How Windows Phone Is Turning Its Slim App Selection Into a Strength
Any mobile developer who wants to make money (read: every one of them) targets Apple’s iOS platform first since the user base is massive, representing the greatest potential for profit.Windows Phone, by comparison, has feeble market share (just 2% of phones shipped, according to IDC), so benefits to succeed aren’t as great.
However, a smaller platform means a shorter road to success. On iOS (and Android as well), marketing an app rapidly becomes a race to the list of Top 50 downloads. If it can’t get there, it’s very difficult to stand out from the 700,000+ other titles in the App Store. The Windows Phone Store, however, has just over 110,000 apps.
That’s still a lot of competition for developers, but with Windows Phone 8 Microsoft is doing everything it can to turn the road to profits into a multi-lane highway. The new store has several avenues for apps to stand out besides simple download rankings. Besides that, the store is available in 191 countries, which is more than either the iOS (155) or Google Play (132) app stores. It’s also launching at the same time as Windows 8, which shares the same design and much of the underlying code.
“The time is right now for Windows Phone,” says Larry Lieberman, director of Windows Phone apps. “If you look at what’s happening with Windows 8, more people than ever are going to be exposed to a very similar interface. That’s a huge opportunity in terms of the cross-platform experience.”
With the re-launch of the Windows Phone Marketplace as the Windows Phone Store, Microsoft didn’t just give it a cosmetic makeover — there are entirely new features and capabilities. The most important is that discovery in the store is now powered by Bing.
“We have much more sophisticated algorithms and take many more inputs from users,” says Todd Brix, senior director of Windows Phone Apps and Store (pictured above). “[The Store] takes into account a lot of inputs — downloads, trajectory, crash rates — so there’s positive signals and negative signals. The higher your crash rate relative to your install base, the lower on any kind of list it’s going to show up. So we’re rewarding developers who deliver quality.”
hanks in part to Bing, there’s now much more than just Top Free and Top Paid lists in the store. New categories include New+Rising (highlighting apps whose download rates are spiking), Best-Rated (which ranks according to users’ star ratings), Collections and “Picks for You.” There’s an entire group at Microsoft dedicated to finding the absolute best apps for Categories, Brix says, and to put them into specialized collections such as “Let’s Go Shopping,” “Pet Owners” and “Saturday Night.”
Potentially more interesting is Picks for You. These are personalized recommendations from the store that take into account not just what apps you’ve downloaded, but how great a role they play on your phone (how often you launch it, whether or not you’ve pinned it to the Start screen, etc.). It also looks at what your Windows Phone-owning friends are downloading — if you’re connected on Facebook.
“What we’re trying to do is say there isn’t a one-size-fits all set of applications that everybody needs,” says Brix. “We’re trying to build a phone for not everybody, but for each person. The 50 or 100 apps you might want are certainly going to be different than the 50 or 100 apps that I want.”
If users take to the new categories — and they work the way they’re intended to — the fight for top spot in the Windows Phone Store won’t play as great a role for developers as it does on iOS and Android. Microsoft hopes that will be attractive to developers who are weary of the nonstop battle royale for the top positions in other app stores.
“On other platforms, the store environment is pretty static,” Brix says. “You’re fighting over download rank and whether or not you’re in the top three screens or not. [Windows Phone] surfaces great applications that you’d probably never see on a big list.”