Will Windows Phone ever get any love from developers?

Will Windows Phone ever get any love from developers?

Summary: The third-place player in the smartphone market may never get the love that those in the first two places do.

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TOPICS: Smartphones
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The third-place player in the smartphone market may never get the love that those in the first two places do.
Starbucks gives the app love to iOS and Android, but nothing to Windows Phone.

Why does Starbucks -- a US-based company that sells to affluent people in affluent countries -- not have a Windows Phone app? They do an iOS app, and an Android app, but not one for the third-place mobile platform.

A while back I wrote a piece about the "Rule of Three". The idea here with this rule is that in competitive markets, you tend to get three, large, generalist players. Think American, United, and Delta, or Walmart, Target, and Kmart.

The authors of the Rule of Three analysed hundreds of markets. But this phenomenon seems to have skipped the PC market where desktop operating systems where Windows has always enjoyed a massive, disproportionate-compared-to-any-other-market share. OS X only gets about eight percent of the desktop OS market, and Linux's market share is only 1.5 percent.

It shouldn't be split like that -- OS X and Linux should be higher, if the PC desktop market was in-line with the Rule of Three.

I firmly believe in the Rule of Three, and I believe that Windows's over-representation in the desktop OS market was an aberration that won't happen in the post-PC world. There will almost certainly be three, large, generalist mobile operating system providers and as people who deliver or manage solutions based on those platforms, we're going to have to deal with the fallout of that.

Tooling

As developers, we've tended to have it easy because of the Windows hegemony. If you're building software that was installed and ran on computers, you really only ever had to target Windows. This greatly simplified the job you had to do. If you were a little less lucky, you had to target OS X as well. This meant porting the code and managing two versions, but it's really only been in the last few years that targeting Windows and OS X has been something that was generally expected for installable software.

If you worked in the part of the world where you wrote enterprise software, your life was dead easy. Just craft your code in .NET and Java and you were done. Plus, for the past fifteen years we've generally written intranet/extranet-style code that runs on a server and is accessed through a web browser, reducing the problem even further.

In short, up until this point, developers have had it easy. They've only had to handle one or two sets of developer tooling, and what was being targeted was relatively homogenous. Yes, you might have had to have supported Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, but they were all Windows and it could be done with one version of software.

When we look at mobile development, life has become utterly horrendous. Each platform vendor produces their own native development toolset. The idea of having a native toolset is that the platform vendor can present to the world their view as to how apps should be built and run on their devices. If as a developer you use the native toolset, the experience will be as good as it possibly can be -- depending on your talent, and resources.

However, there is zero overlap -- no overlap at all -- between the toolsets produced by each platform vendor.

So if you craft a perfect app for iOS, you can't take that code and run it on Android. You have to rewrite the app. And every time you fix a bug or add a feature, you have to reproduce that work on another platform.

Developers who build desktop apps for Windows and OS X will know a little of this pain. But remember how weird the desktop market was. The Rule of Three tells us we're all but guaranteed to have three dominant mobile platforms that need to be supported.

That means we'll be writing an iOS app, then rewriting it for Android, then rewriting it for Windows Phone. And so on ad infinitum in terms of bugs and features for as long as you need to maintain the app.

Painful

This isn't a piece about cross-platform frameworks and tools. There are ways to ameliorate some of this pain by using such tools, but they are always a compromise, and never really save you much time compared to just going through the pain of doing work multiple times.

More to the point, customers will reject a poor experience. I don't mean that as something limited to software -- we know that customers universally prefer things that work well. For mobile apps, the best chance you have of making something that works well is to target the native frameworks.

But that means that you'll be building and maintaining multiple copies of the same app, and that means you have a significant scale problem.

One dimension of the Rule of Three is that the way the market share splits out tends to be fixed too. You'll end up with one generalist that owns most of the market (Samsung with Android in this case), one that owns a still respectable chunk (Apple), and one that owns the "dregs" at the bottom (Nokia a la Windows Phone).

The dregs is still pretty big -- let's say that ends up being 10 to 15 percent, which seems to fit the numbers floating around at the moment. If you have "n" developer days to spend, you'll obviously hit the most lucrative first.

In our world at the moment "most lucrative" is not clear. Developers tend to make more money on iOS, but there are way more Android devices out there. This ambiguity leads to developers hitting both iOS and Android to smooth out investment and create some assurance of return, which is what we generally see now.

In addition, Windows Phone is new, but BlackBerry was not, and we know that even when BlackBerry had good market share, people were not investing in that third platform. This doesn't portend good things for whoever is in third place.

Conclusion

It doesn't matter who is in third place -- Nokia and Apple could well flip places. It seems as if there is a natural force pulling development effort away whoever is in the last place.

Development effort is going to be equal for whichever three platforms are in play. An app that takes three months on iOS will take three months on Android.

The Rule of Three tells us two things. Firstly, that there will be three -- and in our case Windows Phones will sell in big enough numbers to be important. Secondly, it tells us that whoever is in third place will have a small share. But, the development effort to hit that third slot is the same.

