Editorial

It's the apps, stupid: Microsoft must work with developers for more quality in Windows Store

When the Twitter app for Windows 8 and Windows RT was released last week, rumors quickly began swirling that Microsoft had either developed the app itself or gave Twitter’s programmers hands-on lessons and significant help creating it.

Regardless of how it was developed, users enjoy it – the app currently has a rating of four out of five stars based on 1,046 reviews. By comparison, MetroTwit, an app that’s been out months before Windows 8 was even officially released, is rated about one star lower based on 1,561 reviews.

It’s easy to see why users are flocking to the app, as there are few other big-name social networking apps in Microsoft’s digital stores for its operating systems. There aren’t official apps for any other major social network, in fact – no official app for Facebook, Instagram, Google+, tumblr, Pinterest or Path on either the Windows Store or Windows Phone Store. The lack of a Google+ app makes sense, given Google’s hard-line stance on supporting Microsoft platforms, but there’s little excuse for not having the others.


Twitter is the only major social network to make official apps for Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone.

Facebook in particular not developing a Windows app has to be an embarrassment for Microsoft, as the Steve Ballmer-led company has been Facebook’s biggest corporate partner over the years – even as far back as when it was dwarfed by MySpace in terms of market share. In 2007, Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in Mark Zuckerberg’s company for $240 million, and since then the two sides have worked closely together on search integration. Similarly, the lack of an Instagram app on Windows Phone is equally as troubling, as Instagram has been owned by Facebook for nearly a year.

The demand for Facebook apps on Windows platforms is so great that there are about 40 unofficial Facebook apps in the Windows Phone Store and about 20 in the Windows Store. None of the apps are particularly good, however; even the Facebook app for Windows Phone developed by Microsoft has received a mediocre rating from 25,821 user reviews. And when Facebook inevitably updates its platform, Windows Phone users will be left out in the cold, unlike iOS and Android users, as Facebook isn’t developing the app.

Similarly, the People hubs for Windows platforms lack many of the features people come to expect when using Facebook. Users can’t like responses, for instance, and filtering what friends appear in the hubs is currently impossible. The People hubs are simply watered down versions of Facebook, which isn’t likely to serve as a substitute for an app from Facebook itself.

On an earnings call earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was adamant that Facebook is going to concentrate on mobile devices.

The big thing for us is that we have a billion people using our products, and we need to make Facebook really good across all of the devices they use,” he said, “and we’re going to keep on pushing to get more integrated with the system.”

It’s shocking that information about Microsoft and Facebook working together on Windows apps hasn’t leaked given Zuckerberg’s stance on mobile platforms, which brings up the question of if Facebook and Microsoft have even been talking about the possibility.

It shouldn’t be up to Microsoft’s programmers to make apps for major developers. No matter how well they know Windows operating systems, they don’t have access to the third-party developers’ road maps and other vital information. In some cases, such as Instagram, Microsoft lacks access to essential APIs. In fact, it’s puzzling that Microsoft hasn’t been working with leading app developers since before Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 launched.

If there’s been one issue cited as a concern in all three operating systems, it’s been the lack of quality apps available. Sure, the Windows Store is closing in on 50,000 apps, but many of those simply aren’t good – and there’s a serious lack of well-known apps as well.


When Facebook updates its News Feed soon, Windows Phone users will likely be left in the dark.

Launching a new operating system is difficult, and Microsoft launched three last year. While those were personnel- and resource-intensive tasks, it’s unlikely Microsoft was incapable of providing hands-on training for major developers before the Windows product launches. Yes, there are some major apps – such as Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and iHeartRadio – already available, but those apps don’t drive user interaction and interest as much as social networking apps do, and they’re not enough to compete with Apple and Google yet.

Microsoft’s made a habit recently of paying developers to bring their apps over to Windows platforms, but that’s likely not as big an incentive for a company such as Facebook as it is for startups. Providing free courses on programming for Windows platforms, however, would be. Improving the skills of employees is a bigger long-term benefit for multi-billion dollar companies than a quick cash influx of less than a million dollars.

