The Windows Phone App Problem

Last week the situation with Windows Phone Apps was once again in the news as the Marketplace/Store reached 145,000 apps.  On one hand we had many critics pointing out that the rate of growth for Windows Phone has slowed considerably.  On the other hand we had defenders pointing out that Microsoft has shifted its efforts towards having better app quality over a focus on rapid growth of the number of apps.  Defenders also point out that after a certain point quantity no longer matters as you’ll find all the apps you need in the store.  At 100,000 apps Apple’s App Store was considered saturated, yet today Microsoft’s 145,000 apps is considered so far from adequate that it is the justification for recommendations not to purchase a Windows Phone.

I’ve put my spin on this topic a number of times over the years, and this time I wanted to take a (mostly) objective look at the problem.  Microsoft tries to address the criticism by pointing out how many of the “Top 25″ apps are indeed available on Windows Phone.  They do that based on an overall list of downloads on other platforms.  Or they’ve focused on certain areas, like gaming and social networking.  And by focusing on trying to attract a few high profile apps.  I wanted to take a different spin.  I’m going to take a handful of categories that are important to me, and I believe many others, and see how well represented apps are in the Windows Phone Store.

Let’s start with Banking and ask a very simple question.  Of the Top-10 banks in the U.S. how many have apps available for Windows Phone?  Three.  And one of those is just for its credit cards.  Want to guess how many of those banks have apps in the Apple App Store?  All ten.

You might think this is just a banking problem, but it is anything in finance.  Windows Phone has apps for Zero of the Top-10 Mutual Fund companies.  Seven of those companies provide apps for the iPhone.  How about if you just want to do research on mutual funds?  Sorry, you’ll need an iPhone, Android Phone, or Blackberry for that.

Moving on, how many of the Top-10 U.S. Airlines have apps for Windows Phone?  Three.  For the iPhone it is eight.

Now the truth is I was going to do this for several more categories but it is too depressing for me to continue.  If you want to understand the situation with Windows Phone yourself step away from a few missing headline apps, and from the nice set of headline apps that have recently been announced on Windows Phone.  Step away from the “Is 145,000 apps enough?” question.  Instead pick a category of apps that are important and find a “Top 10″ list for those.  If it’s a real world category then pick the Top 10 businesses in the real world (as opposed to lists of what are downloaded on other platforms), and see how many of those have official apps in each of the app stores.  Try to find categories where Windows Phone has a passing grade.  Try.

Note: I did this comparison quickly so counts might be +/- 1 as additional search terms lead to discovery of additional apps.  But this won’t change the situation at all.

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72 Responses to The Windows Phone App Problem

  1. jcallahan says:

    That’s a pretty interesting take on the app situation. I’m surprised at just how deficient the WP store is based on that unbiased perspective. I’ve had a WP (first a Focus and now a 920) for a couple years and have been pleased with the apps available in my interest area (love the OS). But this analysis really points to a bigger problem and one that might just foretell the death of the platform unless Microsoft is able to evangelize more.

    Since I really enjoy the OS and recently picked up a new 920, I always viewed the platform with a “riding this train as long as it last” mentality. Seems this might be a shorter time period that I at first expected. I continue to hold out hope that it would survive long term. If nothing else, it forced the other players to stay on their toes. Competition is a good thing though.

  2. Sumit says:

    Yups. it took multiple petitions and what not to get the Mint (now owned by Intuit) app to WP.

    Same story with Win8 too. Major crib is, popular services are doing lipservice to the Win8 (and/or) WP platform. The DropBox (Modern UI) app is completely useless on Surface RT and has absolutely no use in any x86 device. End of the day, do you have DropBox on Windows 8, yes we do, it’s the browser!!!

    Indies can go only so far.

    This chicken and egg problem has to have a better solution that just announcing increasing number or apps on the platform!

  3. Blackberry have been trying hard to get people to port existing apps. Is Microsoft doing that sort of thing? I did a search and came across this page – http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsphone/develop/hh394031(v=vs.105).aspx – but it mentions porting from 7 but not from 8. It lists iOS v4.3 APIs.

    Also, as Blackberry have an Android on BB subsystem thingy, an Android app may work by just repackaging (YMMV if it uses some features).

  4. Eric the Red says:

    You are dead on here, Hal. I was just talking with someone recently, trying to get them to consider a Windows Phone rather than Android. He likes the idea, but then says, “No, wait, I drive a Volt, and the Volt app is on Android but not Windows Phone.” Deal breaker. It is right for Microsoft to tout the apps that *are* coming, but anybody who thinks that Windows Phone is anywhere close to app parity at this point is smoking crack. I love my Windows Phone, but probably once a week I run into some app that would be cool to have, but, oops, not on Windows Phone.

    Then, if you really want to get depressed, try evaluating the Windows RT store . . . .

    • halberenson says:

      The Windows Store has only been open 6.5 months yet is over 70,000 apps and growing fast. Yes it would still fail my Top-10 test miserably, but its way too early to get depressed about it.

      • vangrieg says:

        Windows Store may be growing fast, but most apps I use on Windows are totally horrible. Including built-in ones. And that’s a big difference with WP.

