Microsoft has just made the Power BI app for Windows 10 mobile phones, which it introduced three weeks ago, available as a Windows 10 universal app for PCs, tablets and phones.
This was hardly an unexpected move from the Redmond, Wash.-based company. As a Windows 10 universal app, Power BI is optimized to run on every Windows 10 screen. That means many, many eyeballs for developers — as Microsoft has pointedly told us.
But just in case you missed the memo, the Windows 10 universal app platform, released last March at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, lets developers code once and send that code to any Windows device, from a mobile phone or tablet to an Xbox console.
Those Windows devices can then access a single Store for app acquisition, app distribution and updating.
Dropbox Proves Microsoft’s Model?
And sure enough here's Dropbox and its universal app for Windows 10! Launched several days ago, it works across Windows tablets, desktops and hybrids like the Surface Book and Surface Pro line.
Or does it?
On the other hand, it could be argued that the "Universal apps" model has proven to be a dud.
It has been one year since developers have been able to start building applications on this model, and yet the vast majority of apps available today on the Windows Store are actually for Windows 8 and 8.1. CMSWire has also discovered that many actually do not run in Windows 10 even though they're available to download.
Right now, the average businessperson probably cannot name three Universal Apps that she uses regularly.
There is a reason for that, Charles King, principal of Pund-IT, told CMSWire.
"In theory a single OS application interface that runs across multiple devices is a smart approach. And to give Microsoft its due, it is the only company out there trying to do that."
But Microsoft is a good ten to fifteen years too late, King said. "People have become comfortable with multiple interfaces across multiple devices."
"At this point, I think Microsoft's Universal App might be a solution in search of a problem."
But This is Power BI!
Power BI might be the exception though. For some businesses, Power BI could become as useful as a Bloomberg "B" terminal for their moment-to-moment business data. The Power BI engine, so far, has been truly impressive and the Universal App model may give Power BI a chance to shine, providing it (potentially) with an attractive, clean, uncluttered, and efficient client-side platform.
Certainly Microsoft is doing all it can to spotlight its crown jewel.
The new Windows 10 continuum mode for phones, for example, lets a user connect his phone to a display dock and then Power BI automatically adjusts the presentation to best fit the screen size and resolution.
Indeed Microsoft’s Continuum technology could be a competitive differentiator for Power BI.
While many other BI vendors want the same goal -- that is, data that can render on any device — Microsoft's Continuum technology might make Power BI an especially good choice because a user can create a viz on a PC, show it to his boss on a phone and then present it to the Board of Directors on a Surface Hub. That viz can also be manipulated to look at the data in a different way, if, say one of the directors asks a related question.
It’s not for nothing that former Microsoft VP Quentin Clark declared Power BI as this generation's Excel spreadsheet.
This is not a done deal for Microsoft, though. Analysts may like Power BI but it is new — and Tableau is the industry's sweetheart when it comes to visualizing data. At the same time other vendors such as Salesforce, SAP and Oracle are introducing their own applications.
The Biggest Downside
Microsoft’s biggest competitive challenge, though, could be the horrific customer experience that is the Windows Store.
Downloading anything from it is a lot like visiting a dollar-store on the trashy side of town where no one knows how to use disinfectant. If there were a way to distribute Power BI for Universal through an e-mail link, businesspeople would download it like it was free money.
But Microsoft can’t afford to do that without completely disproving the use case for the Windows Store. Just as with any other retail product, making the sale depends on location, location, location. And the Windows 10 apps store, right now, is the wrong location.
CMSWire reporters Scott M. Fulton III and Virginia Backaitis also contributed to this story.