App Developers Offer Thoughts on Windows Phone Platform

Will the Windows Phone mobile platform rise to the occasion and be a main competitor to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS offerings, or is it doomed to remain in relative obscurity? Some app developers offered their thoughts on Windows Phone and what it needs to be successful.

Tech partners Microsoft and Nokia received some much needed praise with the recent release of the Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone.  Viewed as a vehicle to help generate interest in the Windows Phone platform, the Lumia 900 was successful in its efforts.  Still, the appeal of Windows Phone remains minimal when compared to competing platforms, and one of the main culprits is its lackluster app selection.

As it stands, the Windows Phone Marketplace features a catalog of approximately 80,000 apps.  While that number may sound impressive, it is not, especially when you consider that Apple and Google boast over half a million apps each in their markets.  With a market share of less than four percent in the United States and two percent worldwide, Windows Phone has a lot of work to do if it wants to actually compete with Apple and Google for smartphone supremacy.  That will be tough to do, however, since most app developers prefer to invest their time and resources into creating apps for popular platforms that can maximize their exposure.

Rather than hoping for change to magically occur, Microsoft has been proactive in its efforts to make Windows Phone more appealing to app developers.  The company’s Windows Phone Developer Summit next month in San Francisco will help developers get acquainted with what the platform has to offer, and Microsoft has initiated new incentives to win developers over as well.  Not only is the software giant offering free phones to some developers, but it is also paying those who are responsible for creating some of the most popular apps around to develop versions for Windows Phone.

All of these are steps in the right direction for Microsoft, but whether or not developers take the bait remains to be seen.  To see what developers currently think of the platform, the Seattle Times interviewed a few developers and summed up their thoughts in a recent article.

Hardi Partovi, an angel investor from Bellevue, Washington, is a developer who got into the game as somewhat of a hobby.  He created the Toddler Flashcards app for the iPhone as a tool that his two-year old son could use.  Partovi’s previous work as general manager for led one of his old colleagues to ask him to developer Toddler Flashcards for Windows Phone.  Partovi agreed, accepting a 50 percent cut of any revenue generated.

Unfortunately, the Windows Phone version of Toddler Flashcards only brings in about $2,000 a year for its creators, compared to the iOS version which generates around $100,000.  As for the difference between the two versions, Partovi said both are exactly the same.  What makes the iOS version more successful, however, is the fact that there are more people using Apple’s products.  Apple also has a leg up on the competition in terms of marketing, and its users tend to buy more apps.  Partovi noted that Windows Phone has a sufficient number of apps under its belt, and the time has come for the platform to shine in terms of marketing.  While he commended Microsoft for making it easy to develop an app for its platform, he said it all comes down to marketing.  “If they don’t figure out the marketing problem, it’s over,” Partovi added.

David D’Souza, co-founder and CEO of Moprise, is a developer who focuses on apps that provide functionality for business consumers.  He cites the problem of developing for Windows Phone as not only one of small market share, but also a lack of available demographics on its users. 

Moprise’s Coaxion app supplies users with the ability to share documents on such Apple products as the iPad and iPhone thanks to its integration with Dropbox, Office 365, and other services.  Moprise currently concentrates on iOS development, but D’Souza said they will develop for Android if the need is there.  Since Android’s popularity seems to sit mostly with socially-minded users in the 15 to 35 age group, iOS offers a better fit for Coaxion due to the platform’s appeal towards more career-minded individuals.

Although Android and iOS demographics are somewhat clear, they are virtually nonexistent for Windows Phone, according to D’Souza.  Not only does Windows Phone lack enough buyers, but it also tries to appeal to everyone, instead of a set group of users.  He added: “If we knew the demographics of Windows Phone users — what they like to do, what interests them — and we saw an alignment with our product, we would go there — very naturally.  But we don’t know.”

Another player in the app game, Brian Greenstone, president and CEO of Pangea Software, subcontracts his firm’s work.  Pangea has various Windows Phone games under its belt, including Cro-Mag Rally and Enigmo.  Pangea began its app career with titles for the iPhone, and then moved on to subcontract with other companies to create titles for Android and Windows Phone. 

Regarding Android development, Greenstone said: “Frankly, Android is a pain in the ass to develop for.  The tools are terrible, the whole programming environment is terrible.”  He noted that Pangea earns little revenue from its subcontracted titles for Android and Windows Phone, but praised the Windows Phone experience, stating: “Android is truly just anarchy.  My understanding is the Windows Phone programming environment, the software-development kit — everything is better. There’s a more controlled environment.”

Although Windows Phone is way behind in the app and smartphone race, developer feedback makes it seem as if the platform could have a solid future.  Whether or not it achieves its goals depends on the moves Microsoft makes and how developers will respond.  

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