While Microsoft faces an uphill battle in terms of mobile market share, Windows platforms also have the disadvantage of using a unique user interface. Companies have to design apps from the ground up for Windows 8, Windows RT or Windows Phone. By comparison, many leading Android apps are merely tweaked from their iOS counterparts.

Developers want to be on any platform that reaches a significant portion of the market, and the only way Microsoft is going to get a portion of the mobile market is by getting big-name apps that users want. The idea that developers are going to create apps for a Microsoft platform just because they’re from Microsoft simply isn’t true anymore – not in a mobile market dominated by iOS and Android devices.

I’m still bullish on Windows RT, and I think others would be too if there were more quality Metro apps available. Windows 8 will be adopted regardless for PCs, but getting quality Metro apps on both Windows RT and Windows 8 is vital for Microsoft’s success in the tablet market.

Regardless of how the Twitter app was made, Microsoft needs to start providing top-tier companies with hands-on training developing Metro apps. The end result of quality, big-name apps will be worth it, and devices across the spectrum of form factors will benefit.

Maybe it’s time Steve Ballmer brought his famous chant back.

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Not only do they need to build the App buy then need to support it and update it and there is a lot of work there too. Maybe small devs dont have enough staff or money to develop for an additional platform? Why bother when devs can make more money on iPhone or Android. App store fatigue anyone? Too late with the App store idea in Windows anyone?

Why would I create a Windows 8 app? There's no money in that. I'm better off creating an Google Play app, Windows desktop app or iPhone app. Pretty much anything else, really. What a barren store.

Maybe if they included more of their XBLA games in the store then it would be nice, but obviously that's too much to ask. That's a commercial in itself -- advertising those titles that moved over to windows 8 to get the users who own a PC and not a 360.

Very sad store to be in.

The core apps, as other have said, are pretty bad. They need to lead by example. Developers should be looking at People, Mail, Messaging, etc and think "This is how it's done" instead of "Avoid this at all costs."

Windows and quality for something like apps?`Be serious... Someone can remember the old iegallery or the site for sidebar Gadgets? Quantity yes, I don't count it, but how many Google search sidebar gadgets were on this site? 30 or 40? Gatgets with quality? ermmm.... Sure, nobody used sidebar gatgets or IE Addons, but the Problem with user content and quality on a MS website is 5 years old or more.

I think the problem with Gadgets on the Windows platform is that gadgets needed to be cool and look nice. In other words, graphic designers needed to play a role. Most graphic designers created for the Mac platform and Konfabulator.

The type of programmer on the PC platform made technically sound gadgets that worked, but really had not mass appeal and generally looked horrendous.

Let's put an end to use a web page instead. People want an app, it's faster and more capable. Period. Stop making excuses and make apps.

If the answer is, well you can get to it clumsily by using a web browser, then the W8 platforms will always be inferior, and like now, people won't buy it.

This is 100% correct but I also think everyone underestimates what it takes to build an app that is better than just using the web. And this an egg or chicken kind of thing. They need to see some reason to make an app. But everyone uses the site. How do you use the current usage data they get to extract the desire for windows apps to be used vs the web.

Agreed, and it's more than just that. Anyone claiming that websites==apps haven't really used many apps.

On iOS, apps also include things like iMovie and iPhoto, Traktor for example. Heck even Windows has Fresh Paint for a non-website app.

And Microsoft kinda forces the need for an app because of the Share system. You can't share an item as easily if you have to rely on web sites. And since Metro IE doesn't support things like bookmarklets, it's just more reason to have an app.

People saying apps aren't important may think they're helping out by pointing people to web sites but they're really just enabling the problem.

I expect a round of API updates and other things to make more powerful apps possible. Also allow us to run phone apps on Windows 8 as a first step that then will allow them to actually merge the two stores into which is what I believe is the end goal for it.

IMHO, one of the main problems with the design of Windows Store apps is MVVM. MVVM works fine for small applications, such most of the apps present in Windows Store. But, for any serious work, MVVM falls short. Also, MVVM applications does not scale automatically for different devices. Also, Windows Store applications are "fenced", MS makes it hard to use local resources.

