Can Microsoft change the Windows Phone app conversation?

Can Microsoft overcome the apps hurdle with Windows Phone? And if so, how?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's almost Easter, so perfect time for the good old chicken or the egg analogy.

Microsoft needs more apps for Windows Phone to attract more users, according to common wisdom. But developers want to see more Windows Phone users before they commit to supporting the platform. So which comes first: The user base or the developer commitment?

Some believe it's a no-win situation for the Softies, but not for lack of trying.

Back in 2010, Microsoft began paying developers to write must-have apps for Windows Phone -- a practice which is continuing today, according to an article in this week's New York Times.

Microsoft also is engaged in an active campaign to "ring fence" developers which aren't doing Windows Phone versions of their apps by promoting competitive apps. There's also an ongoing effort at Microsoft to play up app quality vs. quantity (especially on the Android front), as I blogged recently. And promotional app-card giveaways are part of Microsoft's Windows Phone app strategy, too.

Can Microsoft change the app conversation with techniques like these? If you go simply by numbers, Microsoft has a long, long way to go, with its 80,000 Windows Phone apps, to catch Apple, with its 600,000 iPhone apps and Android phone makers with their 400,000 apps.

Would more apps that are exclusive to Windows Phone do the trick? Is there a Halo equivalent for Windows Phone? Maybe Skype could have come close, but Microsoft already has decided to do Skype for iPhone and Android. (The Windows Phone version of Skype is still in beta at this point.)

That said, some of the Windows Phone marketing team seems to believe that exclusive apps and brand promotions for particular audiences may help its case, as this slide from a December 2011 Windows Phone marketing deck makes clear:

Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Hal Berenson asked a provocative question this week in a new blog post. Berenson wondered whether Microsoft is focused on the "right" apps for Windows Phone. Shouldn't Microsoft be courting Starbucks, Great Cuts, United Airlines and more household names rather than some new hot startup app maker, Berenson asks.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is launching on AT&T on April 8. There's a big promotional event for the new phone happening in Times Square tonight. (I'll be there.) And AT&T is supposedly also launching the Samsung "Mendel" and HTC "Radiant" LTE Windows Phones before the end of June 2012, too. Will new showcase phones help take the focus off the lack of Windows Phone apps? Or will users hesitate to go with a phone for which "Words with Friends," Instagram or Pandora isn't available?

I'm not someone who judges a phone by its apps, but seemingly other people are. What's your take? Can Microsoft overcome the apps hurdle with Windows Phone, and if so, how?

Editorial standards