Do hobbyists any longer have an effect on Windows Phone adoption?

Do hobbyists any longer have an effect on Windows Phone adoption?

Summary: Back at the inception of the App Store and Android Market, hobbyists had a positive effect in growing the market. Can hobbyists have an effect on the adoption of Windows Phone?

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TOPICS: Smartphones
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Yesterday I witnessed a vignette play out that I've seen a good number of times over the last year. A newcomer arrives in an office sporting a Lumia phone. (Just FYI, it was ann old school Lumia 800.) Two iPhone users saw it, looked at it, and made gratifying "ooh" and "aah" noises whilst the Lumia owner extolled the benefits. Conversation done the iPhone users returned to their desk. Neither one of the existing iPhone owners pledged that they would immediately go out and buy a Lumia.

It's a familiar refrain. Windows Phone looks good, people coo and ooh along when they see it, but still the marketshare remains stubbornly low.

Hobbyists

One thing we do know is that platforms, regardless of their technology stack, typically go through recognisable stages of maturity. A platform will typically start through the expedient of a rag-tag collective of hobbyist developers adding mass to a platform through the industrious creation of a great number of small apps. As well as precedent in the home microcomputer market in the 1980s, and the web's ascendancy in the 1990s, the reason why the Apple App Store and Google Play are so full of apps is because a large number of hobbyists piled on to fill them up in the early days. The Windows Phone Store is similarly full of apps because of efforts of hobbyists. 

But we also know from the way these things work that over time hobbyists get sidelined by the arrival of proper money. Hobbyists are often working under highly constrained budgets, and when proper commercial organisations start pouring money into a market hobbyists tend not to be able to compete. The analogy in general business is that they become very small businesses trying to compete with corporates. This is especially true when it comes to marketing budgets. In established markets its the amount of money that you have to spend on marketing -- which is essentially the process of distracting and interrupting people enough to notice your product -- becomes huge. Hobbyists can "magic up" investment for actual development (they simply remove "time" from other parts of their life and developer code), but marketing requires actual cash.

But there's another problem. At the start of a hobbyist market, the software in and of itself is relevant and delivers value directly. A good example of this is a todo list app. The user downloads it, puts in their tasks, and off they go. But as the market matures the value stops being something inherent within the software and apps start acting as a conduit through to some other commercial value. The benefit to the user of having an Amazon app isn't in the app itself -- rather the value comes from allowing the user to buy things on Amazon. eBay allows the user to trade. Facebook allows the user to do whatever they do on Facebook, and so on. That level of market maturation demands a proper, tangible business and that's also something that's difficult for a hobbyist developer to do.

Investment

Take the situation of a business like Costco developing an app for iOS and Android. The reason why I've picked this app is because it fits neatly into the sort of app that we're seeing at this point of market maturation. On the one hand they appear to have made a decision that they can cover enough of their target market by targeting just iOS and Android. On the other hand, the value of that app comes solely from the fact that Costco can use it to bring forward value from their main business, through the app, and to their customers. 

By targeting iOS and Android they both add oxygen to the iOS and Android platform, but also starve Windows Phone of oxygen. Is a customer more likely to buy an iOS or Android phone because the Costco app is available? Perhaps not in isolation, but when it's not just Costco but a combination of Costco and thousands of its other business globally, en masse that has a devastating effect on Windows Phone. With just hobbyist apps available, Windows Phone remains stuck in a low gear with an, admittedly large, selection of "hobbyist class" applications.

What do I mean by "hobbyist class"? Well, much as I love hobbyists their constrained resources together with the fact that ideas don't have to go through the mill of commercial introspection, hobbyist apps can be a little ropey in terms of their basic quality. And, as discussed, it's hard for hobbyists to bring forward value from an existing business.

Conclusion

I think Microsoft knows that hobbyists no longer have any sway over the adoption rate of Windows Phone. If you look back at the recent Windows Phone 8 launch much airtime is given over to "hero" apps that Microsoft themselves have helped wet nurse into maturity. This also goes some way to explaining why Microsoft seemingly stopped helping hobbyist developers in the run up to the Windows Phone 8 release. It's likely internal resources were committed to helping more important partners because they knew that the value proposition there made more sense in a more mature market. Helping -- picking one at random -- Audible deliver an app on Windows Phone adds more value in one hit than helping a thousand hobbyists build todo list apps.

