What developers want to build apps for a mobile operating system that has minimal consumer adoption and is struggling to maintain or advance its market share month after month?
Not that bloody many, apparently.
This is the problem facing Microsoft with Windows Phone. Developers just do not care about it. The Windows Phone Marketplace has about 100,000 apps—many of which are copycats and clones of other apps—and has not grown substantially through the first half of 2013.
In its most recent quarterly survey of its Titanium developer ecosystem, mobile tools provider Appcelator notes that interest in building for Windows Phone and tablets has decreased significantly since a high water mark following the announcement of Windows 8. Less than 40% of Appcelerator’s mobile developers are “very interested” in building for Windows Phone or tablets. In comparison, nearly 90% of developers are interested in building for the iPhone; 78% are eyeing Android smartphones.
“End users cite a lack of apps for Windows phones as the number one reason for non-adoption. In lockstep, many developers cite lack of engagement from Microsoft,” the Appcelerator report states.
Research firm Forrester agrees with the Appcelerator report. Forrester examines each mobile platform by developer priorities instead of mere interest. In an upcoming report to be published in July based on its Forrester's Developer “Forrsights” 2013 survey, the research firm says only 10% of mobile developers have Windows Phone as their first priority. Nearly one out of five—18%—say it is their fourth priority. The iPhone leads with 35% of developers labeling it as their first priority, with Android phone second at 27%.
“The biggest factor is still the number of addressable devices in the market overall,” Forrester’s Jeffrey Hammond said in an email to ReadWrite from the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco. “[Windows Phone] makes the grade compared to other platforms, but is still in catch up mode.”
Microsoft Blurring The Lines Between Desktop & Mobile Development
What can help? MIcrosoft's hoping that its large base of desktop users will sway developers.
In Microsoft’s mind, Windows 8 is one platform with separate arms. There is the full operating system in Windows 8, the mobile derivative in Windows Phone 8, and awkward stepchild Windows RT—the tablet version that can't run older Windows software. Microsoft wants developers to think about all three platforms (well, at least Windows 8 and Windows Phone at the least) when building apps.
You can see the blended approach with how Microsoft builds its development tools for Windows 8. At the Build conference keynote today, the company showed off aspects of its developer suite, Visual Studio 2013, that can be used to write apps across platforms.
Of particular note was the addition of certain app performance measures, such as energy efficiency and wireless-network optimization. Traditionally, these types of performance functions weren't of concern to desktop developers. But for mobile developers, dealing with varying processors and batteries across smartphones was key.
Now that Windows 8 is on a variety of tablets and laptops (including Microsoft’s push to erase the distinction between those two categories), the concerns of mobile developers are now the concerns of all developers in the Windows ecosystem. And that's an example of how Microsoft can bring its large corps of desktop developers into the mobile world.
The idea for Microsoft is that a rising Windows tide will lift all ships. The better Windows 8 does in the PC/tablet sector, the better Windows Phone should theoretically do in the smartphone sector. If Microsoft can then make it easy to build and deploy apps to all arms of the operating system, then developers will come flocking.
Chicken & Egg: Market Share Matters
Microsoft has a variety of ways it tries to entice developers to build apps for the entire Windows 8 platform. It has the integrated developer strategy as described above, it gives developers free tools and cloud services. And sometimes, yes, it even pays cash to developers to build apps for its operating systems.
The fact of the matter though is that mobile developers go where the eyeballs are. Microsoft is hard-pressed to pony up enough cash compared to the money that can be made with a hit app. Take Instagram, whose CEO, Kevin Systrom, recently noted that the company he sold for a billion dollars to Facebook still doesn't plan to make a Windows version.
The fact of the matter is that Windows Phone does not have nearly as many eyeballs as the iPhone and Android. When consumers don’t buy devices, developers don’t build apps and vice versa. It is a vicious cycle for Microsoft. No strategy that comes from Redmond will rectify it without the market swinging and actual customers getting actual devices in their hands.
Research firm ComScore shows Microsoft’s smartphone market share in the United States decreased between January and May 2013 from 3.1% to 3.0%. The 0.1% decrease may not seem like a lot, but considering the growth of Android and iOS, any step back is a step not taken forward. A different analytics agency. Kantar Worldpanel, gives Windows Phone better results in the U.S. at the same time period, rising from 3.8% to 5.6%. But even with more optimistic number, Windows Phone is barely making a mark in North America or elsewhere. In Western Europe, Windows Phone rose from 4% to 6% of market share in the first quarter of 2013, according to IDC.
At this point we have enough data to make some conclusions. Windows Phone is growing, but marginally. As market share remains relatively flat, developers will not build apps. Appcelerator and Forrester's conclusion there is weak demand among apps creators to build for Microsoft shows that developers respond to market realities, not marketing hype.
And the vicious cycle facing Windows Phone keeps spinning.