Feature Article

October 09, 2013

Microsoft-Nokia Project Not Bringing in the Apps

The idea of a Windows Phone concept was something of a risky venture for Microsoft. In order to break into a field that was already largely held by two entrenched competitors—Android and iOS—it was going to have to show how Windows Phone was sufficiently different, even better, in order to pull market away from the two front-runners. But now, it's becoming clearer that Microsoft isn't doing a good job on that front, and app developers aren't terribly interested in working with the company.

Two major app developers—Jeff Smith, who runs Smule, a music application maker and Tommy Palm, who runs development for new mobile gaming titan King.com—say that even Microsoft's new ties to Nokia aren't enough to spark interest in developing for Windows Phone, as the users simply won't be there.

Smith, who recently gave an interview on the topic, made the stance pretty clear: “With or without Nokia, Microsoft needs to demonstrate that they can capture a material segment of the mobile market. We will wait and see.” Indeed, this is a sentiment echoed throughout large parts of the developer market, with developers saying that Microsoft just isn't a money-making prospect, owing to a combination of high degrees of difficulty in writing for Windows Phone and Windows tablets and the comparative lack of users. Chaotic Moon co-founder William Hurley noted that the company's “Dragon Academy” game actually made more in one hour on Apple than was made through all Chaotic Moon releases on Windows Phone for the last year.

The story is further revealed in total app counts. Android packs in over a million apps. Apple's iOS, meanwhile, is just short of that number at just over 900,000 apps total. But Microsoft has just over 175,000 apps in Windows Phone, a number that represents a serious deficiency. Some of the biggest apps—Flipboard, Instagram, Pinterest and Uber—have, at last report, no Windows Phone equivalent. Microsoft is banking on Nokia to help on this front, and help Microsoft get a better marketing strategy in place with more pre-loaded apps to draw interest.

But after reports that Microsoft had to write down fully $900 million in losses on the Surface RT, it's starting to look like a catch-22 in the making. Microsoft needs to get more users in the door in order to survive as a platform and persuade app developers that there's money to be made in this platform. But Microsoft is going to have a hard time getting more users in the door without the apps presence required to convince users to make the jump from a current platform to Windows.

Windows showed up late to the party, and Apple and Android now control the dance floor and the buffet, so to speak. In order for Windows to get anywhere at this party, it's got to break the control of two entrenched competitors. The decline of BlackBerry has helped, but app developers have little room for error when it comes to development. Said developers can't waste resources developing for a platform no one uses, but will anyone use it without the development?

Some have suggested that Microsoft should buy a few app makers, put same on salary, and let said makers develop apps for Windows full-time. This may be the approach Microsoft would have to take, unless it can get a hardware-based solution going that's sufficiently compelling to draw users. But either way, Microsoft badly needs more users in the fold if it's going to survive as a mobile platform.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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