Microsoft needs a hundred "$1,000,000" apps, not a million "$100" apps

Microsoft needs a hundred "$1,000,000" apps, not a million "$100" apps

Summary: It's not my idea — it came from one of my Twitter friends — but it's bang on the money.

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TOPICS: Apps
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I present this tweet from Gustavo Fontana:

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 19.05.12

Gustavo is referring to the recent announcement that Microsoft is going to pay developers $100 per app that is approved for inclusion in the Windows Store.

This $100 programme is a dumb move, and although I thought about writing about it at the time, sometimes a move is so dumb it's better just to ignore it. And now I'm not. I'm changable, like the British weather.

Why's the $100 programme dumb? Well, as Gastavo implies, it gets people writing throwaway apps just to get their $100.

It looks desperate, as it will only attract amateur developers looking to fill the Windows Store with rubbish.

Hundred-dollar apps

For the uninitiated, Microsoft operates regional "developer platform evangelism" teams (DPE teams) whose job it is to go around stirring up interest directly with developers and their managers for whatever technologies Microsoft wants to sell into that market. It's very much a sales-led operation — DPE members are a hybrid of salesperson and technologist.

The "$100 program" is a product of Microsoft US's DPE team. Of course, with the US being so dominant in the industry, it's been picked up by all the press, and it looks like a decision from the entire mothership, rather than just one sales sub-organisation with remit over just one region. 

Other regions do rather better. Microsoft UK's DPE team has a much more sensible programme that doesn't have the same attraction to developers wanting to throw together rubbish apps. The App Builder Rewards Programme has a top "prize" of a "two-night deluxe Paris cuisine break for two."

Moreover, the strapline on their campaign clearly says, "Show us that you're a game changer." Talk to the Microsoft UK DPE members and they'll talk about "quality" first and foremost. Those guys and gals understand the problem.

Like every complex organisation, it takes just one boneheaded move to swamp positive messages from one team with naff ones from another team.

Luckily, the US programme has a built-in death date of June 30th, after which point we can all forget about it and hope they've learned their lesson.

June 30th, by the way, is the last day of Microsoft's current financial year. Make of that what you will.

Million-dollar apps

Back to Gustavo's other question, which I'll reframe as, "where do million-dollar apps come from?"

Well, we know that Microsoft can get million-dollar apps on Windows Phone. Last October, Microsoft claimed they had "46 of the top 50 apps on mobile."

Those 46 apps are million-dollar apps — so where did they come from? They didn't just pop into existence out of the goodness of the developer's heart.

Some of those top-drawing apps came as a result of a liberal application of schmoozing.

There's nothing sinister about this — it's just business development. If you've been involved in managing any type of business, you would have done this yourself. Making friends, calling in favours, or just straightforward "building relationships" is a good way to make things happen. Business was developed, relationships made, and million-dollar apps are now available on Windows Phone, whereas there was a time when they were not.

But what next? The problem with that effort is that it doesn't scale. It took various teams within Microsoft months of effort to make those 46 apps happen. And there is still no Instagram support — this being perhaps the most important of the four apps that are missing from the 50.

A solution

I present this idea from Ars Technica author and all-around good egg, Peter Bright:

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 19.04.58

He's cracked it. We can all go home now.

This idea is stone-cold genius thinking. On all the platforms, app ratings are generally helpful indicators of the quality of apps. If you go outside of considering just mobile, Amazon is a great example of another place this works to help customers. (A product's star rating actually affects its sales rank within Amazon's system.)

Personally, I think the $1m bounty is too high for most categories, but even a bounty as low as $100k would be enough to incentivise the right sort of business to build the right type of app. I think you'd also need multiple winners per category as well. The only rule is that the users have to decide through downloads and ratings.

The $100 programme, if you don't want to do the math, is a $2m total spent over four months. Even a generous bounty programme run in perpetuity would fit into a multi-billion dollar marketing spend.

Anyway, it's a lovely idea because everything gets pushed up from the bottom, where the customer's are. Do a good job and produce apps that get good ratings, and the platform vendor rewards you for that.

No rubbish apps, just ones that users want to vote for.

Conclusion

The overarching problem here is that with no mass against Windows Phone or Metro-style apps in Windows 8, it's not clear why someone would invest in developing apps for those platforms.

A top-down approach is almost never going to work. Even done neatly — like in the case of the Microsoft UK DPE team — is it ever going to be enough to convince people to pour real money into building million-dollar apps?

