2019: The Year in Apps (Premium)

2019 was a confusing year for apps. The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) was declared dead. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) didn’t take off in any meaningful way, again. Mac Catalyst landed with a thud. And Linux apps, inexplicably, were everywhere.

Only people like you and me worry about this stuff, of course. To most users, apps are apps are apps, and how an app is made---or how an app is not made---doesn’t matter in the slightest. What does matter is that the apps users want are available on the platforms they use.

Granted, that’s never been a problem for the most part. But this debate about UWP, PWA, and Catalyst---and about related topics like Kotlin and Swift, Flutter and Xamarin, the return of Windows Forms and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and more---is still very important. Whatever your opinion of the viability of any of these technologies or of the different platforms on which they run, 2019 was also a fascinating year for apps.

It was a year in which apps crossed boundaries, from iPad apps in the Mac App Store (Catalyst) to PWAs in the Microsoft Store. A year in which developers could use environments like Flutter to writes apps that run anywhere on mobile and, soon, anywhere period. A year in which cross-play gaming came into its own, with gamers competing against gamers on other platforms. (Even the latest Call of Duty title allows gamers to compete across Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. This is a revolution.)

For those in the Microsoft world, 2019 may have seemed like another year of retreat. Microsoft gutted UWP by stripping it of all its unique functionality and making it available to developers still using other (mostly older) frameworks, an acknowledgment that its previous strategy failed. PWAs were going to be the next big thing, but we were in a holding pattern all year thanks (I assume) to Microsoft’s switchover to the Chromium codebase in Edge. And Microsoft’s defeat in mobile left it in a weakened position to influence the technologies that developers use in that space.

But each of these setbacks has a silver lining of sorts. UWP’s failure caused Microsoft to finally accept that its own developer base had rejected mobile apps on Windows and wanted that functionality in the environments they continue to rely on. Microsoft’s embrace of Chromium will ultimately speed the availability of PWAs and other web apps, not just on Windows but across platforms. And while Microsoft’s Xamarin platform will never take over on mobile, it does provide a path forward for .NET developers and can sit next to other cross-platform solutions like Flutter and let developers focus more on their solutions than on the differences between platforms.

What this all points to, as we close out 2019, is that the Microsoft apps space is finally where it should have been when Microsoft launched Windows 10 in 2015. That may seem like a pyrrhic victory of sorts, but at least it’s finally happening. And with Windows 1...

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