Bill Reiss is a Windows Platform Development MVP and a Senior Consultant for AgileThought

Only 2000 apps in the Windows 8 Store, where’s the interest?

Windows 8 is just around the corner. The Windows Store is now open to anyone without going through a special token process. Microsoft is giving away free Windows Store developer access for a year to anyone with MSDN. You can develop Windows 8 apps with a free version of Visual Studio. You can use your favorite technology to create apps, including C# and XAML, HTML and JS, C++ and DirectX, C++ and XAML, VB.NET, and probably more that I forgot, or a combination of two or more of these. So why do we have news coming out about a shortage of apps and Microsoft being worried about it? I mean after all, Microsoft gave away thousands of tablets at BUILD last year and we don’t even have as many apps as the number of tablets given away.

I was at the BUILD conference last year and even with the free tablet I haven’t yet published an app to the store. I have 2 in the works and plan on having at least one ready for launch, hopefully both. So what’s standing in the way? I have my own guesses as to why this is happening, please feel free to argue with me in the comments and tell me why I’m an idiot, I’d love to hear your points of view.

Issue 1: Building apps for Windows 8 is a lot harder than for Windows Phone

On the surface (no pun intended) developing an app using C# and XAML for Windows 8 is very similar to developing for Windows Phone. There are however a few things that make it significantly more challenging and time consuming. The first is that you need to support various different resolutions and aspect ratios along with a “snapped” view. So far in Windows Phone, although it’s changing with Windows Phone 8, you can code to one resolution and know it will look the same everywhere.

Adding features such as a settings pane and popup dialogs is also more difficult because you have very limited help out of the box for these common scenarios. I find myself spending a lot of time working on things that should be easier, and this takes time away from working on the core functionality of my app.

Issue 2: Developers are disillusioned after making very little money on Windows Phone

Sure there have been some success stories, but for the vast majority of Windows Phone developers they don’t make enough to pay for their Starbucks every morning. Frankly, the Windows Phone Marketplace was a mess. I hope it improves with its new branding of “Windows Phone Store” and I like some of what I’ve seen so far from the Windows 8 store. You had no way to differentiate your paid app with trial mode from other paid apps unless someone clicked through to the details, Xbox Live games receive a ridiculous advantage over independent games, ad revenues are in the toilet, and even if you had a very highly rated app it’s hard for people to find it unless you’re one of the lucky ones to get featured. The featured apps skew heavily towards Xbox Live and other apps created directly by Microsoft or in partnership with them.

This may have lead to a wait and see attitude after developers spent hundreds of hours on their Widows Phone apps and games and received pennies in return.

Issue 3: Metro – I mean Windows 8 App Style – can be time consuming and expensive

Sure, if you want to use the basic templates and just put some data on the screen you can do that really quickly. The issue comes when you want to take your app to the “showcase” level. There are a lot of nooks and crannies when trying to build a really polished Windows 8 app, and Microsoft has been diligently telling everyone that their apps better look good and follow the guidelines. So a developer has to spend a lot of time tweaking their app until it shines, researching other apps that are out there, and/or hire a designer. Now of course we all want there to be high quality apps out there so I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, but it does make things harder.

Issue 4: Killing off XNA

There could be thousands of games ready to go on the Windows 8 platform if Microsoft officially supported XNA game development. There are some really great independent games on Xbox Live Independent Games and on Windows Phone developed in XNA, and much of that would just move over and work on Windows 8. The MonoGame guys have done a fantastic job on MonoGame for Windows 8, and over time those games will come, but it will take time. If XNA was available last October you would see a lot more games available now.

Issue 5: Developers may not even know the store is open

The opening of the store to all developers happened a couple of weeks ago, and if you weren’t paying attention you easily could have missed it. Up until then, you needed to meet with a Microsoft PFE and they needed to approve your app and bless it with a token for you to even publish to the store. And even if you now know the store is open for business, there was no word ahead of time when this was going to happen, it just happened one day, and so it probably caught a lot of developers off guard and it will take them some time to catch up.

Issue 6: Microsoft has contributed to developer apathy

Oh where to start with this one… One of the things, probably the main thing, that has kept me loyal to the Microsoft platform is that it’s always felt like a team effort between the third party developers and Microsoft. Developers, Developers, Developers. Last year, before BUILD, the word was wait until BUILD and all will be revealed. Microsoft Developer Evangelists and everyone else at Microsoft had to stay quiet until BUILD, but the assumption was that things would be back to normal after BUILD. Well the conference came and went, and the gag order continued.

