Microsoft WebApps: Mobile Web sites in Windows Phone app's clothing

Microsoft WebApps: Mobile Web sites in Windows Phone app's clothing

Summary: Microsoft is packaging up some popular mobile Web sites and making them available as downloadable Windows Phone apps.

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There are some interesting new "apps" published by Microsoft showing up in the Windows Phone store, as of late.

mswinphonewebapps

These apps, known as Microsoft WebApps, are Web sites packaged up in mobile-app form. They are free and downloadable from the Windows Phone Store. (Thanks to Will Dreiling for the pointer.)

Among the nearly 50 apps in the "WebApps" group are apps for Southwest Airlines, the Food Network, 1-800 Flowers, TMZ, Orbitz, J.Crew, and CarMax.

The WebApps team is part of the Windows Store team, I hear. The WebApps team is different from the Microsoft Publisher Account, which is the team that makes available official Microsoft apps for Windows Phone.

I asked Microsoft what the WebApps team is doing and why. A spokesperson sent me the following statement:

"We are helping people access great mobile experiences on Windows Phone by creating pinnable Web Apps that show up in the app list. These are not a replacement for native apps. In most cases we hope that usage of the Web App will encourage the ISV to publish its own native app."

It looks like WebApps are yet another way Microsoft is hoping to encourage developers to build more brand-name, popular Windows Phone apps. I'm not against this tactic. On my Surface RT, I have nearly as many pinned Web sites on my Start screen as I do native apps. Sometimes, I've found a Web app to be as good, if not better, than the native app (example: New York Times).

As of mid-2013, there were approximately 160,000 apps in the Windows Phone store. The up-to-date tally is approximately 175,000, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is believed to be building a unified Windows-Windows Phone Store, but it may not be available until the spring of 2015

Update: Some developers have asked whether Microsoft is violating its own app-development policies for Windows Phone with these WebApps. Requirement 2.10, in particular, specifies a Windows Phone app must do more than just launch a Web page. Microsoft isn't commenting on this question, but I believe these apps are rendering content within the app, not simply doing screen scraping of a Web site. So that may be Microsoft's "out" in this case.

Update No. 2 (October 22): At least one of the site owners behind the content of one of Microsoft's new WebApps doesn't seem pleased. Southwest Airlines asked Microsoft to remove the Southwest WebApp, Neowin.net is reporting.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Software Development, Web development, Windows Phone

About

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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14 comments
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  • I often wondered ...

    ... why Microsoft didn't approach the top brands one at a time and offer to create apps for them for free using their vast network of evangelists.
    Bob Tabor
  • Microsoft WebApps: Mobile Web sites in Windows Phone app's clothing

    That works for me. I won't have to type the sites in each time plus I can discover some new ones. Atari anyone?
    Loverock-Davidson
  • App Madness

    I don't get it: What do you need an app for if it's basically just a link to mobile web content? That doesn't make any sense. In the PC world, you would just create a bookmark and pin it and you're done. "L'app pour l'app" - an app just for the sake to got one? It's all just about appvertising, IMO.
    sevenacids
  • These apps all FAIL certification - 2.10

    Sorry, your app failed certification due to requirement 2.10. Please review and rebuild your app and resubmit. Thank you.

    This is unfair behavior on Microsoft's part, other developers are not allowed to submit apps that do nothing but launch a webpage. They fail other people for this, but they let themselves right in the backdoor and took the market. Thanks guys!


    2.10
    Your app and metadata must have distinct, substantial and legitimate content and purpose.
    Your app must be fully functional when acquired from the Windows Phone Store and it must provide functionality other than launching a webpage.
    Your app must not be unreasonably priced in relation to the functionality of the app.
    giantveggie
    • Is MS violating 2.10 in its own developer terms?

      Hi. I have a question in to MS about this. I will update the post with their answer as to why they are/not breaking their own terms & conditions. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Thanks MJF For Keeping Them Honest. :)

        I love how you are always fair in your critiques of Microsoft. Certainly, they would rather you not have written many of the reviews that you wrote, but they are so objective, Microsoft has not choice but to engage you.