Where are now in the market is in a position whereby hobbyists can no longer have an effect on the adoption of a mobile platform because the apps they write no longer deliver the right type of value, regardless of how many of them they can build. Moreover platform owners, like Microsoft, have no direct control over what the hobbyists actually do. Together hobbyists bring a lot of energy into a platform, but that energy is very diffuse. It's more flashlight than laser. 

In short, at this point, a hobbyist developer building an app for Windows Phone is not going to affect the market share of the platform at all. It's too late.

There's only one reason why a hobbyist would target Windows Phone -- the old classic move of autodidacticism, or "self learning". But, given that tablets are on the ascendancy and that iPad looks like it will maintain significant market relevance for the next few years, perhaps the autodidact amongst you might like to build up your Objective-C and Cocoa Touch skills.

Just sayin'.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Microsoft

Topic: Smartphones

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32 comments
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  • Do hobbyists any longer have an effect on Windows Phone adoption?

    Yes they do. Hobbyists try it first, enjoy the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 experience, tell their friends, sales go through the roof for Microsoft Windows Phones. Although your scenario would play out for any phone. I remember someone trying to show me the benefits of the iPhone when it first came out, I rolled my eyes and walked away saying it didn't do what I needed it to.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Then MS might want to

      work on gaining some nobbiest back. Seems like they have kinda run most of them off. I mainly run Linux and get called a nobbiest by the softies here, as though it were a bad thing.
      coastin
    • So then, oh wise one,

      "Hobbyists try it first, enjoy the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 experience, tell their friends, sales go through the roof for Microsoft Windows Phones."

      Why hasn't that happened? I remember a regular here once saying (or maybe a hundred times), any software that has less than 2% market should just give up and go away, or something like that.

      I guess we'll put you down as someone who believes MS should just give up on the mobile market.
      anothercanuck
    • That's pretty funny

      You seem to think that anybody here is going to cares what your supposed reaction was to a none MS product.
      non-biased
  • Basic life

    If you want to call, text, have calender, listen music, use facebook, read email subjects and text and take some crappy phone photos, then don't buy a smartphone but a good mobile phone.

    If you want to browse WWW sites, watch videos, edit some crappy phone photos, use a lot email and those are 90+ % what you do with a mobile device, then don't buy a mobile phone.

    If you use WWW sites, watch videos, watch and edit some crappy phone photos, use a lot (and I mean a lot) emails do use all kind other apps, then don't buy mobile nor smartphone but a 7" tablet with GSM Voice feature.

    And once you choose a ecosystem, you stay there. You don't spend tens of dollars or more to apps and then choose to swap platform because you want to feel new launcher. No, you have peripherals, you have apps, you have personal look (wallpapers, own icon types, own icon names, own widgets etc like http://mycolorscreen.com/popular/), then you stay there.

    Apple customers do not need to buy a new phone, but typically a new stereo at home, new car dock or even change a car(!), buy a PC instead a Mac etc etc.... Who want to buy a new phone what can not be used with existing hardware, home decoration, car functions etc? NO ONE!
    Fri13
  • Speaking of the Hobbyist

    You almost described me to a tee:

    http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/lister-free/d605d423-974b-4edf-94b3-1a58aee34812

    Mainly the reason I stick to Windows Phone development is the fact that the market isn't as crowded as iOS or Android; I don't feel I have anything to add to the latter two. Plus being a .Net developer since 1.0 the skill set is already there. So, home development time is spent getting actual work done, not learning.

    Having said that I've only made pennies for my work. I think mostly I wanted the experience of the whole thing vs. getting paid (but the paid would've been nice, LOL). I still maintain the app though; I'm committed to the folks that use the it, regardless of how few.
    ibanezht
  • Yes

    I would consider myself a hobbyist...

    But without really trying my dad now uses WP (my old titan) my mum wants a WP because she hates her android... My Brother in law is upgrading to a 920 in a month, a guy in work has a HTZ Mozart and my GF has a lumia 800

    Everyone that has moved to WP because i recommended it have loved it, and somebody who didnt got a cheap android instead of a relatively priced 800 / mozart and hates it haha!
    danjames2012
  • You've nailed it, it's not the app count, ...