Add to this that Microsoft seems to be systematically killing off technologies like Silverlight without any clear replacement and pushing people towards HTML5 and JS. Personally if I’m doing HTML and JS I would start to question using ASP.NET and wondering if Node.js or some other server technology is a better choice, and soon I’m totally off the Microsoft stack.

The holding back of the Windows Phone 8 SDK has been another issue. Loyal Windows Phone developers (who are very likely to be working on Windows 8 apps) are not happy with the limited access to the SDK. Unless Microsoft announces some incredible new secret feature for Windows Phone which warranted all of this secrecy there’s likely to be an all out revolt.

Personally I believe that Apple has succeeded in spite of their secrecy and draconian developer policies not because of it, and I think Microsoft may be picking the wrong things to copy from the Apple way of doing things.

So where do we go from here?

There are some things Microsoft could do immediately to turn things around. First of all, run some promotions in the form of contests or other giveaways to get developers excited about writing apps for Windows 8. The promise of the huge opportunity isn’t going to get people going as much as “hey, submit an app and we’ll give you cool stuff”. Second, Microsoft needs to provide a clear and consistent message about what technologies they will be supporting going forward and not change their mind every couple of years. Third, make an announcement that every new Windows RT device sold will come with a $20 (or $10 or whatever) credit for buying apps. Developers will be encouraged to create quality apps to get a piece of that pie.

Above all, open up the communications and make it feel like we’re all in this together again and can work together to make the platform a success.

  • Sumit Maitra

    Hi Bill,
    First up, thanks for all the extensions (for WinRT) you have made available on CodePlex. You are a life saver.

    Coming to the post, yes, I was a Windows Applications developer in WinForms era. I abandoned it for ASP.NET right when XAML was being introduced and had not looked at XAML or Silverlight till now. (Barring a brief tryst with Silverlight to create an ‘island of richness’ in a ASP.NET application). SO I didn’t have the ‘why Silverlight/WPF got killed issue when approaching WinRT. I was on the fence for a better part of the last 10 months. But I am getting into it now and I am really enjoying it.
    I am hoping there are lots like me who will get excited as the release goes nearer.
    Fact that there are two ‘Subscription’ categories is a good start too. Lower the entry bar better it is. Also they have worked hard to accept local currencies, that’s probably the biggest plus for me. So fingers crossed that the Surface Tab takes off and takes off for good!

  • ken_stone

    I agree with points 2, 5, and 6. I think the idea of giving away a credit for apps is a spectacular idea. I think app featuring was horrible in Windows Phone so I hope that improves, though I’m guessing it won’t.

    The communication really has been poor and we can probably blame Apple for it. Can you imagine Microsoft doing the same secrecy thing when .NET was announced? You’re right that there better be some spectacular surprises with WP8 to explain the lack of the SDK. I’ve totally stopped building for the platform right now, choosing to focus on web technologies until everything is out. So I guess I’m contributing to the problem.

  • davidkelley

    … Yea, I agree… plus more… :)

  • Odumah Benjamin Ojorma

    Especially since I cant develop on my windows7. Asked to make a painful 3.2gb download. MS not everyone is in western Europe, japan or US. Bandwidth is expensive. Add that to the other gigs I have to download. I’ll work on Windows phone8 for now.

  • opttrader

    “Personally if I’m doing HTML and JS I would start to question using ASP.NET and wondering if Node.js or some other server technology is a better choice, and soon I’m totally off the Microsoft stack.”

    I think this is the money quote here and MS is oblivious to it.

  • Virgil

    Since the windows 8 guys took over at MS the message for developers got screwed. It looked like a big fuck you to all the .net, Silverlight and wpf guys and a welcome for the hoards of web developers which would come in millions and build those win 8 Apps. At least that’s what they believed. I mean the whole idea to build APPS with HTML and Js using a proprietary framework – WinJs is incredibly stupid… Must have been a marketing idiot who thought of that, not a developer. If they made WinRT with c# and Xaml to the silverlight 4 parity at least, if they’ve spent more time on this I think it would have been a lot better. But now I believe the .net guys are spending time on enterprise apps and waiting on this one to see what the future brings…

    • Zachary Weiner

      You have to get your hands dirty with WinRT before you go all APE on it. The devenv is incredibly similar to Silverlight. I just created an App Framework for a client SlimCD, using almost all of the same patterns I would use in Silverlight for MVVM and Content Injection. The development actually feels like you’re working with (dot)Net, because they took a lot of care to wrap all the WinRT Controls in (dot)Net Wrappers.

      • gyurisc

        I take your advice and create an app. What path would you recommend? JS or C#? I have experience with C# and Silverlight. I think C# makes more sense to follow… 

        • Bill Reiss

          With Microsoft’s attempts to lure HTML developers to the platform it can be confusing for existing C# devs but lately they’ve tried to be more clear about the message “use what you know”. I would recommend C# for you, the XAML in Windows 8 Store apps is similar enough that you shouldn’t have much trouble getting going.

