend products as well as development environments. The first, The enterprise Developer’s Guide to building five-star mobile apps, is centered around the development of high-quality apps using Microsoft tools, and the second, Your Guide to Mobile DevOps, is centered around the live service aspect of operating and optimizing apps. Both guides are platform agnostic and showcase Microsoft’s mobile strategy as partially existing as a neutral suite of tools that help developers succeed across the entire app economy.

One of the major pain points that mobile developers face in building apps is juggling the multitude of SDKs for third-party services that are needed in optimizing and supporting apps at scale. If Microsoft can tackle this at the development stage — that is, build out connections to its Azure services in a way that feels seamless for the developer — it could carve out an enviable position for itself in the mobile development ecosystem. If Microsoft is seen more as the universal framework for building apps in a way that also promotes usage of its services, then the rising tide of mobile lifts its boat, too, in a way that doesn’t require competing as a platform.

Developing for the iOS and Android ecosystems natively requires the utilization of a wide array of disparate services from multiple vendors (eg. analytics, CRM, data storage, etc.). In taking this direction as the foundation of the app ecosystem, Microsoft benefits from the growth of other platforms even if it doesn’t provide a last-mile point of distribution (app store). By consolidating and simplifying the development process via integrated services, Microsoft establishes itself underneath the major platforms as the end-to-end infrastructure that developers use independent of whichever mobile platforms their apps will be available on.

To this end, Microsoft purchased Xamarin, the cross-platform app development platform, in February of this year: with a C# shared codebase, developers can utilize Xamarin’s Tamarin Tools to develop native Android, iOS, and Windows apps. Through this acquisition, Microsoft has made clear that it intends to actively support the development of non-Windows apps as a platform-agnostic supplier of services (which is more of an extension of the strategy that Microsoft made clear when it released Office for iOS and Android in 2014 than it is a new declaration of intent).

It should be noted that Microsoft ostensibly has no plans to abandon its own mobile platform; in fact, supposed schematic leaks recently of the long-rumored Surface Phone generated considerable interest. But this new branch, or additional pillar, of Microsoft’s mobile strategy has been taking discernible shape since at least July 2015, when Nadella wrote off the $7.6BN acquisition price of Nokia wrote off the $7.6BN acquisition price of Nokia. And in acquiring Xamarin, Microsoft has established a valuable and defensible position at the bedrock of the app ecosystem.

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