Not all mobile app stores are created equal – Why Microsoft’s mobile strategy stinks

Wed, Nov 18, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

It’s no secret that Windows Mobile is floundering, but what’s surprising is that Microsoft still doesn’t seem to be aware that they’re steering a sinking ship.  Not only is Windows Mobile 6.5 light years behind the iPhone OS, but Microsoft’s mobile app store is also thin to the point of being comparably non-existent when held up against the 100,000+ apps on iTunes

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, recently had this to say about mobile apps:

All the apps that count will be ported to every one of them. It’s a completely different situation from the PC market, where software’s built to run on a Windows or a Mac. Mobile apps require very little development, so it’s much easier to bring them onto every platform

With mobile app stores seemingly the next big battle ground for smartphones, the quality of software for each platform will undoubtedly play a role in the fight for smartphone supremacy.  Ozzie, however, seems to dismiss the importance of a large mobile app store because all the apps worth having will eventually be ported to every single mobile OS.  This point of view, however, is misleading for a variety of reasons.

First of all, the apps that people deem important and “must-haves” are anything but consistent. While certain apps like Facebook and Pandora undoubtedly have cross-platform appeal, it’s going to take a lot more than a handful of cornerstone mobile apps to create a worthwhile app store.  It’s been said that iPhone users, on average, don’t typically use more than 10 downloaded apps.  The problem, though, is that those 10 apps vary wildly from user to user.  The reason you need a huge catalog of mobile apps is precisely because everyone tailors their device to fit their own personal tastes and interests, and those interests often extent far beyond basic apps like Twitter clients.  Ozzie speaks of “apps that count” as if there’s a way to even measure which apps are worthy and which apps aren’t.  Truth be told, apps that count are the apps that users end up using.  It’s a selection process made by each individual user, not by Microsoft.

Second, not all apps are created equal.  Ozzie writes that all apps that count will be ported over to every Mobile OS.  This may very well be true, but that in no way implies that the quality of those ported apps will be uniform across multiple platforms.  For example, the Facebook app for the iPhone is elegant, highly intuitive, and a pleasure to use.  The recently released Facebook app for the Palm Pre, on the other hand, not only has a varied UI, but comes with comparatively crippled functionality.  Engadget reviewed the Pre’s Facebook app and came away extremely underwhelmed.

We’re sad to report that it’s about as barebones as they can get. It pulls from the raw live stream, seemingly unfiltered — even if you said “no” to Farmville updates on your main feed, they’ll show up here. Clicking a YouTube link brings you to the YouTube app, clicking links go to browser. You can update your status or upload a photo, but that’s about it. You can’t seem to search Facebook for any info, view events, or anything else, and clicking on someone’s name or photo brings up their contact info. And that’s about it.

Yikes.  That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and a great example which highlights the simple fact that not all apps are created equal, even if they happen to share the same name.

Moreover, and in a similar vein, just because different mobile app stores house many similar types of programs in no way implies that those apps are of the same grade.

Take Twitter clients, for example.  Each app store is seemingly filled to the brim with Twitter clients, but you simply won’t find as great a client as Tweetie is for the iPhone on another mobile app store.  And speaking of Tweetie, Loren Brichter – the developer behind Tweetie – has said that he has no plans to port his popular app over to Windows Mobile, a scenario Ozzie might not be taking into consideration.

Not all popular iPhone apps come from large development houses, and its not realistic to think that every developer or development team with a quality iPhone app to his/her or their credit will decide to branch out and port their app over to other platforms.  Some might not have the resources or time, and others might plainly decide that it’s not financially beneficial for them to do so.

In short, Ozzie’s statement calls into question Microsoft’s entire mobile strategy. Instead of developing a mobile app store with full force, Microsoft seems content to sit back and relax on the assumption that any app worth having will somehow find its way onto Windows Mobile Phone’s someway or another.  If that’s the angle Microsoft is planning to play, then they’re in for a very rude awakening.


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. chano Says:

    with people like Ozzie in charge at MS, is it any wonder they have lost their way?

  2. Michael Linehan Says:

    Good article.

    “Truth be told, apps that count are the apps that users end up using. It’s a selection process made by each individual user, not by Microsoft.”

    Well — there you have it.
    This is the company that has recently been BOASTING that they have been listening to what their users want. Let’s see… it’s the end of 2009, and they think it is a good point, worthy of making key in an advertising campaign that they are listening to their users. Hmmm. Can you say, “Clueless”? I knew you could.

  3. Peter Says:

    Arguments like this are always a dangerous tightrope to walk.

    Me: I should get a WinMo/Android/Palm phone.
    You: There are more Apps for the iPhone.
    Me So more Apps are better?
    You: Definitely!
    Me: So I should go get Windows instead of a Mac because more Apps are better.
    You: No! Who needs lots of Apps? You only need the ones that are important.
    Me: But you just said more Apps are better.
    You: But just on cellphones. Not on PCs.
    Me: Why is that?
    You: Just shut up and drink your kool-aid…

    Basically, all of the arguments can be ascribed to Windows and Macintosh.

  4. I Am Me Says:

    I’ve only ever heard you little play performed this way…

    MacGuy: Should I get a WinPC?
    WinDroid: There are more programs for the WinPC.
    MacGuy: So more Apps are better?
    WinDroid: Definitely!
    MacGuy: So then, I should go get an iPhone instead of a WinMo phone because more Apps are better.
    WinDroid: No! No! No! Who needs lots of mobile Apps? You only need the ones that are important.
    MacGuy: But you just said ‘more’ Apps are better.
    WinDroid: But just on a WinPC. Not on cell phones.
    MacGuy: Why is that?
    WinDroid: Just shut up MacZealot, and drink the xP-flavoured kool-aid…

  5. KenC Says:

    No, Peter, you should get a Mac, because you can run ALL of your Windows apps on it, and all of your Mac apps, and all of your Linux apps. Yep, the argument holds, he who has the most apps wins, whether it be smartphones or computers.

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