        Reminds me of that scene in "Gladiator" where the emperor (Joachin Phoenix) is frustrated because he cannot kill Maximus (Russell Crowe) because the people love him too much, and is forced to engage him with respect.
        Le Chaud Lapin
    • I was wondering this...

      ... myself. I'm not opposed to the practice from an official standpoint, though. It's far more controlled this way.

      I understand and agree, however, with not allowing third parties to do it. There's already problems with nothing more than web pointers and repackaged mobile presentations of sites already.... just look at EVERY Facebook app that isn't official.
      GoodThings2Life
  • Solutions

    Web apps are excellent and sometimes more functional than native apps. Its a good start

    For Microsoft here are a few simple solutions to solve the app problem.

    1. Make Win RT free for OEMS and release a version without office and sell it at a price range of Amazon kindle and Google Nexus. Allow 6, 7 and 8 inch form factors. Bring Surface mini ASAP.

    2. Make WP OS free for OEMs

    3. Unification of Win RT / WP8 is fine and it will make life easier for developers, but spring 2015 is too far and too late. So take steps now to win the mobile market NOW

    4. Pay developers money to develop for Windows 8, developers follow money.

    5. Fund start-ups like hell to develop for Win 8 and Windows Phone. That 900 million write down was enough to bring 100,000 more apps to the Store
    Owl`Net
    • I wouldn't make RT and WP free to OEMs

      Maybe offer them a significant discount for a year or two, but don't make them free.
      rmark@...
    • Good points

      But I have a question about the first and second points - namely, if a unification of WP OS and Win RT takes place - as you suggest - are you also implying - here following from your second point - that this new OS (the Win RT and WP OS combine), which will arguably run Windows Phones and a certain class of Surface and other tablets, also be given away for free to OEMs?

      Personally, I think MS should give away WP OS for free to phone OEMs, but retain Win RT which it should dedicate to a specific class of Surface branded tablets (of varying sizes - 7, 8 and 10.6). That way, MS will or should be able to achieve a much tighter integration between their devices and the OS and provide a much better user experience. However, this comes with a caveat. MS should also ensure that Win RT and WP OS have some sort of interoperability, which would allow for sharing the same App store - both for phones and for tablets. Whether or not this is technically possible I can't say, but if MS needs to realize its Devices and Services strategy that they have thus far articulated, then something similar to this option needs to be seriously considered by MS. If they don't and open the RT tablet market to other OEMs, they will end up corrupting that market space. Of course, it can be argued then why open up the market space for other OEMs using the full Win 8.x OS. This is because since Win 8.x OS is the full-featured OS, the narrative that tablets (of varying OEMs) running that OS will be very similar to that of PCs (which have traditionally been made by a variety of good and indifferent OEMs).
      crystalsoldier
  • Web Apps

    How are these web apps any different than "apps" produced by tools like PhoneGap for iOS, Android and Windows Phone?
    Honeyboy Wilson
    • API Access

      PhoneGap provides an abstraction layer that allows web apps to target various APIs that may not be available via HTML5. These are things like file access, camera, accelerometer, etc. Many of these features are slowing being implemented in HTML5, but PhoneGap itself is a native app so it just provides an interface between its own APIs and that of the platform it is sitting on top of.

      What Microsoft is doing is more akin to the WebApps app on Windows Phone (see http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=49e97b4c-7715-4103-8519-066244fc9e2f - disclosure: I am the developer of this app) or what Amazon is doing with listing web apps in its App Store catalogue (see https://developer.amazon.com/sdk/webapps.html)
      nanabite
      • Well explained

        Which is exactly why I don't like true "web apps". It's (in my opinion after sticking my toe in the water) is that it's more trouble to write web apps than to just go native. I speak from an Android perspective. But I've also seen here on ZDNet that iOS developers feel the same way. Creating rich interfaces with web tools is more time consuming than doing it natively.

        The only advantage to "web apps" using products like PhoneGap is that web developers can leverage native APIs. It's also true that a single engine plan leverages the same aerodynamic principles as a commercial airplane. But which one provides the better experience? ;-)
        tallbruva
  • SouthWest App

    Southwest Airlines needs to work with MS to either create an App or update the existing Webapp. Otherwise they are now alienating customers that have Windows Phones.
    rmark@...