  • Allen

    Here is a number: $33.00.  That was my payout for one app that I wrote over a year ago for Windows Phone 7.  Despite having two applications in the Windows Phone Marketplace back then during the incentive for 2 apps = $99 from Microsoft, they never paid me for that. Somewhere recently, the minimum $200 sales hurdle got dropped and that is why I got paid my 70% of total sales revenue.  Honestly, my app isn’t all that awesome and for me it was a proof of concept.  So, I didn’t expect much from it.  However that is to date what my revenue is for the investment made in the Windows Phone platform; the phone I purchased, the developer software, time, and new laptop.  I still love the tools and the seemingly unlimited upward revenue potential.  I will be converting my apps to Windows Phone 8.  When, I don’t know.  I am waiting like everyone else for the tools and actually for real hardware to debug on.  Even though the emulator is awesome, it is my expectation that real hardware could run at different speeds.  That $33.00 was really exciting to get.  If they keep paying the agreed revenue amounts on time and consistently, it could work. 

    • Laurence Moroney

      Great example. I was worried about WP7 when I put a P.O.C. app in it’s store, Android’s store, and Apple’s store at the same time. The WP7 app sales were in the order of 10^1, Android 10^2 and Apple 10^3. I’m still getting regular $ from Apple. And this is for a crappy POC app.

      • gyurisc

        Thanks for the numbers Laurence. I am very interested in this kind of comparisons between app store download numbers… 

    • Bill Reiss

      I think the key is to have apps/games that don’t take months to produce, I have probably come out pretty well on my Reading Glasses app for Windows Phone based on the amount of time I put in.

  • yozik

    Charlie Kindel hinted that we can hold Ballmer hostage :) and in November he will unzip his wallet and start paying for apps (see the end of . So I’m developing but not publishing yet 😉
    Yet another observation, it doesn’t really bring any benefit to a hobby developer to be in the marketplace on launch. At least for Windows Phone, my first app dipped after a very brief spike at marketplace launch, but the second one 4 month later got an even bigger spike when it first appeared in the marketplace – and still holding high in the ratings. People are watching for “new apps” so you’d want more people using the OS for the moment when you launch.

    • Bill Reiss

      Yeah I had the same issue with a game ready at launch for Windows Phone. It would have been a lot better for me to hold off. On the other side, I had a game on Xbox Live Community Games when it launched and that one did OK. We’ll see what happens this time, I’m going to take a chance on having one out there early and see how it does.

    • gyurisc

      I think holding developer contests like this makes more sense than directly paying developers. Just my 2 cents :)

  • Laurence Moroney

    Great article, Bill. As a former softie who is still rooting for the company to succeed, I read this as tough love. I hope TPTB in MS read it the same way.

    • Bill Reiss

      Yes absolutely tough love, if I didn’t care I wouldn’t write it. Thanks for your comment, I have a lot of respect for your opinion.

  • nimatra

    I was doing one with XAML + C#. I halted the development until I can put my time on something other than reinventing the wheel. Because back in July, there were some basic stuff like date picker or a calendar that I needed and they were only available on HTML5 + JS. 

    • Zachary Weiner

      There is a toolkit available now from codeplex for those “must have” controls. There is a calendar ported form Silverlight and a DatePicker is one of the next in line…

      • nimatra

        Thanks Zachary

    • Zachary Weiner

      HEres another toolkit that is less supported but has the DateTime picker specifically

  • Zachary Weiner

    Don’t be so quick to judge. The store has only been accepting global submissions for < 20 days as of Sept 28th and in has only been accepting app submissions at all for even from verified publishers for like 90 days (estimate). Of the 6 apps that I know have been submitted… 3 are "in process" of being accepted into the store, due to the review that flagged some aspect or another for further review. Microsoft is being very diligent about what they let into the store, and understanding what the apps do, if they think outside the box. Also, the Windows 8 Store has 0% market-share users because its not commercially available. Some companies with Andriod and iOS apps aren't even aware that WinRT exists, plus they only need a WinRT app if they target mobile users. Most software will simply be re-installed from a Win7 to a Win8 machine. 

  • gyurisc

    Great article! I agree with all that you wrote, Microsoft made some very bad mistakes here and they need to fix them as quick as they can. I think this is also a chicken and egg problem. They need apps and developers will come and they need developers, so the apps are created.

     I guess as the platform will be ready and more and more people will start to use them, the app count issue simply will go away!

  • warex3D

    Seems like Windows 8 has more apps dan Mac OS xD