That leaves the third place player as the unloved stepchild, the kid sitting in the corner eating paste at school. It suggests that player will always be lagging compared to the other two, stronger players, and that app support on that platform will always end up being poor.

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

Topic: Smartphones

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76 comments
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  • It's about market share

    I don't think it's as much about 3rd place as it is about market share. Microsoft needs to drive Windows Phone to 20% market share, and I think at that point, they will start to get some love. Look at Xbox - it started out in 3rd place, and Microsoft was able to drive it to equality or better with the first two players. Microsoft may need to focus on the Enterprise, where manageability and security trump consumer app availability, while also subsiding app development and building apps in house, to get that market share up.

    Windows Phone has some fantastic hardware and a great operating system. What it needs now is marketing, something Microsoft has demonstrated they are not good at, especially when it comes to consumers.
    FDanconia
    • The magic number appears to be 10%...

      ...not sure if that is globally, or within individual markets. We are already seeing 10%+ in Great Britain and France. Hopefully that means more localized apps for those users. The US is a key market of course. It needs to get at least close to 10%, but if the app store is merged and apps can run on both Windows and Windows Phone, then the WP market share won't really matter as much for app development. Windows 8+ adoption will boost Windows Phone market share. The merged app store is the missing link.
      toph36
      • Windows Phone is a fake, and not the real number three

        Windows Phone is like a corpse that is propped up by Microsoft, which pretends it is still alive when it is not. The Windows Phone ecosystem is artificial, propped up by Microsoft cash.

        Windows Phone is a complete failure. Nokia, if you haven't heard, has pulled out of the platform, selling its factories to Microsoft who will continue to make some Windows Phones, but under the Lumia brand (they won't be Nokia branded, and they will fail).

        What we will see is one of the emerging open-source players taking the number three position. Contenders are Sailfish OS, Tizen, Firefox OS and Ubuntu Phone. The reason is that an open-source player will have a natural ecosystem of eager developers which allows the platform to survive, even if it is just Number Three.
        Vbitrate
        • You are wrong...

          ...Windows Phone will succeed.
          toph36
          • Time will tell...

            But I don't think Windows Phone will ever be a spectacular success, they simply waited too long and people still have too many lingering memories of blue screens of death, having to reformat every few months, spyware, malware, viruses, etc. from Windows.

            Yes, a lot of these issues have been fixed in recent versions of windows, but there is still a lot of us who remember what it used to be like with anything Microsoft.

            Then of course the fact that there are a lot of kiosks and other devices that are based on older versions of Windows that crash frequently. It's not that big of a deal when a kiosk is down, but when Mr. Potato-head at California Adventure has the blue screen of death in his eyes (literally and yes, this did happen), people take notice and will choose not to buy Microsoft products as a result. This may not always be a conscious decision, but it is something that factors in.
            cmwade1977
        • Microsoft is trying to negate the Apple advantage

          As a totally vendor of the hardware and the software, Apple has complete control over its evolution. Microsoft has not had that advantage. While it created the operating systems, it was reliant on outside hardware vendors to create devices that ran those operating systems.

          That has led to user experiences of great variation, some good, some bad.

          If Microsoft has control of the hardware experience for Windows Phones, it has the potential to change the market dynamic for that platform.

          I've argued in these blogs before that part of the difficulty with the Surface tablets is that Microsoft had to price the devices too high to compete with Samsung and Apple because Microsoft was trying to entice other hardware makers into making Windows 8 tablets with a price point that had some profit in it. If Microsoft had priced the Surface at a lower point, with only a modest profit, to gain some market penetration, the Surface story might have been much different.

          Windows Phone 8 is a viable product, but (as with any late stage entry into the market) it will have to have a backer with deep pockets to endure the early period of low market share and limited application support until the infrastructure, marketing and distribution fill out. Now that Microsoft has purchased the Nokia device manufacturing arm, it is more in control of the Windows Phone destiny than at any time in the past.

          It is almost certainly a good time for Steve Balmer to leave the scene, so a new CEO can have some room (and time) to steer Windows Phone in the best direction for success.
          TechPundit
          • Then what happened to BlackBerry?

            BlackBerry (formerly RIM) controlled both the hardware and software, yet the UX still sucked.

            Windows Phone's problem isn't related to poor UX, but rather a negative perception carried over from the Windows Mobile days. Above and beyond that, there's the fact that developers don't care about the platform. Corporates aren't taking a mobile strategy seriously enough, so right now, pretty much any phone will do.
            NitzMan
          • And the UX sucks

            If Microsoft was smart, they'd push to be included in the "Obamaphone" lineup. Cheap, and disposable, can only carry you so far. The Lumia pone are built like cheap and disposable phones. Nokia has truly fallen so far, from where they once sat.
            I hate trolls also
        • Where are you getting your news?

          Windows is almost tied with iOS in several EU markets and is actually more successful than iOS in several South American market places. Nokia was purchased by Microsoft to give a more narrow focus on hardware and software integration because consumers continue to want a more integrated consistent solution. Do you honestly think some Gramma in Kentucky is going to sign a two year contract to use a Sailfish OS platform? Its never going to happen unless a huge company like Google, Microsoft, Apple or say Facebook comes in and promotes the heck out of it.

