Native Windows 8 apps remain unpopular with developers

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?
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor
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)

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