Is Microsoft courting the wrong developers for Windows Phone?

The Wall Street Journal has yet another article on Microsoft’s efforts to woo developers to the Windows Phone platform.  The example they use to show how difficult this has been for Microsoft is Fooducate.  Fooducate?  While getting the long tail of applications has some importance, and is the primary reason that the iPhone and Android phones have so many apps available, that isn’t what is impacting people on a day-to-day basis.  Plus it isn’t the biggest marketing problem for Microsoft.  Microsoft wishes it could counter the absolute numbers argument by having the right apps, but it doesn’t, and that is the real marketing problem.

Starbucks would really like me to download their mobile app and use it (amongst other things) as a digital rewards card.  Not only is the app only available for iPhone and Android, but you see signage when you walk into the store pushing the app on those platforms.  Great Clips would really like you to use their mobile check-in app when you are going to come in for a haircut.  iPhone and Android only, and again this is in your face every time you get a haircut.  I have a really nice little United Airlines app for IOS that I run on my iPad, but on my Windows Phone I have to use their poor mobile website (or a third-party app that just wraps the site).  Check out United’s mobile tools web page and there it is, Apple and Android, with no mention of Windows Phone.  How about the Wall Street Journal, which has apps for IOS and Android but not Windows Phone?  The place that Windows Phone is hurting the most is in lacking the apps that connect our mobile digital world with the physical world.  And in the message, reinforced daily by its presence in the physical world, that the only two mobile operating systems of consequence are IOS and Android.  Starbucks, Great Clips, United Airlines, and thousands of other firms are doing Apple and Google’s marketing job for them.

If you characterize apps using something akin to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs then the apps for manipulating the physical world are nearer the base of the pyramid while those such as entertainment are nearer to the tip.    To drive this home, consider that “Good Phone” is definitely at the base of the pyramid, and the ability to send and receive text messages is (for most people under 40, and many above) right there with it.  Almost no one will care that they can play “Word with Friends” on their smartPHONE if they can’t make phone calls.

That’s not to say entertainment apps are unimportant, for example my wife would laugh her head off if I suggested she move to Windows Phone when it doesn’t yet have “Words With Friends”. But then, as is the point with Maslow, once you satisfy the needs at the lower levels of the pyramid then (and only then) the needs at the higher level become important.  The iPhone (and Android) satisfy those lower level needs, Windows Phone still needs work.

What amazes me about this situation is that these critical missing Windows Phone apps are from the very organizations that Microsoft has the most financial leverage with.  The individual developer, or small startup, is going to look at the Microsoft incentives for writing a Windows Phone app as crumbs compared to the opportunities on IOS and Android.  Nearly every large organization spends millions of dollars per year on Microsoft products.  Microsoft will have an existing account relationship with them, and in many cases partner with them on other initiatives.  So why does Microsoft seem to have such a difficult time getting these organizations to “take a chance” on Windows Phone?  Microsoft has the ability to make it economically worthwhile to these organizations in ways far beyond its ability to get startups and individuals on board.

I’m not saying Microsoft should completely abandon efforts to woo individual developers and startups, I just wonder if they are spending too much effort on the tip of the pyramid while the base is still shaky.  Fooducate?   Seems like a good idea.  But waiting another year or two to get it on Windows Phone won’t make a difference.  Not having Starbucks, Great Clips, United, Walmart, etc. apps pretty soon is an existential problem.

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21 Responses to Is Microsoft courting the wrong developers for Windows Phone?

  1. Pingback: Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation? | ZDNet

  2. Bob says:

    Didn’t Apple and AT&T prove that “Good Phone” is not a prerequisite for selling a smartphone?

  3. Pingback: Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation? | Technology News

  4. dave says:

    Great question! A few thoughts…

    1. Developing apps for iOS, Android and Windows mobile phones typically has been approached with three code bases. Development for mobile devices takes different skills.

    2. It’s a ying/yang world, and it’s easy for marketeers to find space to mention apps for two platforms. If there were 5 equal platforms, we’d not see them calling out all of them. Two is easy to mention though.

    3. Mobile app development has gone thru an evolution. First sequentially based on platform – iOS, then Android apps were developed. Windows Phone is disadvantaged two ways: 1. critically its market share is tiny relatively speaking; and 2. now app developers are hard pressed to maintain two code bases for iOS and Android, so they don’t have cycles free, or available staff, to innitiate a Windows Phone app codebase. So the incentive is small, and the barrier to get started is non-trivial.

    So, that’s how we have this situation. Your suggestion that MSFT has leverage it can use to help encourage is interesting. It points to the fact that MSFT is more a federation of divergent business-line interests/silos, rather than an integrated chain of value propositions.

  5. Hal,

    I think you raise some really good points. We (my developer partner and I) can really relate to the Starbucks app example. We were WAITING for 6 months to a year for an official Starbucks app to come out, but got impatient and finally decided to make one ourselves .

    We can absolutely testify to your comment that “The individual developer, or small startup, is going to look at the Microsoft incentives for writing a Windows Phone app as crumbs compared to the opportunities on IOS and Android.” We have spent countless hours working on this app in our free time, but I would not feel comfortable focusing on the WP7 platform as a revenue generator. It really has been “crumbs” in return. That said, we started the app, and continue to build new features in the app, because we’re passionate about it, love the WP7 OS, love metro design, and are totally addicted to Starbucks (plus, one of us has a day job as a dev at Microsoft)…. I even carried an iPhone with me before we built the app, just for the iPhone Starbucks app, so I can see how people who aren’t already WP7 users would never want to deal with switching to a platform missing so many ‘must have’ apps.