    No one complained when iOS had 50k or 100k apps - that a huge number. It's the Starbucks and Costco and whomever else who decides to create a mobile app deciding to put their money into iOS and Android and not Windows Phone.

    Microsoft needs to do some good "chicken and egg" work. It needs to get it's marketshare high enough so that there is a clear "third place" phone (for example, it needs to completely remove Blackberry from all developer consciousness) and then move it a little higher so that the next time a Costco decides to develop an app, they do it for three platforms instead of two.

    As far as I can tell, the WP developer environment is friendlier and more productive than either iOS or Android. In addition, from what I can see, the WP user metaphors can be used to create more user-friendly/interesting/engaging apps (and, being able to enlist a user's SkyDrive storage now makes for a more powerful platform).

    Once that chicken gets created, the eggs should follow (well I hope they do - I'm retiring my original Samsung Focus today as I upgrade to a Nokia 920).
    Flydog57
    • Yes

      I'm upgrading my original Samsung Focus to the Nokia 920 as well; sometime in the next couple of weeks.
      roteague
    • "it needs to completely remove Blackberry from all developer consciousness"

      You hit the nail on the head. I started out as a hobbyist Android developer simply because my wife wanted something that wasn't in the Android Market (the days when the G1/myTouch were the only Android phones on the planet). It was cheap: $25 and I haven't payed Google another penny in 4+ years.

      Blackberry doesn't charge anything at all to become a developer and get the app thru the approval process. And here in lies the problem for Microsoft.

      It's simply too expensive for the indi developer to write for Microsoft. $99 for each app submission pass or fail? No thanks. While I can use Blackberry Nature to port my Android apps to Blackberry, I'm updating my skills to write native Blackberry apps. I have the skill set to write for Windows Phone but there's no incentive for me to write for it.

      From the beginning of Windows Phone, Microsoft catered to the big developers. Indi devs were a second (or even third) thought.
      tallbruva
      • Your math is wrong for Microsoft app submissions

        It's $99 a year to publish an unlimited number of paid apps, and up to 100 free apps.
        pkatz
  • Ask Amiga how valuable that "Hobbyist" market is.

    Windows Phone 8 is a nice OS, but it will always be relegated to a distant third. And that's only because of Microsoft's deep-pockets.
    matthew_maurice
    • Hobbyists can help

      Well, sure.. hobbyists aren't everything. But they very much did launch the Amiga sales in the early days, long before the platform had useful applications for "regular folks". In fact, there's a computing subculture still devoted to the Amiga, and various plain-old-PC type things running AmigaOS.

      Hobbyists can't save a company from itself: bad management and bad marketing WILL kill any company. No amount of technical excellence with rescue a company bent of self-destruction, as Commodore was in its latter years. In fact, I shot a film about it back in 1994 (Google "Deathbed Vigil" on YouTube... may have the film on Amazon in a month or two).

      Thing is, you don't get those hobbyists unless there's something there for them. The Amiga was the greatest single jump in features of any new platform introduced in the "formative" years of personal computing. Of course it attracted hobbyists.

      But that's not Windows Phone or RT. Offering yet another Walled Garden, this time with a simple but dumbed-down UI, isn't the way to attract hobbyists. Sure, there are people here who will claim to be both real computer geeks and Microsoft fans. A very few might actually be this -- certainly, some developers were attracted to the business opportunity, but most looked at the opportunity cost of a tiny Windows Phone market versus launching another app for iOS or Android, and chose the latter. Most of the folks in love with the everything Windows around here (we all know who they are) are pretenders, not real geeks.
      Hazydave
  • Another reason?

