Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation?

Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation?

Summary: Can Microsoft overcome the apps hurdle with Windows Phone? And if so, how?


It's almost Easter, so perfect time for the good old chicken or the egg analogy.

Microsoft needs more apps for Windows Phone to attract more users, according to common wisdom. But developers want to see more Windows Phone users before they commit to supporting the platform. So which comes first: The user base or the developer commitment?

Some believe it's a no-win situation for the Softies, but not for lack of trying.

Back in 2010, Microsoft began paying developers to write must-have apps for Windows Phone -- a practice which is continuing today, according to an article in this week's New York Times.

Microsoft also is engaged in an active campaign to "ring fence" developers which aren't doing Windows Phone versions of their apps by promoting competitive apps. There's also an ongoing effort at Microsoft to play up app quality vs. quantity (especially on the Android front), as I blogged recently. And promotional app-card giveaways are part of Microsoft's Windows Phone app strategy, too.

Can Microsoft change the app conversation with techniques like these? If you go simply by numbers, Microsoft has a long, long way to go, with its 80,000 Windows Phone apps, to catch Apple, with its 600,000 iPhone apps and Android phone makers with their 400,000 apps.

Would more apps that are exclusive to Windows Phone do the trick? Is there a Halo equivalent for Windows Phone? Maybe Skype could have come close, but Microsoft already has decided to do Skype for iPhone and Android. (The Windows Phone version of Skype is still in beta at this point.)

That said, some of the Windows Phone marketing team seems to believe that exclusive apps and brand promotions for particular audiences may help its case, as this slide from a December 2011 Windows Phone marketing deck makes clear:

Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Hal Berenson asked a provocative question this week in a new blog post. Berenson wondered whether Microsoft is focused on the "right" apps for Windows Phone. Shouldn't Microsoft be courting Starbucks, Great Cuts, United Airlines and more household names rather than some new hot startup app maker, Berenson asks.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is launching on AT&T on April 8. There's a big promotional event for the new phone happening in Times Square tonight. (I'll be there.) And AT&T is supposedly also launching the Samsung "Mendel" and HTC "Radiant" LTE Windows Phones before the end of June 2012, too. Will new showcase phones help take the focus off the lack of Windows Phone apps? Or will users hesitate to go with a phone for which "Words with Friends," Instagram or Pandora isn't available?

I'm not someone who judges a phone by its apps, but seemingly other people are. What's your take? Can Microsoft overcome the apps hurdle with Windows Phone, and if so, how?

Topics: Operating Systems, Apps, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Telcos, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • It's just a shame

    I've been a WP7 user since launch date in the US. I can't imagine switching to another platform. I have used iPhones and Android phones and was just left cold by both experiences. While every once in awhile I lament not having access to an app (Mostly Chase and Fios related ones), I'm not of any mind to switch to another platform. Of all the people I know on other platforms, they all insist they would never switch because of the lack of apps (things like Instagram and Draw Something), but yet I almost never see any of them using those apps! Sure, if I ask them about them, they may launch them a few more times, but with all of us being busy with our lives and our careers, I don't know anyone who has the time to really sit down and play with them. I guess for most people it's just about knowing they could do what's touted as new and popular if they wanted to, even though in reality, they never actually do. For me, I'm happy with a good core experience. Anything added to that is simply icing on the cake.
  • Nope!

    only the FOSS community can write high quality apps and M$ has no support from us.
    The Linux Geek
  • Software vs. Hardware

    Microsoft is a software company. Restricting software to a platform with small market share is against their DNA. On the other hand, Windows Phone is an integral part of their strategy as well (having software across three/four screens). I think the most potent strategy is to get the conversation changed to overall (integrated) experience instead of apps. The very advantage of Windows Phones is their integration of crucial communications features (and Office 365!). That's worth buying a Windows Phone for, not some exclusive app.
    • You've got the problem, but not the solution.

      You are right, "[i]Microsoft is a software company.[/i]" The problem comes with your second sentence, "[i]Restricting software to a platform with small market share is against their DNA.[/i]" And I think their strategy is fundamentally flawed. A mobile phone handset is [b]not[/b] a tablet, which is [b]not[/b] a PC, no matter how much Microsoft wishes it were.

      You're also right that this is all about "[i]overall (integrated) experience instead of apps.[/i]" Here, Microsoft is in big trouble. iOS will always beat them because Apple has the complete control over the platform MS never will, unless they buy Nokia outright, and Android will always win with the OEMs because it's free, and open.

      Microsoft tried to pick a "middle way", but they've probably realized that when you're in the middle you get hit from [b]both[/b] sides. In this case, [i]twice[/i] since MS has to battle with not only iOS and Android, but also with Carriers and OEMs.

