Microsoft grabbing mobile content to make Windows Phone 'WebApps'

Just one week ago, Microsoft's Windows Phone head Joe Belfiore said in an interview that the company's mobile OS still lacks a number of major apps in its ecosystem. Now there's word that the company is taking a rather proactive move to add apps to the Windows Phone Store by lifting content from a number of popular mobile web sites and turning them into "WebApps".

The Windows Phone Store currently lists 46 such apps under the "Microsoft WebApps" label. As you can see from the partial list above, many of them are online shopping destinations such as Cars.com, 1-800-Flowers, J. Crew, Crate and Barrel and more. Others are news websites such as Variety, TV.com, and TMZ.

ZDNet got a statement from Microsoft on the matter, with a spokesperson saying that this effort was made to help Windows Phone users " ... access great mobile experiences on Windows Phone by creating pinnable Web Apps that show up in the app list." The statement added that Microsoft does not consider these efforts to be replacements for any native apps and that the company hopes it will jump start interest from the companies it has picked to get them to make real apps for the OS.

Microsoft has made this kind of move before when it created a YouTube "app" that is basically a fancy link to its mobile website. It's possible that some of the companies that Microsoft has picked for its 'WebApps" project may not take kindly to having their content repackaged and offered, at least on the surface, as an "official" Windows Phone app. We have emailed many of the companies involved for comment.

Source: Microsoft via ZDNet | Image via Microsoft

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28 Comments

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LogicalApex said,
Is this legal to do without prior approval from the companies whose sites they are "wrapping"?

It's as legal as loading up their site in the browser.

PmRd said,

It's as legal as loading up their site in the browser.

Not exactly. It wouldn't be legal for me to wrap Facebook's mobile website in an application and then place it on an app store. I'm not sure why this would be any different for Microsoft.

The owner of the content would have to be OK with MS making this app... By the looks of the news today many aren't.

LogicalApex said,
Lol, of course it would be legal to wrap Facebook's mobile website and place it in the app store. They are basically offering links to websites. There's absolutely nothing illegal about that.

hey if the companies don't like it then they can get on board and build a native app, I think at this point in the game its a great idea, I'll use the jimmy johns one

Julius Caro said,
Exactly what apple forbid on their store years ago.

Yet they allow people to pin web apps on their home screen

Well, they're not hiding the fact, they're called WebApps in big bold letters in the store. You have to do what you have to do, maybe this way the owners of the sites can see traffic from WP devices and finally make a official app when MS asks. It's better for users of the platform to get something instead of nothing when they look for something in the store.

It's cheaper and more convenient for the end user to provide a different website version (it can be sometimes as simple as using as different stylesheet) than developing an "app" for multiple platforms and then listen to the outcry that "there is still no Windows Phone version of this app".

If the root cause is "websites are poorly designed for mobile" then one should fix the root cause instead of going down the app road, which as I mentioned is inconvenient for both end user and the business owner.

Instragram could be a single full HTML5 app shared accross all platforms. HTML5 does have webcam capabilities and canvas is very powerfull for graphics. A good example can be seen here: http://muro.deviantart.com/. The only problem is that you are exposing the entire source code to the end user

Edited by PmRd, Oct 23 2013, 8:42am :

meh. At least it removes the problem of a search for said app coming up with nothing until the official app makes it to the store.

I didn't like this idea at first as the Store will be plagued with wrapper apps (like Android and iOS), especially since we can already pin your fav sites. But I guess it's a good idea, as it'll show companies what their app currently looks like and compare to companies with cool official native apps and inspire them to make them.

I can't say as I find this a positive, on Android I find apps that are little more then repackaged mobile sites to be annoying and a complete waste of space on the app store.
There are far far too many of those.

A deliberate focus on creating them, with an even smaller app store is only going to make such things more prominent and more annoying as you search for a real app. Not a website masquerading as an app.

Not sure if this will pi$$ off people or not like how chrome has web apps added in their store and people complain about how it's just a shortcut.

Hope it kicks the big companies into making their own apps. though.

anothercookie said,
Not sure if this will pi$$ off people or not like how chrome has web apps added in their store and people complain about how it's just a shortcut.

Hope it kicks the big companies into making their own apps. though.

A well written HTML5 + Javascript site can do the same job as most apps

PmRd said,

A well written HTML5 + Javascript site can do the same job as most apps

Same job, or better...

This is the dirty little secret of most native apps. Plus, an HTML5/JS site is OS agnostic.

