Microsoft has always had a difficult time growing their app offerings on their platforms. When considering business related software Windows remains the de facto standard, however when considering apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and the next big or small app, Windows and Windows Phone have been mostly ignored. Ignoring Windows devices stems from a single issue — no market share.
The problem has been identified and at Build last week Microsoft revealed their plan to solve the issue. If developers saw that Windows 10 ran on 1 billion devices, they would surely target the platform, then when serious developers target the ecosystem, more and more users will sign on and the value proposition will only increase. Gaining users and developers to increase the popularity of your platform remains to be the end goal, however, reality may be very different.
Developers build apps for phone for a few reasons. Phones have vastly different hardware and software capabilities so delivering a consistent and compelling experience for services needs a native app. Another reason why phones are targeted has to do with their portable and personal nature. PCs may be shared between family members, but phones are tied to that individual who typically would carry their phone where ever they go. Apps such as navigation, social networking, communication, and mobile tools just don’t have the same value on tablets, laptops, or desktops.
Windows 10 will run on a massive spectrum of devices and developers will be able to reach so many more users than they would targeting when just Windows Phone or Windows 8 separately. The issue with this approach revolves around how developers plan and target platforms. If a company wants to reach customers using desktops they will typically build a web experience, then to reach mobile users they will build a mobile app. The majority of Window 10 devices will be laptops and desktops thus falling under the ‘web’ umbrella when developers and companies are understand where they are missing users. For example the web is the primary tool for services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Google Docs, Gmail, Outlook.com, web search, and more. These companies realize the best strategy for reaching their customers involves creating rich web experiences which span operating systems, browsers, and devices.
We are all aware how the web breaks down on small screens and touch screens. Websites using Adobe Flash, rollover menus, or other embedded features like Java or Silverlight to enable the full web experience cannot be viewed on mobile devices. The app model was developed to target mobile devices which were left unreachable by complicated or incompatible web technologies. A good example for how this works can be seen by banking done via technology. Bank websites have a massive amount of functionality, but mobile devices cannot use these complex sites so bank apps were developed to deliver similar features to mobile phones which people were using while they were out shopping. Eventually bank apps have gains some extra features which are not available to web users such as check depositing.
So where does Windows 10 fit into this landscape? Microsoft has a goal of 1 billion Windows 10 devices in two years but 95% of these devices can be reached via rich web experience. The remaining 5% of devices do not represent a large enough market share to target with a unique app experience. It would almost seem like Microsoft wants developers to see the number 1 billion and write apps without thinking twice about what makes up those 1 billion. Volume of Windows 10 devices won’t solve the app problem because there lacks a significant number of users who are left unreached by companies.
Hold the phone, because now developers can port their app to Windows 10 with serious ease! The news Microsoft enabled developers to port their iOS and Android apps to Windows 10 easily doesn’t fix the app problem for Windows 10. Simply put there are a few different groups of developers, there are the Amazons who have enough resources to target every platform by simply hiring extra developers. Then there are the Flappy Birds of the world where one guy makes a silly app that sweeps the world. Windows will see support from the major content companies, and not the little developers making the next viral sensation. There does remain a third group of developers and companies which wants to reach customers with an app but isn’t big enough to target Android, iOS, as well as Windows 10.
These medium sized companies need to make a decision when it comes to their app. Will they spend extra time and money to port one of their existing apps and deliver a potentially mediocre experience on Windows 10, or do you ignore the small percent of Windows 10 Mobile users? Most Windows 10 devices will be Intel/AMD capable machines which will be able to run modern browsers and gain access to the services of companies like banks, Airbnb, Twitter, news sites, etc., so why should they spend extra resources to build a new app for a group of users which they can already reach?
Windows 10 has lots of potential, however most of that success will occur in the desktop and laptop space. Windows computer users still have little incentive to go buy a Windows 10 Mobile phone. Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t offer a compelling reason to be all-in when it comes to the Windows ecosystem. The only incentive would be the cross device app purchasing, but most people probably won’t buy or use lots of apps on their desktops or laptops. Features which drive users to become completely invested into an ecosystem need to work between devices and deliver users extra value which is only available when you are invested with several devices.
There are lots of ways Microsoft can make their products better, but Microsoft seems to be ignoring the features and services which work in between the products to make the experience unified and complete. Microsoft needs to convince Windows laptop, tablet, desktop, and Xbox users that owning a Windows 10 phone will give them the best experience and unlock new value from their existing devices. Currently Windows lacks cohesion, and for Windows 10 to be a resounding success, Microsoft needs to address this problem.
Editor’s note: This is an editorial that reflects the opinion of the writer. If you agree or disagree, voice your opinion in a civilized manner in the comments below.Further reading: Build Developers Conference, Microsoft, Universal Windows App, Windows 10