    • vangrieg says:

      I don’t know what that Volt app does, but I have a BMW, which only works with iPhone in terms of apps and has lots of features that work with Symbian phones (weird, I know). So by that rationale Android must be dead in the water. Yet it isn’t. And frankly, I used an iPhone with my car and can attest that this whole “integration” is completely useless. Probably that’s why Android still exists.

      • David K says:

        I use the BMW app on my android phone. Although I think it is not in the store, I had to get it from overseas.

  5. vangrieg says:

    Well that’s not a very objective take on the situation in that it implies that all those apps are important. They may be to you but that makes the whole thing very subjective. I personally don’t use banking or airline apps on my phone at all, and not just on Windows Phone, I didn’t use them on the iPhone either. And I’m a pretty heavy app user. So yeah, there are lots of niches where WP app selection is lacking, but the spin it’s being given is way overblown. Or at least the way the situation is described implies to a potential new user that the platform is barely usable. Which it isn’t at all, because not everybody really needs all those niche apps.

    • halberenson says:

      Well, pick a category and tell me where Windows Phone shines? Then in those categories you can claim it is a great niche offering. But until it has good representation in the “Top-10″ across a very broad range of categories it is going to struggle.

      • vangrieg says:

        Let me start answering that between “shines” and “total disaster” there’s a huge gap. And it’s not just apps that make a platform hit or miss, although they are an important part. I can tell you that according to users I know who used both WP and Android most notice that Office file compatibility is way better (this also affects comparison with iOS), battery life is better, overall design is better, responsiveness/speed is better, and the keyboard is much better. Many notice that app selection is worse, but nobody ever mentioned that as a showstopper. So it’s not a black and white picture because you don’t have your airline app (I personally can’t even imagine why I would care about one). I live outside the US, in a country where phones are sold unsubsidized, and WP share is in double digits, BTW. So it’s not just feedback from a few hard fanatics, those are “normal” people.

        So, to reiterate my point, I do see a problem with apps but in my experience it’s more of a media spin than a real problem. And there are benefits to the platform which may compensate for the app selection, which is worse but not “terrible” as you describe. Sure it may be different to you but that’s totally subjective.

    • Brian says:

      Actually, you need to turn the argument inside out…

      The problem is that a business (let’s say an up and coming Starbucks competitor) who wants to create an app goes to a developer and says “I want to create a app that wraps around my frequent coffee-drinker program”. The dev says “well, you can get one, two or more apps – one (either iOS or Android) will get you 40%-ish of your potential market, two (iOS and Android) will get you 80%+ of your potential market, and after that, the payoff drops off quickly” The retailer will likely say “ok, let’s do two apps”.

      I see two things that need to be done:
      1) make is brain-dead easy to create “Windows Store” apps and “Windows Phone” apps from the same code-base. At some point, the impossibly huge number of Win8 + WinRT systems out there will make the Windows Store succeed. If WP can get a significant fraction of those applications, it will help enormously.

      2) make sure that WP is the absolute, no-questions asked “third” smartphone platform. It needs to choke-off Blackberry’s air supply (there’s a phrase that I would *never* have used when I used to work at MSFT) as well as any other pretender to the bronze medal. I don’t see WP grabbing the number two spot from either iOS or Android (who currently have the undisputed gold and silver positions – though folks will argue who is ahead in which market). But, making WP a clear number 3, and moving the market-share needle up to some magic tipping point (15%, 20%, something like that) will make the apps flow

    • Eric the Red says:

      Not everybody needs all those niche apps. Almost everybody needs at least one of those niche apps.

      It’s kind of like the RFP process in business. Before you buy something, you make a list of things you think you want it to be able to do. The product that can check all the boxes and still be in your price range is what you buy. It may be that half the things you wanted the product to do, you never actually use it for. The security of being able to buy an iPhone knowing that anybody who makes a mobile app makes a version for the iPhone cannot be understated.

      Windows Phone is a wonderful product and does a lot of things without apps that other platforms need apps to do. That’s why 5% of us are willing to use Windows Phone. It’s going to require apps to get a significant number of the other 95% to join us.

      • vangrieg says:

        I’m not at all sure that’s true in most cases. I mean, do I need to have access to my bank from my Phone? Absolutely. Do I *need* to have this access from an app? No. Depending on the app and the web app, it may be more convenient and time saving and feature rich, but it’s certainly not always the case. And more importantly, how many times a day do you need to make transfers? How many times a day do you need to check your airline miles? I personally do it like once a year when I go to vacation. Am I suffering from the fact that I have no app on my phone to do that? Not at all, I never even bothered to check if such an app exists. I’m not saying that nobody needs apps, I’m just saying that such niche things don’t necessarily have the significance some people ascribe to them. There are things people need, things people don’t mind having and use when available but easily use alternatives, and things people install and forget. Mileage will vary for different people but to say that this is a universal problem is a great exaggeration, in my opinion.

        • halberenson says:

          Obviously YMMV, which is why this is a category by category problem. Each person will have some set of things they care about, and they are different. So until you can cover the bases pretty well you have a problem.

          I pick banking as an example because you actually can’t do things on the web that you can do with an app. Perfect example, there is a check in my wallet that has been there for weeks because I have to go to a branch to deposit it. If I had an iPhone I could deposit it from the comfort of my home using the bank’s app.

