Not just Instagram: the Windows Phone (and BlackBerry, Firefox OS) app problem

I like the Windows Phone OS and use one day to day. However it has become impossible to do my job in technical journalism without either an Apple iOS or Android device alongside it. The reason is that I review gadgets and find increasingly that they come with app support – but only for iOS or Android.

The Fitbit exercise tracking gadget, for example.

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Or the Corsair Voyager Air wireless hard drive, almost inaccessible from Windows Phone (you can do it with a firmware update and DLNA).

 

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Or the Seagate Wireless Plus. Actually this one is better as it has a web UI, but no app.

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My bank is Nationwide and has an app – uh oh.

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It’s not just Instagram.

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Where do Microsoft and Nokia go from here? Or other contenders like BlackBerry and Firefox OS? The answer of course is to sell lots of devices so that discontented users beat up the companies that do not support them. But selling lots of devices is difficult when the customer says, “it’s a nice phone, but it does not work with my portable hard drive. Or my bank. Or my Fitbit.”

The Mac survived versus the PC for many years with this kind of problem. It takes a loyal customer base and excellent 1st party and niche apps. There are still areas of strength which Microsoft and its phone partners could exploit (though they have been poor at this to date). Enterprise integration with Windows Server and System Center. Consumer integration with Xbox.

If the company can get it right with Windows tablets that would help too, especially combined with unification of the Windows 8 and Windows Phone app platforms.

Unfortunately for Microsoft though, the market has already decided that only two mobile platforms matter, and that will not be easy to change.

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3 comments to Not just Instagram: the Windows Phone (and BlackBerry, Firefox OS) app problem

  • Carlos

    Users know that Microsoft products a mediocre by any standard. Because of the broken Platform by design, devs can’t make good apps.

  • Jason

    Carlos … that’s not even remotely true. I develop apps for ALL the platforms and dev productivity is the highest for myself and my team for Windows development without a doubt. I can’t think of anything that was a true roadblock for us.

    The challenge for app developers is a chicken-and-the-egg issue. If you are going to create an app, it just makes sense to first write it for the platform that will offer the most return and move on from there. This is the issue with Windows Phone … there aren’t enough users (by perception) to matter. As Tim point out, devs need the loyal user base first.

  • michael gerritsen

    @Carlos. Oh dear. Bless.

    @Jason. Ditto. And I agree about numbers pushing the dev cycle. We dipped in WP apps last year and didn’t get the business we hoped for, tried again this spring and have been getting substantial enough numbers to make us accelerate our WP dev cycle. Interestingly, WP users tend to spend more time using the apps than IOS or Android users, possibly a reflection of the relatively low numbers of apps available in the Windows Store, and something I suspect will sadly change!