Interview with the CEO of Windows 8 app analytics company MarkedUp

Microsoft clearly wants Windows 8 to be successful. They also want to attract app developers to make Modern Windows 8 apps. Recently, the company even started offering money up front for app developers to make Windows 8 apps. But is there really a market for those developers? One person who might have the answer to that is Aaron Stannard. the founder and CEO of the Windows 8 app analytics company MarkedUp. Stannard previously worked at Microsoft as a Developer Evangelist before forming MarkedUp in 2012. The company offers up analytical information for Windows 8 app developers that go beyond those that Microsoft offers in the Windows Store.

Neowin got Stannard to answer our questions about the company, what his data reveals about the current trends for Windows 8 apps and what he thinks Microsoft needs to do to make Windows 8 more successful.

First, can you give us a little background on yourself?

I'm 27 years old and live in Los Angeles, CA - graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.S. in Computer Science in 2008. I've been developing software since I was in elementary school - my father is a software entrepreneur and a veteran C developer so I was exposed to it growing up. My background in computing is mostly in distributed systems and analytics; my first startup was also in the analytics space and I extended / designed analytics systems for my first employer out of college. I'm really passionate about analytics as a businessman and technologist because it's a challenging field and puts developers and data scientists in the conversation when it comes to data-driven business decisions.

I've also done a decent amount of mobile and native client development - I have some rather embarrassing Windows Phone 7 apps (Lolcats Professional Pro Plus and Loldogs Home Ultimate Edition) still on the market place.

Why did you want to leave Microsoft to found MarkedUp.com?

My father's a lifelong software entrepreneur - he started his first company in the early 1980s developing some of the first printer drivers and word processing software for the Apple II; he eventually shifted over to Windows when 3.1 came out. Entrepreneurship is something I grew up with - thus it was only a matter of time before I struck out on my own venture. I was a part of Developer Platform Evangelism at Microsoft and had a chance to work with over a hundred app development companies during my tenure there. I had a chance to see how all of them use analytics in their apps across all platforms; what the limitations of current analytic providers were; and where there were gaps in the market.

As the Windows 8 evangelism motion inside Microsoft started to ramp up I realized that the introduction of the App Store model to Windows represented the biggest developer opportunity on Earth; thus I wanted to be the first one to put my analytics expertise and deep .NET / Windows technical knowledge into the hands of developers. Our solution was ultimately to create MarkedUp - a SaaS analytic service that draws upon our team's experience doing this in production over several years. I love Microsoft - it's a fantastic place to work and the caliber of people is really quite high, but the opportunity for MarkedUp is too tremendous to surpass.

What sort of services does MarkedUp offer Windows 8 and RT app developers?

We really offer three flavors of services all in a single package:

1. Engagement analytics - who's using my app? What features are they using? What types of devices do they use? How often is m app installed? And so forth. Our engagement analytics helps developers answer these questions. It's much of the same data you'd expect from any reasonable web analytics software, but applicable to mobile.

2. Diagnostics - is my app crashing? How often? What types of exceptions are creating problems for my users? Our diagnostic tools are designed to help developers figure out what's going on inside their apps when they run on user's machines - most of our customers use them for exception and error reporting. We get a lot of feedback from happy customers who tell us that our diagnostic features save them a tremendous amount of time on internal QA.

3. Commerce analytics - how much money did I make today? What types of products did people buy? Who are my core customers? Our commerce reporting is an area where we have a lot of creative ideas and the goal is to help boost sales and conversion rates for our customers so they can maximize profit. For Windows 8 MarkedUp installs as a simple NuGet package - a basic install only takes a few minutes and gives developers access to all of these services.

So far, about how many Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone apps are using MarkedUp.com's services?

We're running a little behind on Windows Phone 8 support at the moment, so we don't have an SDK available there but will have one soon. We were a little astonished by how inconsistent the APIs were between the two platforms (the other being Windows 8) and that set our release timeline back. As for Windows 8, we have a few hundred apps in the Windows Store with MarkedUp installed. Those apps have been run by millions of Windows 8 users, over tens of thousands of different devices, in over 150 countries. It's really amazing to see how quickly this platform is growing.

Based on the data collected by the apps that use your analytics platform, what can you tell us about which apps tend to be downloaded the most?

As far as types of apps are concerned, games have by far the greatest number of installs. I attribute this to the fact that games tend to be pretty applicable across a wide range of demographics - everyone from 4 year olds to my 88 year old grandfather can appreciate a round of Cut the Rope or WordGap. Aside from games it varies a lot - social media clients tend to have the highest number of repeat visits per user (Twitter / Facebook clients, etc.) Sports and travel apps are popular and are used overwhelmingly on weekends.