          Or take travel. I travel a lot. I need to check and change things about reservations all the time. Most airlines mobile websites will let you do the most basic things, like check-in, but not more complicated transactions. And when they do they are slow and clumsy by comparison to an app. Fly once or twice a year and this stuff doesn’t matter. Fly once or twice a month and it matters a lot. Road Warriors are a key early adopter class and major users of technology. I suspect that nearly every major technology shift of the last decade that has succeeded did so on the basis of road warrior adoption. Scan an airport lounge or walk down the aisle of an airplane and you will know which technologies are on the adoption upswing. I don’t think I’ve seen a Windows Phone anywhere other than flights to/from Seattle.

          • vangrieg says:

            I happen to fly a lot and use e-banking a lot as well, and have zero problems without apps (like I said earlier, I didn’t use them on the iPhone either). That may be because my bank’s web app does everything mobile apps do (checks are a peculiar US phenomenon), and somehow I don’t do complicated airline transactions apart from buying tickets, changing dates, checking in, checking gate changes/delays and such.

            I’m not trying to argue that what you’re saying is unimportant, just that that’s far from a universal problem you describe.

            It’s not just segment by segment, its also person by person.

  6. Looking at the headlines, you would think that “apps” are the ONLY thing that matters when choosing a smartphone. I agree that they are important, but there are many other just-as-important factors.

    Paul Thurrott tried to highly this for the Surface RT (which has/had much fewer apps):
    https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Awinsupersite.com+%22why+surface+rt%22

    Another example: I remember showing an Omnia 7 (WP), an iPhone and a Galaxy to my aunt; and after playing around a bit with each (without help), she found the Omnia more user-friendly. That isn’t a selling point for power users, but it matters to first time smartphone users.

    The same way you are looking at yourself to see how well WP fits into your needs per category, neither my aunt nor my uncle (respectively owners of a WP and Surface RT) have ever installed an app. I tried to wow them with a few apps available in the store, but after saying “that’s nice”, they went back to checking their emails and making their calls. The only third-party app they use (and that I installed for them) is Skype.

    This is gets more obvious to power users when you look outside the US…

    So, a more balanced story (to “everybody”) would be about what a smartphone is capable of, with its hardware, its out-of-the-box software, and finally its apps.

    • halberenson says:

      This is probably why Windows Phone is being more successful at the low end rather than amongst power users. That hasn’t shown up much in the U.S. market-share numbers because until the last few weeks Microsoft and/or its partners have focused their U.S. efforts on the high-end. Phones like the Lumia 521 and 620 are just coming to the U.S. Ditto for any WP presence in the pre-paid market.

      But taken to a logical conclusion what you are saying is that if Windows Phone were evaluated as a glorified feature phone rather than as a smartphone it fares quite well.

      • LOL at calling a Lumia 920 with a disabled Windows Store a “glorified feature phone” :)

      • vangrieg says:

        Windows Phone is more competitive at the low end because low end Android phones are terrible. This point will take time and money to get across to consumers but it’s there. It has nothing to do with apps.

        Calling WP a feature phone platform is totally inaccurate because with a WP I can do everything I was doing with my WM phone, my iPhone etc. I use my phone for mail, browsing, checking and commenting documents, including those on SharePoint, I use satnav, find restaurants in other cities/countries, check flight statuses, read books/listen to audiobooks while on a plane, listen to music etc. etc. etc. You just can’t do it (well) on a feature phone, which also has a much worse screen and other problems.

        • halberenson says:

          You completely missed the feature phone point. I was responding to a point that a lot of people don’t download apps (which is true) and thus Windows Phone’s limited app library doesn’t matter. Well, that means there is a class of people who are using their smartphones just like feature phones. So if you compare smartphones just on feature phone capabilities, and leave out that they are general purpose application platforms, then Windows Phone looks great. A lot of iPhone and Android purchasers also use their smartphones like feature phones, especially here in the U.S. where it is almost impossible to actually buy a feature phone from the major carriers!

          But indeed if someone is buying a smartphone to use as a smartphone, then app availability matters.

          • vangrieg says:

            Well I use my smartphone as a smartphone, and apps definitely matter. My wife has hundreds of apps on her iPhone and she could find everything in the Windows Phone Store (she couldn’t find hardware she would like though, but that’s a different story). So no, your niche app story doesn’t equal the whole app story. That said, outside the US where Windows Phones sell better because there are no carriers in the way the niche app situation may in fact be better. I have tons of those niche apps – not just restaurant finders and such, but even e-government and municipal apps allowing me to pay for parking from my phone etc.

  7. Bill Scheel says:

    Another aspect of this problem is the circumvention of Win phone development in preference to iPone and Android by companies requiring specific services to their customers. For example, an investment advisory service that provides its fee-paying customers timely investment alerts. Why build an app for the few customers owning Win phones when most of them already have an iPhone or Android in their pockets?

    • halberenson says:

      Well, I didn’t look at “Private Banking” as a category for example. I looked at things with broad consumer appeal. If you have a 401K you probably deal with Fidelity, Vanguard, etc. Notably the third member of the Big 3 mutual fund companies, American Funds, doesn’t have a mobile app for anything. But that’s because their business model is to sell/service through brokers, financial planners, etc. and it would be counter-strategic to encourage a direct relationship with retail customers.

      The point of my piece wasn’t to say “Unless Microsoft gets the Top-10 in THESE categories they can’t succeed”, it is to suggest a way to evaluate the app library and determine its maturity. It isn’t the “Top 25 apps downloaded on iPhones and Android”, though those are important. It isn’t the number of apps. It is “If someone wants to do something with their phone, is the app they want or need likely to be available”. Using the notion that the “Top 10″ in any category covers the bulk of users (which is likely true in some categories and false in others) as a proxy one can conclude that there is a real problem and that it isn’t going away fast enough.

      • Brian says:

        When people notice my phone (it’s a cyan Lumia 920, so folks notice) they often say “I hear there aren’t a lot of apps for that”. I say “well there are more than 100k, and you can do just about everything you can do with an iOS phone or an Android phone, but… what you won’t get is the app that lets you accumulate grocery points, or manage your coffee card or stuff like that – those onesie apps exist only for iOS and Android” (I guess I’ll change “over 100k” to “nearly 150k” now).

        I’m very happy with my phone. I have relationships with two banks, both of which have WP apps, I almost always fly American (I live in Dallas), and they have an App. I can play Solitaire and the other few games that I pass the time away with. The best part of WP, though, is that, for the most part, I don’t need “an app for that” – “that” mostly just works without an app on a WP phone.

  8. orcmid says:

    In this household, where we have a family plan and two Windows Phone 7 devices that are off contract, there may be a family-plan divorce.

    I can stick to WP, but the wife is pretty discouraged that the applications she wants and that her friends have aren’t available. She attempted to switch to an HTC 1s (droid) in order to be able to add a point-of-scale credit-card scanner, but that failed since it happens the scanner didn’t support that device. (My bank does have an app and it works great. I’ve deposited checks via my WP7.)

    I can’t continue to be the guy who is preventing her from having it the way her friends do. Since our carrier is not known for its support of iPhone or WindowsPhone, I suspect there will be a major change. It will have repercussions through our current mutual reliance on desktop Outlook and the integration with outlook.com too. I don’t quite know how that will be handled but the visceral desire to have the features of her friends and colleagues is a big wedge here.

  9. Nick K says:

    This is something I have been saying for a while. It doesn’t matter if the platform has big ticket items like Pandora or Instragram. Yes, I enjoy my Pandora on WP8 very much, but can I live without it? With SlackerRadio, love.fm, or even third-party Pandora client, not to mention music subscription services like Nokia Music or Xbox Music Pass, I certainly can. What I can’t live without are all these damn everyday apps… Banking, commute, food, online task management, and so on. Pick any of the leading task management systems, for example… Asana, Todoist, Remember the Milk, Wunderlist… None of them are on Windows Phone. None! Not a single one! If this isn’t depressing, I’m not sure what is.

    So, as much as I love Windows Phone, unless there is a tangible improvement in everyday apps used by everyday people, I’m afraid come this holiday season and it will be iPhone 6 or Nexus 5 for me. Simply because with the other platforms catching up to Windows Phone in terms of usability and availability of information, it is the everyday tasks — beyond a glance-and-go — that are quickly becoming a major limiting factor.

    • Eric the Red says:

      FWIW, there is WinMilk, a Remember The Milk client, on Windows Phone, 7 and 8 I believe. It’s not an official client, it’s a 3rd party client, but it works well, and I like using it better than 2Day, which is an official Windows Phone 8 task management app.

      • Nick K says:

        Yes, I’m aware of several third-party implementations for some of these services. Trouble is: they all fall short when compared to first-party implementations available on, say, an iPhone.

  10. skc says:

    I’m struggling to understand. It stands to reason that developers will prioritize for the majority platform(s). The majority platforms are iOS and Android. That gets you some 95% of the addressable market. In other words, this is the natural order of things.

    The fact that Windows Phone marketshare is growing means that at some point in the distant future, that 95% hopefully becomes say, 70%. That’s when developers will start to take notice. So for the time being there is nothing Microsoft can be expected to do except making a kick ass smartphone OS. And I dare say they are doing their part.

    But it’s mission impossible at the moment wrt “niche” apps.

    • halberenson says:

      For a startup your thinking is sound, with one caveat. If a category is saturated on IOS and Android, and IF you believe that Windows Phone will grow to have substantial market share, then targeting Windows Phone makes sense even now. The problem is that the number of startups, or their VCs, who believe Windows Phone will ever be relevant is low.

      For big companies the dynamic is different. You want to know why Fidelity is one of the first mutual fund companies with an app? Could it possibly be because they run Microsoft’s 401K and other plans and Microsoft used that for leverage? Could Fidelity have been looking at contract renewal with Microsoft and seen a requirement for a Windows Phone app in the RFP? Microsoft has tens of billions of dollars in cash to invest. Do you think that the firms that Microsoft places some of that money with, or involves in other transactions, can’t be encouraged to create a Windows Phone app? Microsoft does travel contracts with all the airlines, big hotel chains, etc. Don’t you think a requirement for a Windows Phone app can be part of the contract? And as I’ve pointed out before, all of these companies are big Microsoft customers and regularly negotiate contracts with Microsoft. You don’t think that Microsoft could find financial incentives to encourage customers to offer Windows Phone apps? And, of course, Microsoft can open its wallet (further) in terms of making it financially attractive for app developers. Particularly targeted app developers. So yes there is a chicken and egg problem. It’s up to Microsoft to find ways to make sure one of them comes first.