The trick has to be to get adoption going. Once enough devices are out there, the problem solves itself. But then, can you build a platform without apps?

In the enterprise, things are a little different in that the power of top-down big-ticket sales still works and will likely always work. But if you're playing that game, you're in a niche market that's becoming more niche as the consumer market gets ever bigger. Microsoft will sell tablets in that space. Software companies selling business software will target Microsoft tablets as a result.

However, I'm starting to think that there isn't a way to fix this in the consumer space. Perhaps it's all decided now and it's going to be iOS and Android as the dominant players until ten years from now when we're all talking about whatever it is that's creating a post-post-PC world.

In consumer-land, if adoption does start to grow for Microsoft's post-PC devices, a programme like the one Peter has sketched out could really be a decent adrenalin shot delivering loads of energy into the developer community at exactly the right time.

It's a great solution, and I love it.

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

Topic: Apps

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62 comments
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  • Users Attract Developers To A Platform, Not The Other Way Round

    This obsession with apps and developers is completely out of touch with reality. Concentrate on enticing the users, and the developers will be forced to follow. That's how Android became dominant, even though IOS still has more apps, and developers working on apps.

    Microsoft itself, of all people, should have remembered this lesson. How did Windows become dominant on the desktop in the first place? Back in the early 1990s, most of the apps were for MS-DOS, and the big-name developers were all convinced that OS/2 was going to be the Next Big Thing. It was the customers who decided otherwise.
    ldo17
    • Chicken and Egg

      If you don't have any developers on your platform, at least none of the top flight names, it doesn't matter how good your platform is, you won't entice users to it.

      Therefore you need to entice some developers to make decent apps for the new platform, in order to make it attractive to the users. At some point, user take-up will take off and other developers will come to the platform, because they can see a market for their goods.

      Think of it like a car, you need to get some parts in there from the get-go. You can't sell a car to somebody with a wooden plank for a seat and say, hey, if another 20,000 people buy the car, we can provide you with a velour seat and another 20,000 after that, you can upgrade to leather...
      wright_is
      • Re: Chicken and Egg

        How come "chicken and egg" didn't stop Android from becoming dominant?
        ldo17
        • The Android situation...

          Was quite different. Manufacturers were aching for an alternative touch friendly OS to rival iOS and Microsoft was dumb enough to be doing God knows what while Google provided the much needed alternative. And what an alternative the first Android was. Windows Phone 7, as Microsoft's first touch friendly OS for smartphones was a hudred times better than the first Android.

          Did we really expect Samsung, HTC and others to go with iOS? Could they? No. Was Windows Mobile a viable option? No.

          But the situation is very different now. OEM's have got the OS they need. Now one of the most vital things needed to get people to even consider a platform is apps.
          Ehsan Irani
          • Re: The Android situation... Was quite different.

            Circular reasoning, much?
            ldo17
    • Android

      It was easy to become #2; The MS/BB fight to be #3 is going to be much tougher. Dev's were willing to bite the bullet on a 2nd mobile OS; a 3rd, especially with the dropoff in number of potential users, may be much tougher. Some are going to wait for the key stat - will WP8 and BB10 users PAY for apps? My app - tennisdata - is still only iOS because study after study shows Android users won't pay (event $0.99 for life) for apps.
      beau parisi
      • Android users don't pay...

        Android users don't pay for apps? Not true. Just browse on over to the Play store, select top paid apps and you'll see download figures. To note just one example: Minecraft, a $6.99 game has been downloaded over 1000,000 times. That's a tidy little sum the developers have pocketed. I personally have dozens of paid apps on my devices.

        it's true that there are good of free and freemium apps out there, and you can have a lot of fun and be productive with just those (my wife doesn't even have a credit card linked to her account) but I suspect that as the market continues to mature, there will be more room for more expensive paid apps. I, for one, would rather spend $10.00 on a very good app than get a halfassed one for free.
        dsf3g
    • Big names all convinced of OS/2?

      The only fool buying the OS/2 snake oil was Lotus. Everyone else was skeptical about anything coming out of IBM.
      LBiege
      • Re: The only fool buying the OS/2 snake oil was Lotus.