What sort of in-app purchases are proving to be popular so far?

We haven't seen a lot of virtual currency plays on Windows 8 yet, which is a popular in app purchase model on iOS and Android- typically for games. Overwhelmingly what we've observed are “feature unlock” in app purchases where a user has to buy access to some premium or advanced feature. Most developers on Windows 8 are still in a “figuring it out” phase when it comes to leveraging the power of the Windows Store - I expect we'll see some more creative models over the next year. Developers should look into expiring in-app purchases and trial licenses, which are some of the unique features that the Windows Store has to offer.

Without giving us any specifics, have there been any Windows 8 apps that have been doing well in terms of both downloads and in terms of revenue?

Yes - we've seen apps on our platform clear six figures since launch. Those apps also tend to be the ones with an impressively large number of downloads. However, the number of downloads and the revenue stream aren't necessarily correlated - it depends really heavily on the business model. There are premium apps with many fewer downloads who do a better job of monetizing each individual user. An app that makes $2.00 per user on average has to get 100 paying users for every app that averages $200 per user, so the economies of scale are different.

In your opinion, what does Microsoft need to do to get more developers interested in making Windows 8 apps?

Microsoft still needs to prove that there's consumer demand for the apps in the Windows Store - right now the overwhelming majority of Windows 8 machines are x64 non-touch devices: traditional Intel laptops and desktops that don't have touch screens. 70% of all Windows 8 machines we've observed fit this profile. Those machines have the worst experience with the Windows Store but represent the largest group of Windows 8 users . Microsoft needs to make the Windows Store more relevant to those users in order to stimulate the demand needed to attract more developers. Ultimately I think that involves a change in the way Windows Store apps are run - namely enabling them to work in a side-by-side mode with native Win32 apps more easily.

The real value in the Windows Store is that it makes it easy for individual developers to put native apps side by side with powerful Win32 mainstays like Office, Visual Studio, AutoCAD, QuickBooks, Eclipse, PhotoShop - all of the software that makes the Windows ecosystem the workhorse that it is. Microsoft should design the Windows Store experience on X86 and X64 devices to make those two ecosystems (Windows Store and Win32) work better together and that will inherently increase demand for the Windows Store without compromising the goals of Metro (or whatever it's called now.)

Does Microsoft need to give Windows 8 desktop users a way to boot to the desktop as well as its Start menu back?

I don't think so - there's consumers who react poorly to Windows 8 largely due to the unfamiliarity of it, rather than any actual change in usability. Personally, I was taken aback by the Metro / desktop switcheroo at first but it grew on me. The Metro screen is actually a big improvement for my workflow as a developer - I use that to launch my shells, IDEs, and debugging tools much more quickly than searching through the Start menu. It's more important for Microsoft to be a little brave now and bet long on Windows 8 and what it represents rather than pander to a vocal minority of upset customers.

People will get used to the Metro experience over time and that really opens the door for Microsoft to do more interesting things with its consumer and enterprise experiences going forward, such as pushing more touch-first devices and hybrids into the workplace. Microsoft can improve the Metro experience and mitigate some of the UX issues over time. No need to panic and revert back to the safety net of Windows 7 yet.

Finally, do you think Windows 8 can overcome its current status and grow in the PC marketplace?

For a product as disruptive as Windows 8 I think it's actually doing quite well thus far. You have to bear in mind that Microsoft, unlike Apple or Google, supports 90% of the world's PC ecosystem on its platform. Windows 8 upsets the natural order of things (from a Windows user's perspective) in a lot of ways and is going to take consumers time to adjust. The way consumers interact with computers is fundamentally changing and Microsoft recognized that Windows had to change in order to stay relevant. ARM computing, touch support, integrated identity and cloud storage services, a centralized store for app discovery and consumption, and inter-app communication are all features that were incorporated into Windows 8 because that's what consumers demanded.

However, it's still a system shock for consumers to have to relearn Windows all at once so there will be a cooling effect on adoption initially. Ultimately it's hardware selection that will drive the adoption of Windows 8 - the Surface Pro being a good example of a device that's driving sales of the OS, good critical reviews, and adoption of the Windows Store simultaneously. Microsoft needs to keep working with its OEMs to produce quality, differentiated hardware that accentuates the differentiated value of Windows 8. And if the OEMs can't do it, build more Surfaces.

We would like to thank Aaron for answering our questions!

Images via MarkedUp and Microsoft

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