      • Tim says:

        I wonder if at some point we’ll see more “everyday” retail apps appear for WP simply due to the growing adoption of mobile development platforms that allow companies to target all operating systems with one code base. (I’m referring to hybrid apps.) I guess I’m making a big assumption that companies really are using these platforms. My company has been shopping around for a vendor in this market and each one boasts a number of higher profile retail companies that use their platform to create mobile apps.

        On the flip side, I’d personally rather use a well-designed mobile web app vs installing a hybrid app that doesn’t need any native capabilities.

  11. dafowler says:

    Great post but really depressing. I sometimes feel like there is no clear cut solution to Windows Phone’s app problem; between Android and iOS there doesn’t seem to be any breathing space. Developers are slow to come to the platform because the number of users are low and users won’t look twice because the apps aren’t there. And to me I don’t think throwing money at developers would help because it doesn’t assure platform support beyond the initial making of the app. The only thing Microsoft can do is to continue on building out the OS and that means evolving Metro, adding features, and getting better devices.

    • halberenson says:

      I think they are now starting to address the chicken/egg problem by focusing more on the low-end. They were reluctant to do this, at least in the U.S., likely out of fear of being written off as nothing more than entry level devices not worthy of being considered in the same class as an iPhone. But with the early adopter market saturated continuing to focus all energy on high end devices doesn’t make sense. Microsoft needs volume more than anything else right now. And the app situation is far less of a problem at entry level. So the Nokia Lumia 521 and the way it is being marketed via HSN and Walmart, the Lumia 620 coming to AT&T’s new pre-paid brand, the Huawei W1, etc. are a completely new approach in the U.S. If it works, and they can dramatically up the overall volume of Windows Phones then they do have more leverage with developers. Is it enough? Is it too late? Only time will tell.

      • dafowler says:

        I agree getting volume is key especially if you consider that Windows Phone “competition” is with Android. I really can understand them not wanting to go low end in part because that is a role adopted by Android and Microsoft is going to have to move beyond it.

        • Eric the Red says:

          Then you’ve got Nokia Asha coming in to the low end. Good that it takes away from Android, I suppose, but does it help Windows Phone or hurt? Too early to say.

          • dafowler says:

            Nokia is a bit of an X factor right now they are a major part of building up Windows Phone but MS could be heading into Samsung territory with them

  12. franksz says:

    I can’t imagine why I anyone should care whether there are 100 apps or 100000 apps. People use web browsers and Office, and beyond that it’s just video games and trivia.

    If a major bank can’t develop an application, today, for a new mobile phone platform that has a significant user base, then the bank is either broke, systemically paralysed, or apps are not important to them or their customers. End of story.

  13. JimmyFal says:

    I’d like to know from the developers perspective, is it harder to develop for WinPHo or are they simply not developing? Dig deeper Hal, only you can give us the correct answers, you are in the know a lot more than most of us.

    • halberenson says:

      I’m not an investigative reporter :-) But from what I’ve seen it isn’t that WP development is hard (probably the opposite actually based on numerous articles), it is three factors:

      1) There isn’t a good financial argument for building WP apps. This is particularly the case for the large captive development (e.g., banks and airlines) organizations. You get a better ROI by spending the effort on improving your IOS and Android apps.

      2) Individual developers feel quite screwed by the way Microsoft has treated them in recent years and WP has done some things to alienate them specifically. Failure to provide the SDK to developers pre-WP8 availability is but one example. I suspect a lot of developers left, and haven’t yet come back. On top of that they don’t believe the current development platform is stable and want to wait for full unification of Windows and Windows Phone before committing to anything.

      3) I suspect we are underestimating the impact of having the new Windows 8 app model on the market. A lot of developers went off to build Windows 8 apps, which meant WP8 went on the back burner. On top of that, Microsoft’s own evangelism effort weighed heavily towards getting Windows 8 apps.

      • anoncommenter says:

        “On top of that they don’t believe the current development platform is stable and want to wait for full unification of Windows and Windows Phone before committing to anything.”

        Absolutely this and 3, and the models don’t line up cleanly enough. As an app developer, I’m waiting to see what Blue brings (API’s, acceptance and adoption) before committing to another MS platform.

        Microsoft could be even a little more open with their future plans – as they used to when platforms came from Developer Division – they would avoid this paralysis.

        • halberenson says:

          The only platform to have come from DevDiv was .NET

          • Brian says:

            Yeah, but that was done correctly. Devs who picked the .NET stack felt like they’d made the right decision. The platform advanced in a predictable fashion, devs knew where it was headed, and everyone had a nice warm feeling inside.

            FWIW, Silverlight came from DevDiv too (though it’s arguable that that’s just “.NET – Some other edition”). Folks loved SL too, right up until it was knifed in the back (mostly by Windows).

      • JimmyFal says:

        “Failure to provide the SDK to developers pre-WP8 availability is but one example. ”

        I believed in Ballmers enthusiasm when he ran around the stage years ago, “developers, developers, developers”. How could MS have alienated the DEVS, it can’t just be pure arrogance, there must have been a reason. I have to think Sinofsky was in on that, I hope in the future that a bit of transparency returns, why else would they be leaking all the early builds of 8.1.