    As a programming Hobbyist I have not yet got my hands on a Windows 8 platform and I like Microsoft free express tools. Still I wonder the issue is not Microsoft but the Hobbyist has been replaced by the start up.
    I live in Portland Ore; not month goes by I do not hear of a new rinky dink start up with awful name or product name, announces they are developing an app that will change the world and passing the hat for VC / Kicskstarter capital.
    Scatcatpdx
  • hope

    Although I don't personally like Windows Phone, I hope it succeeds because choice is a good thing. Me and my buddy were about to bump Galaxies to share a file and it occurred to me that Windows phone and iOS don't even acknowledge that files exist lol FAIL but to each their own. I like ppl to have what they want.
    robotaholic
    • hope for

      I bumped my 920 with a Nexus 4 and sent all kinds of things, INCLUDING files. Maybe it should be hope that people are not so closed minded about the rest of the world. I think the FAIL is in the mirror in your example.

      Also, there is nothing wrong with a system that isn't file centric. People on phones don't want nor care to have a file browser and then figure out "oh, yeah, its on /mnt/sd5/photos/dcim/blah". They want a chooser to select the conent and move on with their life. Bump.
      spokanedj
      • Personally I would not

        do without it. I have many important files on my phone and use then often. Some are notes, some are epubs, etc.. I keep important information that I need to access with me on my phone.
        coastin
        • Windows Phone Files

          To clarify, Windows Phone 8 and 7 both not only support file storage, but can be configured to automatically sync those files to all of your devices via SkyDrive. In addition, WP8 now supports NFC, which is the tap-to-share capability. It can share with any phone that supports NFC, including your Droids. The Nokia 800 series and 900 series also allow for expansion via microSD as well as direct publishing of your photos to services like Facebook.
          The reality is, iOS, Android and Windows Phone for the most part share common capabilities. What I like about my Windows Phone 8 is the Xbox integration (SmartGlass, Music, my avatar and games) and a native MS Office on the phone. I can open, read and edit as well as create new Word, Excel and OneNote documents as well as read threaded, rich text messages in a very Outlook-like app, that also has the ability to view hierarchical folders and manage my messages just as if I were in Outlook . I can also view and edit PPT slideshows in PowerPoint and access those docs from anywhere via SkyDrive. For productivity, WP8 is the best phone on the market without a doubt.
          MSFTTaz
    • Outdated information.

      My Nokia Lumia 920 shows up in "My Computer" with actual folders and files. You may need to revise your understanding.
      TechNickle
  • At least Windows 8 phone is doing better than Blackberry's 1.6%

    We keep forgetting that "user experience" makes a huge difference. Windows 8 presents a new User Interface paradigm, which is alien to existing computer users, and unintuitive for all. That's not a good thing, regardless how many bullets you have in your feature list, or how well it demos (i.e., an MS rep showing you the features and "ease of use", versus having it in your own hands and trying to figure it our yourself).

    The iPhone is a run-away success not because it has the most features or the "best" specs (it doesn't), but because the user experience is head and shoulders above the competition. So much so, that people are willing to pay more to get it. At this moment, the iPhone owns almost half of the US smartphone market share, while all Android smartphones, from all vendors combined, trail slightly. This all came about from consumer pull, in spite of enterprise mandates (take note, RIM). In other words, people really *want* iPhones, and this shows up as unit sales, in spite of higher prices, Antennagate, and Mapgate. The over-all user experience is noteworthy.

    The iPhone user experience includes a familiar, easy-to-use, intuitive User Interface (are you listening, MS?), seamless integration with the world's biggest online music distributor (iTunes Store, which also include TV programming, movies, and free podcasts including HD videos), the phenomenally successful iPad and iPod, and even your home media system or theater through Apple TV. It also has classic Apple simplicity and elegance, which is lacking in product that roll out of Redmond. Windows 8 phone simply doesn't compare.

    It'd be surprised if Windows 8 phone gets any meaningful traction.

    Note to Ed Bot: While I agree that things do not always appear as they truly are (e.g., Windows XP's slow start, but eventual mass popularity), sometimes they don't appear as they truly are in a BAD way. For example, MS made all sorts of statements about Vista's wild success, which some found hard to swallow. When the dust settled, Vista was a flop. Even the name rings like "Edsel" in the tech world. Stay tuned to this possibility with respect to Windows 8 phone, Surface, and Windows 8 in general, in spite of MS's claim of "40 million [copies of Windows 8] sold," and some folk's optimism.

    (Personal note: I drive a Windows XP box, just in case someone mistakes me for an Apple fanboy :-) )
    SteveMak