This was a great question an attendee on my session during Techdays approached me with. And until then I really never gave much thought about it, but since one of the ways that people seem to be comparing platforms nowadays is by the number of applications available on their stores, and I disagree with this, I thought I had to discuss a few aspects, that I believe will help clarify some key matters on this discussion.
I then decided to divide my line of thought into six main aspects that are decisive on the whys and how’s of this outcome, being the first one about the quality of the apps available on each Marketplace:
This is one of the main issues that leads to a slow growth of Windows phone Marketplace, since Microsoft is working hard on providing the best user experience to the end user. In order to achieve this, the Marketplace team had to come up with a system that would allow to identify the developer and validate his identity (in order to protect them), and also test and validate apps in such a way that when they become available, not only will they work properly, but won’t represent a risk to consumers. This might appear simple at first, but the richness of the Windows Mobile ecosystem of devices, applications and developers had to be narrowed down so it could fit these high standard demands, which in part became a barrier to many developers.
However this does have an upside, and the Marketplace experience available today is one of the most simple, clean and comfortable ones, without unnecessary noise of thousands of uninteresting apps, presenting the developers with more opportunities for sales and allowing the user to find, purchase and download quality apps easily that run for sure and most importantly securely, which brings me to my next point: Security.
We have been used to not to have any malware or spyware on our devices, probably this gave us a false sense of security. I myself had this feeling, until I was affected by a programmer that did not have the best of intentions:
Recently I have installed a game via OpnMarket called 3D Anti-Terrorist that was supposed to be a cool 3D shoot-em-up game. The game not only would not work, but it would also start making random international calls without my permission. Although this had a simple solution (uninstalling it), the outcome could have been serious to me and many users worldwide. This would not be possible on Marketplace.
So to me as a user and a buyer, I am starting to value and understand why applications must be scrutinized before its availability is made public.
The downside is the time and cost it takes to do such analysis, but at the end everyone wins and we won’t be at risk and on the hands of an ill intentioned developer.
The Distribution models
This is also one of the major barriers to the growth of Marketplace for Windows phone 6.xx, since you can get apps from a wide variety of sources such as OpnMarket, Handango, Pocketgear, communities, directly from programmers, software houses websites and many, many other sources.
So all in all, the Windows phone application ecosystem is much more than just what’s on Marketplace.
Comparing Marketplaces just won’t cut it. Of course that the single distribution model used by Apple and Android have many benefits, such as simplifying user access to apps, standardization, security, and what is on most peoples heads: concrete app numbers, which seems to be quite difficult to come up with for Windows phone due to the huge variety of distribution models.
Also many developers that just want to create free apps don’t see the investment on Marketplace yet as a much needed step, since they can easily spread the word and place their creations on one of these many means of distribution easily and without investing any money which takes us to the pricing.
Though I disagree that developers that wish to submit free apps should spend a submission credit, I believe that Marketplace will help to level application costs to more fair and accessible prices. Thus allowing developers to sell more and users to buy cheaper.
I see that one or two developers (software houses) are still practicing very high prices on their apps, but the majority of the apps and games is now on a much more acceptable price range, so the first will have to adjust to this new reality.
I believe that this, along with the latter are the main reasons why Marketplace is growing slower than its rivals: the majority of us Windows Mobile hard core users are just way to used to look it up on the web: whenever we need an app or a game, I just do a search on the web and generally I find what I am looking for
So this is a cultural matter as well, we still have this habit on our system and its hard to get rid of it. Plus many apps are still out there and not on the Marketplace yet, and many will never get there.
Which takes me to my final chapter: the future.
Windows phone 6.xx isn’t dead yet, mainly because you just don’t kill overnight a 10 year old platform that has millions of devices deployed worldwide, because it still is very flexible and powerful, and especially because, this is the best enterprise wise platform available on the market today, due to a wide variety of reasons and factors I wont go into today, but that are well known to the majority of us.
So we will have for some time 2 different models, two different Marketplaces, and I guess I am not stretching to far when I say that Windows Phone 7 will be far more successful than its predecessor, and then we will have one of the best a more successful mobile platform Markets available.