        The only way for MS to win here, is to keep moving along and gaining market share anyway they can, whether it’s by going after the low end (which I believe to be an outstanding strategy), or by bullying guys like Fidelity.

        I do get the feeling that with a determined company like Microsoft, and plenty of bucks and talent to throw at the situation, and the fact that the market share graph is not going level or down, but up and up, that this tortoise is doing the only thing they can at the moment. Along with something they do best, learning from the serious mistakes they make in the past.

        Maybe they should hire me, in my tiny town on Cape Cod I have managed to talk 16 of my customers into a WinPhone, and they all love it. Only if I worked for MS, I’m guessing I wouldn’t be able to drop everything and go fishing any time I felt like it. Nah.

        • halberenson says:

          I have long speculated that this was done to keep developers focused on Windows 8 rather than splitting their attention. Pressure from Sinofsky? Possibly. Pressure from Kevin Turner? More likely.

  14. Nicholas Piasecki says:

    I’ve been using a Windows Phone for about 8 months now, and these little things have taken their toll. There’s no Sirius XM app. My credit union has iPhone and Android apps, but not for Windows Phone. I miss Facebook Messenger; people keep telling me that I don’t need it because it’s built into the OS, and I’m telling you that the offline messaging and group functionality simply is not there, and that’s how all of my friends actually use Facebook. MailChimp keeps pressuring me to use their AlterEgo two-factor authentication system, for which they have apps for iPhone and Android, but there’s no Windows Phone app. Heck, even the built-in mail client doesn’t even let you map its ##$@$ “Sent Items” folder to the “Sent” folder sitting on the IMAP server.

    I think I’m done when my contract is up in November. I want to love Windows Phone. I use and love Microsoft tools. I wrote a Metro weather app for my phone for fun. I agree that the “authentically digital” interface is refreshing. But I’m tired of this death by a thousand papercuts. I thought it would get better over the course of two years but my phone has been updated only once.

    For years, I have used Windows because if there was ever a niche piece of software that existed in pretty much any industry then that software worked on Windows. I didn’t have to think about my platform being part of the problem, ever. But in the mobile world, if there’s going to be a niche app — like the one for my credit union, like the one to get my MailChimp discount — then it’s on iPhone and it’s on Android, because that’s what all of the nerds are using first, and that’s where all of the users are second, and that’s that. If the nerds are not using your platform, then you will not see many apps for your platform.

    In terms of market share, I’m sure there are a ton of freebie iPhones that are being used for e-mail and texts, but that’s not how iPhone got started. Nerdy early adopters were blown away and willing to drop hundreds of bucks and use their collective nerdshare to build an app ecosystem despite an initially unwilling company and a toolset/language that was completely foreign to most developers on the planet. Microsoft responds by building WP7 and then dropping it into the trash, changing the API, and fragmenting what little market they had, telling all of the early adopters who actually cared to drop dead. Burned on WPF, burned on Silverlight, burned on WP7, burned on Windows Mobile — right now, we’re just burnt to a crisp. And for what? Windows Phone users have the same simple frustrations that they had two years ago.

    • Nicholas I think you’ve touched on an important point – Microsoft keeps chopping and changing its toolsets and languages and fails to actually refine anything. This approach is the reason why many of the bugbears that existed in 2010 with WP7 are still here with WP8. I can see the technical reasons for switching to the NT kernel, in fact it was a no-brainer from that viewpoint. But the way the transition was managed was terrible. There were ‘first among equals’ approaches to developers with the SDK, old toolsets were abandoned and so forth. It just wasn’t a good look. Microsoft isn’t Apple, arrogance and elitism has never been their schtick.

      But worse, still, is Microsoft’s failure to address the update model. At MIX 2010 we were promised an update model similar to that of the iPhone, what we got is the same old approach where carriers and manufacturers, like in Windows Mobile and Android, remain the gatekeepers. To add insult to injury, in June 2012, an enthusiast programme was announced to ameliorate this problem and 11 months later we’re still waiting.
      Like Hal said in his previous article – Microsoft should be taking the ‘Win Reviews’ approach to its software. If the nerds and powerusers have the features they want, then there’s nothing they can really complain about in their reviews. Failing to do this ends up wrecking the whole communications and marketing strategy and the product’s perception.

  15. Aaron says:

    Related question. What market share for WP8 does Microsoft need to achieve to change this? What percentage of the market do they need to achieve to be an ecosystem the developers cannot ignore?

    If Microsoft can hit say 10-15% of the market does that fix the problem? Or, do they need 15-20%?

    I think this same question holds for the Surface RT as well.

    • halberenson says:

      Interesting question. I don’t know if it is a specific market share, though they do have to break into double digits, or just showing real momentum. Perhaps someone in a country that has passed the 10% market share mark could comment on if the app dynamics are changing in their market.

      As for “Surface RT” that is a completely different situation. There is no “Surface RT” platform, that’s a specific product, so I assume you mean Windows RT. That depends on Windows RunTime apps which target the entire Windows 8 installed base. At 100 million sold and an estimated 59 million deployed after less than 7 months I believe that market is growing fast enough that market share isn’t the primary driver in the decision making process. I think this one is mostly a matter of time, a little more developer love from Microsoft, and Windows 8.1 changing perceptions of the Windows 8 family.

