Microsoft faces a major challenge when it comes to propagating Windows 8 in the marketplace quickly. In order for the operating system to succeed, software developers must write applications that take advantage of touchscreens in new devices. Many Windows 8 software developers I've spoken with recently, though, view writing apps for Windows 8 touch mode as ineffective because they believe that the majority of PCs and laptops shipping next year will be without touchscreens.
For many software developers, this is a resources problem. They know that people will still use Windows software in desktop mode and so this is where their development dollars are going now. They are hesitant to devote major resources to writing apps for touchscreen devices since they don't know how many people will buy laptops with touchscreens, and thus become a serious audience for their software.
These developers are also unsure how big the Windows 8 tablet market will be in the next 18 months. Apple and Samsung have such a huge lead in tablets in the enterprise market now and at best, Windows 8 will play third fiddle to them at least through mid-2013.
Microsoft has committed a lot of money to pay major software players to write Windows 8 touch apps, but even given that effort, I will be surprised if the Windows 8 store launches with more than 3,000 touch-based apps. And on Windows RT-based systems, its store will be lucky to launch with the same number of apps.
There is a technology in the works, though, that could bring as many as 500,000 touch-based apps to Windows 8 when it ships. Software startup BlueStacks has teamed up with AMD to let users run almost all Android apps on Windows 8 PCs and in full touch mode. Although it works best on touch-based tablets and PCs, it also works if using a trackpad or mouse.
It has been in beta and will go live at the Windows 8 launch on October 26. For a sneak peek, you can go to the site and download the player to check it out now before the official launch. It is very stable and works well.
The idea of running a mobile app on the desktop has been of great interest to consumers since Apple introduced the iPhone. People using iOS apps on mobile devices have wanted the same apps on their Macs. However, Apple took a different route by creating its own app developer's kit and software app ecosystem. BlueStacks even has an OS X player so that users can run all of these Android apps on Macs as well. Also, a Windows RT version of the BlueStacks player is in the works, as well. But BlueStacks has opted to make a player that directly delivers existing Android apps to a Windows PC.
One major PC maker has felt that this is too important to ignore. Asus has done a deal with BlueStacks and its player will be on many Asus Windows 8 PCs and tablets later this year. AMD's support will put the BlueStacks player on its customers' PCs in the future as well. I would not be surprised if other chip vendors follow AMD's example since they want as many of their chips sold as possible. If Windows 8 touch-based apps are slow to roll out, partnering with BlueStacks to put more than 500,000 apps – even if they are Android apps – on PCs would be a good move.
Ultimately, it would be prudent for Microsoft and Google to back BlueStacks because it would help Microsoft to sell more Windows 8 systems and Google to get its Android partners' apps on millions of new devices. But since users can download the BlueStacks players on their own, it is in the best interests of OEMs and ODMs to support these virtual apps over time, too. This could be a significant technology that could rev up Windows 8 adoption and, from a Windows 8 user standpoint, play an important role in the decision to use Windows 8 today and in the future.