Native Windows 8 apps remain unpopular with developers

Native Windows 8 apps remain unpopular with developers

Summary: Back in January 2012, developers didn't seem to be in love with writing native apps for Windows 8. Are they any more keen today?

Software development
If this software developer runs into problems, there's only one place he'll go, and its called Stack Overflow.

Back in January 2012 I did a little analysis of how popular native Windows 8 app development was with developers.

I did this by having a look at how often WinRT (the technology used to develop native Windows 8 app, also known officially as Windows Store Apps, but also known colloquially as "Metro-style apps") was mentioned on Twitter, as well as often questions on the topic came up on the popular developer site Stack Overflow.

Spoiler: in January 2012, native Windows 8 app development was not popular. Remember this was ten months prior to Windows 8 hitting the retail market, so perhaps that's not terribly surprising.

20 months on, I wanted to have another look at this. Windows 8 has been around for about a year, so we should see more interest from developers in this technology.


This time round I'm only interested in Stack Overflow. If you are a developer, you will have heard of this site. If you're not a developer, it's the de facto place where developers go to get questions answered. It's a "barometer of heartache". If you're trying to develop some software, at some point you will run into a difficult problem, and you will seek solace in Stack Overflow.

My assumption here is that if we look at the number of questions asked on Stack Overflow, we can see how popular a platform is. This assumption is based on the concept that the mobile platforms we're interested in -- iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows Store Apps, are equally difficult to develop for.

Last time I mooted the idea that all development platforms were about as easy and/or difficult as one another to develop for, I got some flak for it. At the time, a lot of the people debating this point didn't realise that I make most of my income from developing software for all of the major mobile platforms and perhaps were assuming I didn't have much real world experience.

Trust me on this -- although Visual Studio is sublime and Microsoft's developers have forgotten more about designing a developer toolset than Apple's or Google's have ever known, they all have their good points and all have their bad points. They are much of a muchness to develop for. This means if we look at popularity of topics on Stack Overflow, it should indicate how many developer hours are being spent across the entire universe of developers out there. Specifically, it's a good measure of effort.

To summarise the analysis that I did before, taking a 28 day period starting with January 19th 2012, we see 3,368 questions on Android, 3,264 questions on iOS, 203 questions on Windows Phone, and 8 questions on Windows Store Apps.

StackFoo - 2013-11 - January 2012
StackOverflow question counts from January 2012

To compare those previous values with what's happening today, taking a 28 day period starting with 22nd October 2013, we see 4,505 questions on Android, 3,079 questions on iOS, 314 questions on Windows Phone, and 80 questions on Windows Store Apps.

StackFoo - 2013-11 - October 2013
Stack Overflow question counts from October 2013


This throws up some interesting perspectives -- but perhaps the most interesting is how the interest from developers seems to match market share. If we look at data from comScore on smartphone market share from this article by my colleague Zack Whittaker, we get this:

StackFoo - 2013-11 - Developer Interest vs comScore
Number of questions on Stack Overflow plotted against recent comScore numbers.

Accepting you can prove anything with statistics, that looks eerily similar to me. Given that most software development is done as a result of commercial imperatives, we can see how developer effort seems to match up to the actual market of device sales.

Is this though, any particular way round? Are developers driving the market such that iOS and Android gets the love and then the market buys into those platforms because of the apps? Or are developers reacting to the market, going to where the money is? I'm a great believer in "follow the money" -- it seems clear to me that developers are following customer interest in the platforms and that developers don't have any ability to drive platform adoption simply by creating software.

There's some complexity here around tablets vs smartphones. iOS includes questions related to iPhone, and iPad. The same is true of Android. It's only Windows that has separate stacks for tablet and smartphone.

Regardless, the relevant data here seems to suggest that developers only have a passing interest in developing native apps for Windows 8.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering -- old school enterprise platforms Java and .NET are each five times as popular on Stack Overflow as Android and iOS. Expect a more detailed analysis of that soon.