      • vangrieg says:

        Where I live there share is, or close to, double digits. Like I said earlier, there are government and municipal apps available, so this area isn’t bad. Banks – not so good, but then banks’ web apps do everything mobile apps do, and there’s no such thing as check deposits. Airlines – not sure, but there are apps that let you buy and search tickets, monitor delays and gate changes, etc. Restaurant and movie finders and such are there. Also many e-commerce apps are available. So I’m not sure the situation is dramatically different, but I don’t see it as a disaster for sure. And more importantly, people who buy Windows Phones here (and I happen to see quite a few of them around) don’t mention that as a big problem either.

        I don’t think it’s a matter of a certain threshold so much as perception of momentum and importance of the platform. That depends on whether people see more Windows Phones around them (which they do here), media narrative (i.e. whether there’s constant whining about apps or not), sales reps attitude, abundance or lack of ads etc. – interconnected things that also affect consumers.

        Overall I’d say that the situation is better everywhere outside the US. Mostly because of less distortion caused by carriers.

  16. david says:

    Great analysis. I have been a WP7 user for almost three years in France and have suffered a lot about these lacks you mention: banking apps, transport apps, museum/tourism apps, administrations apps, etc. Finally I switched to Android and suddenly, my smartphone became a usable tool that helped me in my daily life.
    When I pass by a phone store, I always regret not to have acquired a Lumia. This hardware is so cool. But once you hold it in your hand, you are stuck because you are simply non standard.

  17. franksz says:

    I don’t think it’s important. Right now Microsoft needs to do two things: converge it’s operating systems into something that offers a single platform for developers to target different devices, and promote Office 2013 as the new platform for SME and corporate application development.

    This is such a monumental development effort that we can’t possibly expect this to happen and mature for another couple of years at least. Then, I would expect that the competition will have a very difficult time maintaining their position, because of the increasing SME demand for Office related integration.

    It’s too early in the game yet.

  18. Bob - Former DECie says:

    We just moved from a Time-Warner monopoly area to an AT&T monopoly area. Both providers provide apps to remotely control your DVR…for IOS and Android, but not Windows Phone. I can sort of understand Time-Warner not having a Windows Phone app, but AT&T was the launch carrier, with an exclusive, on the Lumia 920.
    I still can’t refill my family’s prescriptions by scanning the bar code on my Lumia 920 and we fill an average of 20 prescriptions throughout the month. As someone else mentioned, there are apps for my credit union available on IOS and Android, but not WP8.

    • franksz says:

      This is the strange thing though. Why is it that a large company like a credit union would choose to ignore say 5% of its customers? The only explanation I can think of is that nobody really cares that much about the apps, and the only obvious reason I can see is that the web pages take care of things.
      That’s another thing…if HTML5 is going to be the next big thing when it comes to UIs, displacing other UI technologies, then what is the case for apps in the future at all, if we’re not talking about video games?

      • “if HTML5 is going to be the next big thing ”

        I’m not a developer, but I have been listening in on these type of conversations a long time, the HTML 5 thing reminds me of when I was a kid, and they used to say we would all be on the metric system when I got older.

        Wasn’t that even in Apples original plan for the iPhone, to have everything be web based applications, not apps? Is html 5 hard to develop for? Where are all these html 5 advances I have been hearing were supposed to happen in 5 years, like 5 years ago? Why did Facebook give up on developing their app in html 5, is it difficult? I’m only asking because I really don’t know.

        • franksz says:

          If you google for the interview with the LinkedIn guy about html5 vs native (I don’t have the link handy), he talks about why at the last minute they switched from HTML5 to native apps development for mobile LinkedIN. The interesting thing is that the reasons he gave were more down to weak development tools, diagnostics tools for debugging live problems and so on. He complained that the tooling ecosystem wasn’t ready.

      • Bob - Former DECie says:

        Many credit unions do not develop their own web sites and phone apps. They pay a fee to use customized web sites and phone apps. When the companies that sell these packages decide to develop apps for the WP platform, you will suddenly see a whole bunch of credit unions offering WP apps. Smaller ones will probably wait until they see enough traffic on their web sites coming from WP handsets before they spend the money to make the apps available to their WP customers.
        It’s similar to the way large banks handle their back office systems. They buy/rent packages from one of a few large vendors rather than developing their own because they want someone to point a finger at and sue if something goes wrong.

    • Bob - Former DECie says:

      I got an email from my pharmacy this week about something and it also plugged their phone apps. It listed it being available on ios, Android, and Windows. What? When did that happen? I followed the link and the web page said it was available for WP8 AND WP7.5! I went into the store on my Lumia 920 and sure enough there was the app. When I clicked on the icon, it mentioned that is was V2.x. What? How long has that been available? I downloaded it, asked my wife to give me her Lumia 900, went to the store, found the app, and it also was a non-V1.x version. I downloaded it to her phone. We are all set. Now, why didn’t I know the app was available before this week? Because when you are in the pharmacy, the banners/signs promoting their phone apps only list ios and Android. When they added the Windows Phone apps they never bothered to promote them in their brick and mortar locations, so I never knew.

