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.