    There are some good games for iPhone, but it’s really easy to replace games. There are fun games on both platforms and I’m not really tied to any particular game. There’s many ways to entertain yourself, and games like Wordament on WP7 are new favorites for me. However, what isn’t replaceable is the ability to book a hotel while traveling (Marriott), change flight information on united, etc. and Windows Phone is lacking apps like these that just make your life easier. There are also tons of apps in the marketplace, but not a lot of them use metro, which is unfortunate because it doesn’t integrate seamlessly into the phone experience.

    If you’re interested in checking it out our Starbucks app, here is the link. It has been a fun journey…

    Thanks for sharing your insights in this blog.


  6. Alique Williams says:

    Interesting article, although I completely disagree with it.

    Just recently, I had a discussion with my sister and her friends about whether they should buy a Windows Phone. Almost everyone I know loves the look at feel of it. However, once they realized it didn’t have Instagram or words with friends, the discussion ended there. Almost no one buys a phone based on whether it has the United Airlines app, or any of those other “apps for manipulating the physical world”. Don’t get me wrong, those apps are necessary, but people always look towards the top of the “pyramid” first, which is why Microsoft is so focused on that area.

    Perhaps our age differences exposes us to different purchasing decision made by people… Once more people move towards the WP market, then those apps would eventually be developed. Unfortunately, now that Instagram is on Android, I can’t foresee anyone I know personally buying a WP even if enough of those small apps were created.

  7. PS says:

    The problem with paying developers to build apps is it’s difficult to wean them off the habit once they are used to it. It is not enough to build an app once and release it. Apps need to evolve and add functionality over time. They also need to feel like the developers actually use them on a daily basis. If apps are not updated the ecosystem stagnates.

    USA Today is one of the rare examples where the developers seem like they use the app themselves which shows in the interaction improvements they have shipped over time.

    The Facebook app is built by Microsoft and it seems like the team only delivers updates maybe twice a year whereas the apps Facebook ships on other platforms are updated much more frequently.

  8. Razvan says:

    omg, not having starbucks app on a phone… Noooo!

  9. Jeremy says:

    I agree with your diagnosis of the problem, but not with your proposed solution. I don’t think Microsoft should (or even needs to) got out and pay Bank of America to create the same app on WP7 as they have on iOS and Android.

    What MS needs to do is find a way to make the cost of porting a code base to WP7 closer to the amount of revenue (or other benefits) the company that created it can expect to receive from it. I don’t think that’s possible if you only take into account the smartphone market.

    Then answer is Windows 8. People are going to continue to replace their existing computers with new ones. Given the market share XP still holds, there are a lot of people out there who are due for an upgrade. Windows 8 market share will eventually outstrip both Android and iOS combined, and those companies that aren’t building WP7 apps will build apps for Windows 8’s app store.

    As you said, you need separate codebases for each smartphone platform, but all (or most) of the code you write for Windows 8 can be used on WP7 (see portable class libraries). All they will need to do is put a phone sized UI on it and they’re done.

    That is how MS will eventual win (or at least become a strong player) in the smartphone market. The alternative is Windows 8 fails and I don’t want to think about what happens after that 😉

  10. Brian says:

    The main problem with Windows phone is that it actually looks rather boring! The whole metro look is so passé – totally without any excitement, just boring!. Thought it was just me – so spent a little time watching (discreetly!) buyers in a phone shop, they picked up a Windows phone, one quick look and it was put down and the buyer moved on to the Android or iPhone. Spoke to a couple of the sales people and they confirmed this observation. Maybe it’s just because its Nokia and there are lots of different Android phones (choice) and Apple have the ‘name’ although think even that prestige is starting to slip now!

    Tricky one for Microsoft – not any easy ituation to recover from!

    • Polly Proteus says:

      -> The main problem with Windows phone is that it actually looks rather boring! The whole metro look is so passé – totally without any excitement, just boring!

      And rank upon rank, page upon page of little square buttons that you can barely make out are better? At least with the Windows Phone buttons, they provide easily noticeable feedback without actually opening the app. Can’t really say that for iPhone or Android.

      • memosk says:

        Windows without windows and icons .?
        Better: TouchOws …

        It would be work for 1 month, programming somethink like this for Androind.

  11. Wayne says:

    “The main problem with Windows phone is that it actually looks rather boring! The whole metro look is so passé – totally without any excitement, just boring!. ”

    As compared to the iPhone and Android UI? Those are boring interfaces.

  12. Pingback: More on Apps for Windows Phone | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

  13. Warning: I have written a WP app.

    Obviously, when building a general purpose app for any platform, you will be looking for the user base first. If the phone has a good user base, then the big guys will create apps for it. What WP needs to do is to acquire more users and job done!
    I am a WP user and there are some apps that I would like to have, but are only available for the iPhone, so my next phone is definitely not going to be a WP.

    • halberenson says:

      “Which came first, the chicken or the egg”? That is the number one problem for Windows Phone. Microsoft bought some eggs, but not enough chickens showed up to hatch them. Now the chickens don’t think there are enough eggs for them to sit on and the farmers don’t want to sell Microsoft more eggs until they see more chickens.

      There are techniques Microsoft can use to break this negative cycle, but time is running out. The Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 combination offers them the last best hope for powering into app ecosystem parity with their competition.

  14. memosk says:

    1.Apple created an new market.

    2. Android is a new market in free mobile phone OS .

    3.And what is Windows phone ?
    Windows phone is without any new vision . We have to produce something like Apple-Google and then we do that . And this is the end of story . Duty isn’t a vision !!!!!!!

    Windows phone didn’t bring something new . Not only new price, like with play station and Xbox was brought.

  15. Pingback: 100,000 Apps and I can’t find anything to install | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

  16. Pingback: Losing patience with Windows Phone | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

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