  19. ruslan says:

    Hey… How about American Airlines, Delta, United, Swiss and….? There are apps for Windows Phone.. Just do your homework better…

  20. Hello Dr. Berenson,

    Your comparison of business exec/road warrior targeted apps made for very interesting reading, as have the comments and your replies. It seems like there was a bit of a bias towards the North American market. Did it make a difference if you looked at these kind of apps available in other regions of the world?

    Also, did you you initially look at any other categories such as games, streaming media, social media and/or messaging at any point? While these might be more consumer-focused than business-focused categories, it would be interesting to see what sort of discrepancies this approach showed.

    Regards,

    Aryeh Goretsky

  21. Disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Windows Phone — it’s a joy to use in a way that my iPhone or various Android devices never were. I have had a Lumia 900 and now a 920, and I seriously love both phones. I’m always a little puzzled at people trying to argue that “apps don’t matter”, though. What’s the end-game of this argument? If you “win” and we all agree…does Windows Phone magically break 5% US market share? Clearly, apps DO matter to a LOT of people.

    I think Hal’s category-based approach to app store maturity useful because WP actually does okay in the “top 25″ discussion. I’m not an Instagram user, but most of the other “biggies” are there for me. The ONLY thing that still makes me consider jumping ship is that neither of the banks I use offer WP apps. Back when I travelled a lot for work, I wouldn’t have considered a platform without a Delta app. The convenience these things bring to life is a big return on the non-trivial investment we make in smartphones.

    My partner works for a large firm that serves military folks (among others). Because their customers are deployed across the world, they have an aggressive mobile strategy. They have apps for iOS, Android and WP with very rich feature sets including things you can’t do on the web, and they work hard to maintain feature parity among platforms. Currently, that means moving their WP app to WP8…but instead, they’re looking at the numbers and considering dropping the platform. Why? Because for consumer-facing enterprises like banks or airlines, this stuff isn’t cheap. The company’s WP app isn’t hacked up by one or two devs — there are teams of developers, projects with project managers, server-side architectures and APIs, complex business/regulatory/security requirements, testers, multiple tiers of dev/testing/staging/QA/production environments to maintain, etc., etc. From their point of view, the WP app is only buying them the satisfaction of a small handful of customers, so they reasonably wonder if the platform is worth further investment.

    It’s not really fair that MS has to prime the pump for such a great OS, but they were late to market and need to get a virtuous cycle going: either new apps attracting new users or vice versa. If not, a vicious cycle of platform abandonment will eventually set in, because creating and maintaining apps isn’t free or even cheap for most businesses of any real scale. Yelp and WordPress can get away with half-assed WP apps, but real-world businesses with paying customers generally can’t.

  22. shierra says:

    I’m in the process of getting the lumia 920 in trying in out then if I dont like it I’m going go switch to an iPhone. Most people say that the lumia 920 It’s a great phone but It’s boring because there aren’t a lot of apps. A lot of apps are third party apps, which isn’t the real app and many people want the actually app instead of the generic version of the apps. A very popular app that everyone wants is instagram and pinterest and many more. People want the real apps :)

    • halberenson says:

      The problem isn’t that the apps are from third-parties, it is that many such apps are of low quality. That is often because the public APIs available to the app developers doesn’t cover all the necessary functionality though occasionally it is poor development effort. In many cases though the third-party apps are better than the official apps. Lots of people prefer third-party Twitter apps to the official ones on all platforms, as an example. I use My Trips on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 as my Tripit client. Although it is a third-party app it is endorsed by Tripit and is quite good. And I’ve heard that Instance is a good Instagram client for Windows Phone, but I’m not an Instagram user. But in general I agree with you.

      My Lumia 900 is dieing (GPS chip bit the dust last week) and must be replaced in weeks if not days. I will try to hold out to see if I want the Nokia EOS because the camera is a key feature for me. If the EOS camera capabilities really capture me then I’ll go for it despite the lack of desired apps. If not, then I’ll be moving off Windows Phone.

      • Bob - Former DECie says:

        Hal, how old is your 900? My wife’s is just about a year old, so I’m wondering how long hers might last.
        How about a new post? Or are you waiting for BUILD and/or FY end before you enlighten us?

        • halberenson says:

          ~14 months. My guess is that the heat from heavy GPS (like, on for 6+ hours at a stretch) and Hotspot use fried the GPS chip and perhaps other components. It’s been unstable for about a month now, but the GPS pretty much is toast now.

          • Bob - Former DECie says:

            Thanks for the info. My wife does not use her phone as hard or frequently as you do, so hopefully she will be good until her contract ends. At that point my guess is she will upgrade to one of the the then current WP8s as she REALLY likes the UI and isn’t as concerned about the lack of apps as others are.

        • halberenson says:

          Oh, and I’ve been traveling. Just not enough time for blog posts.

  23. Bob - Former DECie says:

    I was reading the August 2013 issue of Consumer Reports which features all sorts of tech stuff. The HTC 8X (or whatever the HTC WP8 is called) and the Nokia 920 were lumped in sort of an “Other” category with the new Blackberry phone. They liked the WP8 phones but noted they were short on apps. Needless to say, IOS and Android phones dominated the article. At least the WP8 phones got mentioned, but that’s not saying much.

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