        Lots of others did: WordPerfect, Adobe...
        ldo17
      • No Quite

        I was surprised to see rather recently OS/2 on a computer in one of Canada's largest banks and in one the pre-eminent hospitals systems. The guy at the bank said the system runs some of their core client management systems and though there had been attempts to update the users were resisting it. He said it was still somewhat common in the financial and banking industry. Both that I saw were running an early version of Notes. I love Notes but, not sure I'd want to revert to such an early version.

        I used Warp 4 at home for some time at home and it was clearly better than Win3.1.11. I think I still have the WP system for it as well as the complete Warp kit and Notes. There is a company that still updates and maintains OS/2 including offering the OS. Not cheap, understandably, and I thought about buying it. If nothing else, today it may be the most secure system against attack.

        My son and I used to go to the local IBM building monthly for the OS/2 User Group meeting until it finally faded out. It had a lot of devotees, a number from IBM who were too young to have been around when it was mainstream. They were developing video, audio, and other capabilities for it not around when it came out. A number were also coding Linux but said coding to OS/2 was easier. I wonder what could have happened if IBM released it under something similar to the GNU license.
        BrianLevyEsq
        • OS/2 - Bank ..

          I bet the bank was BMO.. correct?
          When I was there (some time ago) I was in charge of
          technical support for FCP, and we looked after OS/2 and
          Notes support.
          BMO had just bought/merged with Nesbitt and they had exchange servers which
          were down more than they were up. We used to love bugging their technical support about how crappy Exchange was, compared to our Notes/Domino servers ...

          Damn, I'm getting all sentimental again .. lol

          Those were good times!!
          CND-Dude
      • The OS/2 problem

        OS/2 was great. The problem that killed it was outsourcing development of the software to a developer with their own competing OS.
        symbolset
    • Except....

      Windows ran all those DOS apps. Windows RT doesn't. Microsoft could entice you with Windows, because it ran all your old apps. Backwards compatibility.
      AudeKhatru
  • No news here.

    This Microsoft move is just to encourage or motivate developers to write apps for Windows 8 and WP platforms. Not everybody wants a million dollar app. Sometimes its the small app that matters to an average person. Microsoft was running similar promotions (not cash, but goodies) for UK developers for years for the WP platform.

    Microsoft is already running app contest programs in countries like Russia and Australia.
    Owllll1net
    • There is some truth to this

      While I agree with the article that flooding the store with garbage apps is not particularly commendable, I also see the point that a lot of average users would prefer to find something cheap and simple that meets their particular needs rather than pay a fortune for a million dollar app that does everything but may be overkill for their needs. I personally like the expensive apps because they provide plenty of room for expansion and expose me to capabilities that I may not have thought of. I dislike buying a specialized app only to find out that I am missing something and then have to purchase two or three cheap apps which may not interact well when I could have bought a one-stop shop and been done with it, but I can see a need for both in the market.
      Astringent
  • What a crap of an idea.

    If an app is good it will get the developer the cash anyway, the $100 is just the push that small time developers need to create a new app for the Window Phone platform. The million dollar apps are all there anyway.
    nishsingh
    • The app gets as much cash

      As there are people on the platform. WP doesn't have enough users yet, so there has to be another incentive to get big names involved. Even Facebook hasn't created an official spp for WP yet. MS created it themselves. And I hear people really care about Instagram for some reason, and it's not on WP yet.

      This is a brilliant idea because not only would it get big names creating apps for WP, but it would also make them put more effort in releasing games, for example, as soon as they are released on other platforms.

      What big game maker wouldn't want to earn a million dollars more if they had a hot game attracting people on other platforms?! Brilliant!
      Ehsan Irani
  • A hundred bucks?

    If one hundred dollars makes the difference between you creating an app and not creating an app, then it's not much of an app.
    AnalogJoystick
    • Cheap apps can lead to million dollar apps

      One never knows who might not have thought much about creating an app but the $100 reward may actually start someone to really do that and they may even create the next big app. Not everyone who is talented enough has dived into the fray and maybe they will now.
      tom_268@...
    • $100 ??

      $100 ??
      What sort of incentive is that?
      I can get more $$ for taking a stupid survey!

      They should hold a contest (like others have suggested) and offer
      a larger prize for say top 1000 best apps!
      MS has tons of cash to through at a product, not sure why they are
      being so stupid/cheap about it!!
      If they want WP8 to go anywhere in this market they better pony up the
      $$ to get it there or be left in the dust, which is where they are at the moment!
      BB 10, will be doing better then they will be in no time, as most of Android's 100's thousands apps can run on these BB 10 phones.
      CND-Dude