"There aren't official apps for any other major social network, in fact - no official app for Facebook, Instagram, Google+, tumblr, Pinterest or Path on either the Windows Store or Windows Phone Store."

Thank god, for those of us that dislike this social bs

Except Instagram (I think, haven't used it) all those are just as easily accessable by VISITING THE WEBSITE.
MS should just release pinned websites as apps and then not show the address bar. I'm sure it'll fix allot of crybabies everywhere

Shadowzz said,
Except Instagram (I think, haven't used it) all those are just as easily accessable by VISITING THE WEBSITE.
MS should just release pinned websites as apps and then not show the address bar. I'm sure it'll fix allot of crybabies everywhere

I very seriously doubt that. It's hard using almost all those websites with just a touchscreen; a native app would be much more fluid and easier to use.

Heaven forbid you make a friendly web version of your website. Oh wait, its called the mobile version. Wait a minute, you could create a, dare I say... tablet enhanced version. Omg

Mind Blown.

Your point is well taken. And feel free to use your own website. If people on a mobile device want to browse a web page and use that, they will. And they will buy into the platform to do that.

But if that's not what people want, they will speak with their wallets. And they will buy into the platform that gives them the content the way they want it. Apparently, that's through a fast capable app.

The flaw in your thinking is that this is not a giveaway. When customers pay for something, they tell you what and how they want it or they won't buy it.

You don't tell them what to accept. Somehow MS and their loyalists have gotten into this losers mindset and can't figure out why they're not selling their wares in the volumes they would like to.

Klownicle said,
Heaven forbid you make a friendly web version of your website. Oh wait, its called the mobile version. Wait a minute, you could create a, dare I say... tablet enhanced version. Omg

Mind Blown.

Klownicle said,
Heaven forbid you make a friendly web version of your website. Oh wait, its called the mobile version. Wait a minute, you could create a, dare I say... tablet enhanced version. Omg

Mind Blown.


Try using Facebook's mobile website and then using its app on either iOS or Android. Though they feature a design that's nearly the same, one of them is immensely easier to use than the other, much quicker and registers touch input better. I'll let you figure out which one that is

99% of apps are website front x.x.
Again a 'rant' on the front page about missing _valueable_ apps.
I notice there's less apps in the store on my 920, but ... besides a game or 2 I don't use any of the apps and just open up IE and visit the website. And pin that site to the start screen and voilà. You have an App.

On the Windows side its an entire new thing, anyone expecting desktop worthy apps in metro is just an idiot imho. And there's already way to much games in there. I still except a proper port of Unreal Tournament or something since the Unreal engine is supposedly running on WinRT. Other than that I always wonder what apps people desperately need to supply them with meaningless nonsense.
And if people bring up quality apps in the Windows store... any store is filled with junk and crap.

But could we please stop ranting about it, every side has its strong points and flaws. But why are Microsoft's flaws always so ... highlighted, compared to Apple's or Google's flaws.

Actually, it's both the applications and the UI of Windows 8 Modern itself (my opinion). I personally do not like it but that's just me.

Like any ecosystem out there, there are some fantasticly well designed apps, some good ones and a lot of crap ones, personally I've found a lot of good apps and am enjoying the win8 experience

I understand the argument that MS should do more to promote it but Windows, the windows store and metro isnt going anywhere, win8 is really just the first step so theres really no imperative for them to push it, the market share will naturally grow in time and with subsequent updates eg 8.5, 9.

I can think of about only one reason Facebbok app is not there (and I highly doubt it) - maybe the want to introduce APP together with new, refreshed News Feed design. Yeahh....

Microsoft general approach reagrding apps is really suprsing - quality of built-in apps is abysmal.

Maciej Kuczara said,
I can think of about only one reason Facebbok app is not there (and I highly doubt it) - maybe the want to introduce APP together with new, refreshed News Feed design. Yeahh....

Microsoft general approach reagrding apps is really suprsing - quality of built-in apps is abysmal.

What is it that people want from a Facebook App on the Windows Phone? The people hub is much better at viewing news feeds, and you can already post status updates, comment, view pictures, like etc.

I think far too many people are stuck in the idea of "there's an app for that", and these are mostly people who've not used a Windows Phone. I think it's partly Microsoft's fault for not showing the power of integration of facebook as one of its main selling points. I mean I can see why they've not done that, as they'd be branded a Facebook phone/OS and of course, it's really hard to show someone else how personalised pinned tiles can become.
I have a few people from my contacts pinned to my start screen on my phone. I get a visual notification via live tile when ever they post anything, call me, text me, reply etc.. and it's a 1 touch to go straight to it. In the same way, 1 touch brings me to a central location about that person, all their pictures, status updates, text, address, etc
The people hub really is underrated. Sure there are a few things it could do better, but it's something they should be asking Microsoft for as an update to the Phones OS rather then tacking on an app that's going to be doing the same thing, just as bad, if not worse then the integration the OS provides.
On the flipside, it is nice to have a disconnected view of things, and I don't link my twitter account into my phone and use an app for that, mainly because it becomes too busy with retweets and such I really don't care all that much for twitter.

what you have said (sagum) would hold true if developers were allowed to create "apps" or plugin or call it however you want, that would integrate with the OS. Like Facebook providing their own "extension" to the people hub, WhatsApp providing their own extension to the Messages/Conversation hub, Instagram/Flickr their own extension to the Photo hub, etc..

Only then we'll move away from the "there's an app for that" concept. For now, MS has shown the way but it's not really investing in it. If they don't open to that integration, then what we have now in WP is just a "feature" (from the old feature-phone days) and ppl will still rely on Apps..

I am a bit disappointed with the app store. When Windows 8 was first revealed, the aps demoed showed a lot of possibility. After release I was thinking of apps like a portable photoshop that I could start a project on my desktop, save to skydrive and finish it while on a train/flight on my RT based tablet. I did not want 20 different Justin Bieber apps and other ridiculus crap I'm seeing in the store. While Netflix, Skype, Power DVD and a few others show the quality we can get from the platform, some of the cheesy things I see in there makes me cringe. Come on Developers, I want to see the power of Windows syncing between my desk and handheld.

One of the great things about Win 8 on tablets is that you have by far the most apps already.

You can run all Android apps with BlueStacks software, which is free.

Or you can run any x86 OS you like. Either by booting in to it, or from Win 8's built-in Hyper-V virtualization, or 3rd party software like VMware. I've had OSX running virtualized before, it's utter **** with touch input but it's fun to do.

That only applies to x86 tablets, which are considerably more expensive than Android or iOS tablets. Also, few people have heard of BlueStacks and the average user is not going to be installing other operating systems. To the vast majority of consumers price is one of the biggest factors and Windows RT / Windows 8 tablets simply aren't competitive.

I agree I think RT needs to be slightly cheaper but Win8 tablets are a full desktop OS. They are Tablet PC's, they are not equivalent to your Android or iOS and comparing them to it is to misunderstanding your or the consumers own needs.

W32.Backdoor.KillAV.E said,
One of the great things about Win 8 on tablets is that you have by far the most apps already.

You can run all Android apps with BlueStacks software, which is free.

Or you can run any x86 OS you like. Either by booting in to it, or from Win 8's built-in Hyper-V virtualization, or 3rd party software like VMware. I've had OSX running virtualized before, it's utter **** with touch input but it's fun to do.

windows 8 desktop =/= not for touch device.

"Microsoft must work more with devs"

In my opinion if a dev doesn't create an app for the most widely used operating system out there then there's something wrong with them or their business plan for making some extra money. Sure Windows 8 doesn't have some huge marketshare right now but like it or not the Microsoft store is here to stay in the future Windows releases.

alwaysonacoffebreak said,
In my opinion if a dev doesn't create an app for the most widely used operating system out there then there's something wrong with them or their business plan for making some extra money. Sure Windows 8 doesn't have some huge marketshare right now but like it or not the Microsoft store is here to stay in the future Windows releases.