          Mobile devices are a huge business. There is still room for a disruptive technology in every market, but now that disruptive change needs to come fast, hard and be backed by billions of dollars. Which company is going to back Firefox OS with billions?
          A Gray
        • Vbitrate is a fake, and not the real or honest commenter

          Please Vbitrate, enough of your trolling and idiotic posts.

          Your posts are like a corpse that is propped up by your hatred, you pretends your posts mean something when they do not. Yout facts are artificial, your posts propped up by a large corporate entity, or mental health issues.

          Seriously, unless you're getting paid to post such nonesense, that would leave the fact that you posts what you do because you think it's fun, or that you need to make stuff up to apease some issue within you.

          Neither of those last two are a good thing.
          William.Farrel
      • 10% UK rubbish

        10% market share in the UK is utter rubbish, next to no-one has one. I don't know who is producing this research/,arket survey, but I guess they are conveniently standing outside a phone shop that is literally giving Nokia Lumia's away.

        It's iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, and a smattering of Blackberry's, HTC's and Sony's, that people have in the hands.
        neil.postlethwaite
        • UK 10% is probably accurate

          Just because you've never seen one, doesn't mean the figures aren't correct.

          My family each has a Windows Phone, as do many of my friends. I recently went for a meal and most people at the table had either Windows Phone or Android. Only 1 iPhone!!! At another party, quite a few had Windows Phones.

          Most of the Windows Phones I've seen are Nokia Lumias, although I did see a couple of HTC 8X phones too.
          wp7mango
          • What would one expect at

            Microsoft corporate offices? Steve gave every employee a few WP Phones, which probably represents the largest concentrations of WP devices anywhere. The millions, sitting in warehouses, don't count.
            I hate trolls also
    • In many European countries, WP8 has almost the same market share as iOS

      And in a few countries, its essentailly the same. I think development happens months after market share. Devs are just lifting their heads out of the iOS sand and seeing people walking around with Windows Phones. At my office, I'm just starting to see Lumias roll in. I can see four people with them right now. Two years ago, they would have been all iPhones. Last year, you were seeing Android, but the Android awkward UI meant more for power-users is losing the "gramma" user, IMO.

      I think you'll see a whole lot more WP8 development as the numbers come out. When you see in German that iOS has 10% and WP* has 9%, you have to start considering that market share as serious. Otherwise, your competition will just do it for you.

      That's why free markets and competition rule. because you have to always improve and expand or die. Just look at Blackberry to see what happens when you ignore your competition and believe you can survive as an island.
      A Gray
      • Another factor

        I just read an article claiming the end of iOS development... Because 90+ percent of apps are FREE and paid apps are niche markets only. So where do they go to money... The market that's wide open would be the obvious answer.
        greywolf7
    • Unfortunately it's NOT just numbers...

      ...it the Altar of Apple. That is to say, the cachet with which Apple has managed to surround its "i" products. Yes, they are fine pieces of hardware and (I suppose, though IOS 7 is a toss-up) software. They work differently than WP8 or Android, but all three do essentially the same things and do them well. But somehow Apple has managed to make iPhone THE standard against which all competitors are judged. It takes more than just numbers (even 20% or more numbers) to overcome that. Android sales/adoption figures leave iPhone in the dust...but even that platform is culturally only in second place. Unless Redmond can gear up a PR force that it's never really had WP8 will REMAIN third, regardless of the numbers. A fact about which, I suppose, the Softies may not really care as long as the money rolls in. On that last point I hope I'm wrong. WP8 is a wonderful OS; will be even better if "merged" with the RT platform to make it as versatile as its competitors. There should be a lot of pride in that accomplishment.
      Psiwriter1
    • Markeing is lacking for windows OS

      I also feel that Windows OS fails in marketing as @FDanconia said. And because of the less market share, developers don't pay more attention on it.


      Thanks
      MobiGnosis
      MobiGnosis
  • How long in 3rd place?

    I think this depends on Blue.

    I am a WP user -- on my second device. I have to say that in my 3 years of being on WP, there has been very, very little improvement to the core OS. In many ways, WP 8 is a step backwards from 7 (like the loss of FM radio, for example).

    This, I think, is the reason that WPs simply aren't selling in volume. It's not a problem of perception: perception is reality; WPs simply don't hold up to iOS, let alone Android, in terms of even basic functionality.

    If, however, MS can fix those problems...fast...then I think there is the very real likelihood that in a year's time WP will be the #2 platform, and iOS #3. This will be especially true if MS can merge the RT and WP stores together, so that all "modern" applications run on all devices -- including your Xbox!

    That'll do quite a bit to sweeten the pot for developers, and we might have to start asking these questions about Apple.
    x I'm tc
    • As you know...

      ...they are address most of those missing features, like FM radio. I love the feature on my Lumia. iOS will never have that, not sure if Android does. More good things ahead. Yes, "Blue" is key. Let's hope it is ready 1st Qtr of 2014.
      toph36
      • My HTC One has radio capability.

        nt
        ye