I really think this is the future for most apps. It allows for one codebase that works across all devices, and doesn't require navigating multiple store submissions. Plus, users can login and sync their settings across devices, and even easily use the app from someone else's device since there is no installation. They can even work offline.

thomastmc said,

Same job, or better...

This is the dirty little secret of most native apps. Plus, an HTML5/JS site is OS agnostic.

I really think this is the future for most apps. It allows for one codebase that works across all devices, and doesn't require navigating multiple store submissions. Plus, users can login and sync their settings across devices, and even easily use the app from someone else's device since there is no installation. They can even work offline.

It has a lot of advantages that benefit devs and users, but won't ever become the norm for the majority of apps. Mainly because the OS makers for phones are now heavily invested in the revenue they obtain from native apps. So you can expect them to make native unavoidable for most developers with various API hooks.

LogicalApex said,

It has a lot of advantages that benefit devs and users, but won't ever become the norm for the majority of apps. Mainly because the OS makers for phones are now heavily invested in the revenue they obtain from native apps. So you can expect them to make native unavoidable for most developers with various API hooks.

Most platforms allow you to pin sites to your home screen. While it may be quite some time before sites will be allowed to trigger notifications, and use many native APIs, for many apps this is not a hindrance.

The only API most apps really need is notifications. This is a good article on HTML5/JS replacing native apps: http://thenextweb.com/dd/2013/...tml5-apps-kill-native-apps/

There will always be a place for native apps, but the more apps that become HTML5/JS, the more pressure there will be for platforms to at least open up some simple APIs to sites pinned to home.

OS makers can surely delay this progress, but they can't prevent it. Eventually, they'll be touting their implementations of it.

thomastmc said,

Most platforms allow you to pin sites to your home screen. While it may be quite some time before sites will be allowed to trigger notifications, and use many native APIs, for many apps this is not a hindrance.

The only API most apps really need is notifications. This is a good article on HTML5/JS replacing native apps: http://thenextweb.com/dd/2013/...tml5-apps-kill-native-apps/

There will always be a place for native apps, but the more apps that become HTML5/JS, the more pressure there will be for platforms to at least open up some simple APIs to sites pinned to home.

OS makers can surely delay this progress, but they can't prevent it. Eventually, they'll be touting their implementations of it.

They have been throwing roadblocks into the process and will continue to do so. There is too much invested for them not to. Both in direct app sales (every major app store extracts some amount of the sales price) and in ad revenue (all major app stores gets some revenue stream via in app ads).

HTML5 apps would turn the cell phone OS makers "into dumb pipes" (to steal the wording used by cell phone providers to justify their customizations to phones). Native apps are the greatest competitive advantage any mobile platform has right now. If users were to break free of vender lock in they would compete directly which is to the benefit of us, the consumer, but not them.

Expect to see severe push back from OS makers to ensure HTML5 remains nothing more than a niche app platform.

LogicalApex said,

They have been throwing roadblocks into the process and will continue to do so. There is too much invested for them not to. Both in direct app sales (every major app store extracts some amount of the sales price) and in ad revenue (all major app stores gets some revenue stream via in app ads).

HTML5 apps would turn the cell phone OS makers "into dumb pipes" (to steal the wording used by cell phone providers to justify their customizations to phones). Native apps are the greatest competitive advantage any mobile platform has right now. If users were to break free of vender lock in they would compete directly which is to the benefit of us, the consumer, but not them.

Expect to see severe push back from OS makers to ensure HTML5 remains nothing more than a niche app platform.

I think you're totally right... I just think that this is a battle that developers and users are already winning, and one in which they will ultimately prevail. It's like when Adobe tried to fight HTML5, pretty soon they'll have to adopt it and develop for it like they're the ones who thought of it first.

Trying to fight the internet is a losing proposition, no matter what the downsides of giving in to it are for the platform creators. The internet is God, and everything else is just what comes after.

Not really desperate, but rather getting the name out more and hopefully inspiring those companies to get official apps created. If you look in Android and iOS stores, there are TONS of apps that wrappers like this... so it's not really anything ground breaking... but it'll get people from whining for lack of apps. Though personally, I'd rather just go into the browser and pin my fav sites or use the cool "WebApps" app.

j2006 said,
Not really desperate, but rather getting the name out more and hopefully inspiring those companies to get official apps created.

What are you talking about man? Getting what name out there and inspiring or ****ing lawyers off is the big question. As a WP owner myself, this is really degrading...