      Nope, I think Windows Phone is going to be a very expensive, very distracting quagmire for Microsoft, and in retrospect it will be seen as the straw that broke Ballmer's back.
  • Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation?

    They sure can. WP7 platform practically sells itself due to its ingenious design. With over 70,000 apps available for it there are plenty to choose from. With a little help from Microsoft to get those apps that haven't been ported yet and soon you will have nothing to worry about. Its surprising that some developers are refusing to make apps for the WP7 platform considering that's the only place you can make money off your apps. The other platforms markets are saturated right now. Developers, get in to WP7 early while you still have the chance to bring in the cash.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • "WP7 platform practically sells itself"

      Which rock did you just crawl out from under?
      • The loverock

        :P oh I crack myself up
        Loverock Davidson-
      • Ah, I see

        A double dose of mindlessness then. That explains it. Thank you.
      • Superior products always sell themselves, but,

        they still need great marketing in order to let people know how a product is superior to the rest.

        So, the rock you're talking about, is the "rock of denial" from which you seem to have come from.
  • office 365 crucial?

    isn't that just a glorified web app available to any web enabled device? How about making a WP7 app that syncs the phone to the desktop MS Outlook database without going over the web.
    • Not At All

      Office 365 is anything but a web app. Office 365 (Outlook component) is Exchange-based, it would be complete nonsense to sync it to desktop Outlook. However, it's automatically synchronized with your Exchange that you use Outlook for - both sync to the Office 365 Exchange server.
  • Where is Microsoft going?

    I'm a bit confused about where Microsoft is going.

    As a user, I'm not sure I want to jump to the Windows Phone just yet. Knowing that Microsoft is making an ARM version of Windows 8, I'm wondering what will end up being used on their phones in a year from now, will it still be Windows Phone or some other version of Windows 8 for ARM? If they do the switch to Windows 8 will the current Windows Phone 7 apps still work?

    I'm a developer and really aware of the tech world and I'm confused about these things, imagine a regular person not really into tech.

    That could also slow the developer world from making Windows Phone 7 apps not knowing if they will still be relevant in the near future.
    • I expect ...

      ... WindowsPhone8 to contain a considerable subset of the new capabilities offered by WinRT - the new API underneath Metro-style apps in Windows8.

      This will allow Microsoft to leverage their work on porting Windows to run on ARM across phone, tablet and laptop scenarios for Win8.

      I also FULLY expect MS to progress down the ARM path for server scenarios too - although I don't expect that to happen until Win9.
    • Confirmed

      Microsoft confirmed Windows Phone 7 apps will work on Windows Phone 8.
      • But what about hardware

        Yeah, but if I buy WP7 phone hardware now, will it allow WP8 software upgrade to that 6 month old device? That's the question.
  • Time to rethink.

    At BUILD I asked Microsoft why don't they build a cross platform compiler into their Development tools. Their answer was they hadn't seen a good business case. I'm torn by this because as a Windows developer I find it much easier to develop for WP but I'm not reaching a large number of potential users. I wonder if Microsoft created tools that would allow developers to build/port Apps for all platforms if they would get the apps by default? If anyone could figure out how to make this happen, it should be the company with the most experience building development tools.
    • If you're building code in .NET ....

      ... you already have the ability for your apps to be compiled down to x86, x64 at install/run-time. And as I pointed out in a blog last September (, Microsoft already ship an ARM C++ compiler for Win8. They have, of course, been shipping ARM compilers for WindowsCE for MANY years too.

      The problem is NOT the compiler - Microsoft has some of the best compilers & compiler developers on the planet - it's the platform. Which API's do you support on which platforms and devices. Up until recently, phones, for example, were so far behind laptops in terms of perf that they simply couldn't run desktop-class operating systems.

      That balance has now shifted, however. Most modern smartphones have about as much computing, IO and graphical power as a mid-range laptop from 4-5 years ago. Combined with some serious optimization of the kernel & OS, Windows 8 will provide a great deal of the substrate for Windows Phone 8.

      We in the developer community have all our fingers, toes and limbs crossed that MS will essentially consolidate all their dev platforms down to one: WinRT - that app platform underneath Win8's Metro-style start screen & apps.

      If they do this, Microsoft could deliver a single app platform allowing developers to write their apps once and have them work pretty seamlessly on phones, tablets, latptops and desktops.

      Let's hope!
  • Why

    In the world would I want a starbucks or coca cola ap? I do not consume those products with my phone. So installing an application that will spam me with offers will make me want to buy the phone?
    • Why not?

      You get ads on the internet.
      You get ads on TV.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • Avoid TV cause hate the ads:)

        I just buy the shows I like off of iTunes an no commercials. I avoid Android for basically the same reason. I avoid ads like the plague for in my mind there is little more evil than manipulation which is the very basis of advertising.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn