Microsoft’s lack of advocacy blamed for waning interest in Windows Phone Development

Please rank the importance from 1 to 10 of Windows Phone to you/your business in the next 18 months. Source:  Application Strategies Developer Survey (PRNewsFoto/Strategy Analytics)

Strategy Analytics have weighed in on the Windows Phone developer support issue, and reports that developer enthusiasm for the platform has peaked and is now steadily waning.

They report that in 2015 respondents ranked the importance of Windows Phone well below alternatives such as HTML5 and at less than half the importance of iOS and Android, and that  less than 2% are planning to primarily support the platform next year.

Interestingly they lay the blame squarely at Microsoft’s door. They note that between 2011 – 2013 Nokia led developer evangelism efforts with global events, aggressive outreach and frequent device seeding. However they also note that since Microsoft agreed to acquire Nokia’s devices & services business in 2013 the perceived importance of Windows Phone has declined each year.

Previously Nokia’s efforts were amongst the most cited reason for enthusiasm to support Windows Phone, and developers continued to hold out hope expecting to support Windows Phone in greater numbers ‘next year’.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, only half of the expected support actually materialized in 2014 and 2015.

Amongst Microsoft sins Strategy Analytics note:

Microsoft over-promised. Microsoft billed Windows Phone as a competitive third platform giving users more choice and developers a better opportunity to make money. However, as of Q4 2014 we reported that Windows Phone had less than 3% market share. The users simply failed to materialize and the opportunity for developers diminished. Further, Microsoft long-promised a convergence of PC-Phone-Tablet. While Windows 10 will finally deliver on the promise it comes several years after it was first promised.

Microsoft lost focus on developers. One reason for enthusiasm about Windows Phone – according to developers in ’11, ’12 and ’13 – was the extensive outreach to developers by Nokia and Microsoft. I attended some of these events and there was a keen focus on device seeding, incentives and an inclusive/exciting environment. Since Nokia’s acquisition the fervor seems to have died down and given developers less reason to be enthusiastic about Windows Phone.

Microsoft made bad deals. In an attempt to buoy app store inventory Microsoft agreed to several partnerships to bring the most popular apps to Windows Phone. However these apps were often inferior to those on other platforms and rarely if ever updated. The atrophy these apps displayed was a warning that if even the most popular developers weren’t getting traction on the platform – few would.

Microsoft didn’t vigilantly protect developer IP. The Windows App Store was chock full of copycat apps. Fake versions of Facebook, Instagram, etc. Many of these apps even used official-looking company logos/images. It was difficult to navigate, confusing for users and showed Microsoft wasn’t concerned with IP. The company announced plans for a purge but it never was fully realized. Microsoft should have been vigilant about policing these rogue apps to show partners they cared about protecting them.

Strategy Analytics did however see a way forward.

Gain market share. The easiest way for Microsoft to entice developers is to show that consumers are buying Windows 10 devices. This is the table stakes for Microsoft – if Windows continues in the single digits it will be difficult to see developers abandoning iOS, Android or HTML5 to support Windows.

Developers still want opportunity beyond iOS and Android. There is considerable consolidation of developers appearing the top free/paid/grossing lists on iOS and Android.

Focus on the PC. This is important for many reasons not the least of which is the user base. If Microsoft can get PC users to browse, download and pay for (or be advertised in) apps then that could be a secret ingredient that competitors lack. Even Apple and Google do not offer unified platforms with their PCs. There are also many developers comfortable with the PC and Microsoft that could develop compelling apps. However it is essential these apps take advantage of the unique hardware that a PC, tablet or phone offer to make them compelling.

Earlier this week Microsoft updated App Studio to allow ‘anyone to make a unified app’. This sounds like a good idea but it could also be a mistake if Microsoft sees it as the solution. Microsoft doesn’t just need apps – they need quality apps that people want to use. We have begun to see a shift in consumer demand to desire apps that augment their lives – health/fitness, travel and finance to name a few. Microsoft needs to define categories that people want today and some of the key innovators and focus its efforts. Having a few great apps is going to be better than thousands of sub-par ones.

Joshua Martin, Stategy Analytics analyst concludes:

“Microsoft finds itself in a catch-22. It needs apps to be competitive and it needs users to get apps. The decision to offer OS upgrades for free will help achieve market share but I wonder if these users will be interested in downloading, buying and using apps – which is essential to garnering developer support. The realization of the long promised unified Windows across PC, tablet and phone is a compelling reason for developers to give Windows a second look but to truly win support Microsoft must offer engaged app users and a return to Nokia’s robust developer outreach. Microsoft only has one more chance to get this right.”

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