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

Image credit: Wikimedia (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Topics: Software Development, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • Have to go with the numbers

    In the end its about market share. Any developer is trying to maximize their potential growth. Its simple economics, Windows is not that popular and the trends are not looking so good. Where would a new market come from? You either have people on Android or Apple's IOS smartphones.
    Everyone else is either buying a simple non smartphone or still not using a cell phone. If you attack the lower end of the market for smartphones as Microsoft and Nokia have done with cheaper phones. Then you run into a user who probably won't need or buy many apps. Maybe they will install a few free ones but not much else. I never understood Microsoft's market strategy in smartphones? Maybe because they don't have one?
    • unpopular...

      ... Is This Apple fan boy way of putting it. With more than 100000 apps available after 1 year isn't that bad. Apple was there first, then came Android. The Windows Store as some catching up to do but it is getting there. Being a "me too" in this game had some nasty effects that are revolving.

      Here's how I see it:
      - in the last 3 months, the most important apps where made available or where announced as coming soon.
      - The quality of the app is definitely improving. There is still some crappy apps added that should not be but the benchmarks apps are showing the way
      - the new games are very, very good
      - the first party apps are the best in the industry and there are plenty of them. Microsoft is definitely showing to way on how to make very good, useful and interesting apps to the other Windows apps developers
      - the fact that the first party apps are so good will discourage some developers to even try to compete with them
      -Facebook app open some eyes. Some are now convinced and will release their WS app
      - Visual Studio and Blend are a winning combination. Developers can us the same tools for their windows application, windows store app, web site.
      -Many first generation crappy application are entirely redone. That is the case of the amazon app for example, now very good.
      - All Windows device have a good browser and a descent size screen. It makes html web site a very alternative.

      It seems like being on the windows store is now becoming a must. The ones that sore not there are missing a lot

      I am both an iPad and a Surface user. I prefer my Surface for many reasons but, the WS was a minus for the Microsoft OS. The problem have become a lot less important with the release of windows 8.1, the Facebook app and other recent releases.
      • Re: the first party apps are the best in the industry

        Really? That pathetic Mail app? The claim you don't need apps because you have the best browser around? Internet Explorer the best browser?

        Lots of wishful thinking...

        But, involving developers in a platform takes some non-trivial amounts of cash, as the good ones are well paid. Microsoft is still trying to sit on their laurels.
        • Pathetic mail apps

          You are saying that the Windows 8.1 mail app is pathetic? The first gen mail app was lame but since then 2 versions were released and it is now among the best one out there.

          Images, Finance, Weather, Travel, Skype, Skydrive, Health, Calculator and remote desktop apps are also perfect for the job and were all improved greatly.
        • Did you use the new one that came with 8.1?

          I don't think so, because you know nothing about Windows 8.1, then why do you claim as you are the expert, go troll on your God platform.
          Ram U
      • 100,000 apps is nothing

        compared to the size of the real Windows ecosystem (standard desktop apps.) Most developers I know are relatively un-interested in the so-called "modern" apps, as it targets a relatively small pool of Windows 8 only users, whereas all Windows users can be reached by targeting the desktop.

        As to Visual Studio's and Blend's alleged "winning combination", Visual Studio is also what desktop applications are developed in, so that provides no specific advantage. Never mind that the terrible WinRT API is vastly inferior to what is available to desktop developers - true .NET framework profiles and Win32.
    • Agreed.

      We hear constantly that the vast majority of great programs are found written for Windows, while Apple has quite a few really good programs written for their OS too, because of their respective market share.

      Why would it suddenly be different for Smartphones?
      • Hey Bill, tell us how good the windows store apps are

        The vast majority of us will never know, no one is buying W8 or Surfaces tablets or Windows phones. So lie all you wnat, I can't say you're wrong, and neither can most consumers.

        However, don't lie about about Apple apps, I know first hand they're good, and I know first hand the Android apps are great.
        • Hey, FrankInKy, time to ease up on the moonshine!

          maybe you took a break from testing a new batch you brewed up in Harlan County to talk tech (your response sounds like you're drunk), as what did you say that even came close to responding to a truth I posted?

          You're reply screams that you don't want the truth, so you'll try to misdirect the blog off track.

          Nice try, but I'd worry less about me, and maybe more about Marshal Givens...
          • Wow, it's amazing...

            somewhere in your squishy lump of feeble brain cells you think you managed to insult me.
          • I try to do so with a bit of class

            If you can't insult humorusly, then don't do it at all. :)
        • Majority?

          I have purchased a Win8 laptop and Win8 All-in-One desktop to replace ageing hardware. Mu Win Phone 8 is on order. So, "no-one is buying" is nonsense. I am not alone. I know some have been put off by negative publicity (the "Bring back my start menu" nonsense) but not everyone is fooled. by the way, I also use an IMac and an IPad and, occasionally, an Android tablet.
          Bob G Beechey
    • Not necessarily

      I'm a developer and not developing for Windows 8. It nothing to do with maximizing growth, sales or otherwise. I just don't happen to like the platform.

      The article isn't about smartphones, it's about Windows 8. I love my Windows 8 PHONE, I just happen to think Metro doesn't work on the desktop.
  • Poor analysis

    There is many reasons why this article is rather a poor analysis, the most obvious being that your original assumption is not verified.

    In particular it is of note that you cherry pick Comscore data to suggest that there is some kind of correlation between Stackoverflow and market share, when Comscore data is US-only, while Stackoverflow is obviously not.

    Lastly it is of note that Apple's "stack overflow share" is down significantly, and down more than Windows is up. Maybe that would be a much more interesting article which would attract a larger audience. It is clearly losing out rapidly to Android, and with the lead in Apps really being the only reason to buy an iPhone these days that obviously spells bad news for the most valuable company in the world.
    • Re: Apple's "stack overflow share" is down significantly

      That could mean only two things:

      - either there are new platforms that are distracting those developers (this doesn't seem to be the case); or

      - Apple has upped the game with their development tools, documentation, etc -- so that developers need to ask less their peers on how to do something. (which is likely the case)
  • Visual Studio is sublime? Are you kidding me?

    OK, VS has its nice features. But it's slow as a sunken ship. I develop both for Mac and Windows. A given build takes at least ten times as long on Visual Studio as on XCode. I could go on, but I get into the Mac/Win thing and I don't want to go there any more than I have.
    • Oh, I dunno about that

      xcode is pretty zippy, though limited in scope to a small range of functions (basically making iOS and OS X executables.) But I don't notice it being significantly faster than Visual Studio, which does a lot more (web apps, web services, RESTful and JSON services, Javascript debugging, web design, and on and on.)
      • development system speed

        That an development environment does all but the kitchen sink does not necessarily make it "slower".

        When you have to build a desktop application, it does not matter whether the system you are using can also design web pages. Or compile for industrial controllers. All you care is how fast it does what you ask for: build of your desktop app.

        My general experience with CLANG/LLVM on various platforms shows it is typically faster than other compilers. Might be, this explains why Apple's build system produces the result faster.
  • Seems to be a missed opportunity for developers

    When one considers that Windows 8 numbers are on the uptick, why not beat the competition? Sometimes being the King of the Hill in a smaller user base is better than one of millions in a large one.
    • What about money?

      Do you want 100% of $1. Or would you prefer 1% of $10,000? Your call.

      But most developers do it for the money and they will follow the money as soon as they test the waters.

      Here, the primary reason is that platforms such as Apple's have always been selected by choice, with the user knowing what they buy into. In particular, that they are getting more or less curated experience. Hence, nobody is surprised when software comes via an App Store. You have the choice to use other sources as well. You can and do get the same software from the Mac App Store, that you get from the developer. You know the software via the App Store will be checked and of good quality. And then there is the interesting developments for expensive software such as AutoCAD, which is *much* cheaper via the App Store, with much relaxed license.

      Compare that to Windows, which for many means "freedom to install anything, from anywhere" and you will understand why people are confused and upset, when Microsoft expects them to get their software via an App Store -- and that software is only of certain, new and untested type.