Windows 8 has a relatively small market share and even then most of that is on the desktop. The app market simply isn't as mature as it is on other platforms. Businesses will always seek to do what is most profitable and right now the major players aren't concerned about creating Metro apps, which means they don't view it as a credible platform. That will likely change in time but Microsoft should have done more to ensure the major brands were in place, even going as far as to write the apps themselves and simply get the companies to approve it as official.

So the number of developers pretty much aligns with the number of windows 8 users, i.e. very little interest from either side.

Why would a company such as Facebook create a Windows 8-only app, when their fully functional website works across every modern OS in circulation? This isn't necessarily app developers being dumb, on the contrary, this is app developers being smart and knowing where best to spend their time.

This is also why Facebook don't have a Mac or Linux app. There's no need.

However they do have iOS and Android apps where studies have shown most people are doing their facebooking, not on the desktop. And Microsoft's facebook app is below the standard of the others, particularly notifications and general refresh. The facebook apps on the two major mobile platform is clearly superior to Microsoft's offering.

Both iOS and Android fully support Timeline view in portrait and landscape as well. This isn't going to happen on WP8. It just isn't.

Majesticmerc said,
Why would a company such as Facebook create a Windows 8-only app, when their fully functional website works across every modern OS in circulation? This isn't necessarily app developers being dumb, on the contrary, this is app developers being smart and knowing where best to spend their time.

This is also why Facebook don't have a Mac or Linux app. There's no need.

Majesticmerc said,
Why would a company such as Facebook create a Windows 8-only app, when their fully functional website works across every modern OS in circulation? This isn't necessarily app developers being dumb, on the contrary, this is app developers being smart and knowing where best to spend their time.

This is also why Facebook don't have a Mac or Linux app. There's no need.

Well there are actually a couple of good reasons. First would be brand exposure. If you make a good app you get visibility by being ranked top in recommended apps by the Store but more importantly you get featured on user's Start Screen.

This is less important for a brand like FB but could help brands like Google+/News Sites/Blogs/etc. Would the functionality be redundant? In some cases but the brand awareness/exposure will not be. Companies spend far more in marketing than it would cost to make an app. Companies are getting to put their logo on the Start Screen of all Windows 8 users for all to see. If MS sold this to advertisers they could make a fortune but companies get this for low cost by making a good app to feature their brand.

The next big reasons would be to control the experience/ prevent others from hijacking momentum/ changing user's habits.

Some users will use an app regardless of the fact that you have a website with the same functionality available. You can readily see this situation with FB/Twitter apps on Windows 8. If you have no app and only a third party app is available it could reflect poorly on your brand depending on the quality of the app.

For example say the only Google Search app was a poorly designed third party app. Nonetheless it gained popularity because it is the only Google Search App. Non-Technical users won't differentiate between third/first party apps. It would reflect poorly on Google and if there is a popular/high quality Bing App it could convert users.

Hijacking momentum refers to the TweetDeck debacle. Twitter allowed a third-party App to gain exposure/popularity at the expense of their brand. This is a problem because TweetDeck grew to encompass 23% of Twitter users. With that much market-share they posed a strategic risk and Twitter ultimately had to buy them out. Now you see Twitter releasing apps on all platforms and using a token system to limit users for third-party apps to prevent a similar situation in the future.

Finally, changing user habits refers to a situation where users form new habits that negatively effect your product. This is readily visible when looking at Google and the proliferance of their search apps across all platforms. When it comes to search engine market share even a 1% difference can result in the loss/gain of 10s-100s of millions of dollars.

They put these apps on all platforms to encourage people to use their search app instead of forming habits using others. For instance maybe their is a great cooking/Wikipedia/etc. app and people use these to search for specific things instead of Google for general things. This is users forming new habits to the detriment of Google.

Devs create applications for the most financially viable markets for them. The public is generally showing a lack of interest in Windows 8 and currently it is a tiny player in the mobile application market. The same happened with Android, and it will happen again. If the platform becomes big enough the developers will show up.