Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Why Windows Phone isn't more popular - the view from the phone shop

I know there are lots of people developing apps for Windows Phone who bemoan it's small marketshare. There are lots of opinions on the success (or lack of-depending on your perspective) and these are often informed based on the perspective of the person talking. That is, developers typically think from a development perspective, etc.

Last week I had the opportunity to talk with a number of people who have a very different perspective to me and a different view of the mobile marketplace. I got to speak with a number of people who work in the operator, and independently owned, stores where a large number of people get their phones. They advise people on what phones people should get and know exactly what people are after when they choose a phone.

When asked about Windows Phone they were generally positive about the platform and spoke highly of the cheaper devices (Lumia 610, 620 & Ascend W1) and have seen some of these sell faster than they can stock them. It's when I talked about apps that things got interesting though.

There were 4 key points that I think developers should take note of (even if there is one that they probably can't do anything about themselves.)

1. The number of apps on a platform doesn't matter to people buying phones
700,000, 500,000, 130,000 - they're just big numbers and don't really impact purchasing decisions. I suspected this was the case. They're just a useful metric for journalists to compare platforms. I suspect changes in the rate of new submissions and updates is a more useful metric for platform health but harder to obtain than number of apps in store.

2. Having certain apps on a platform matters
While the total number of apps isn't seen as important, there are certain apps which are seen as essential. These fall into two categories: communication and flavour of the month.
Apps which enable communication between users on different devices (be that text based messaging, voice calls, picture calling or anythign else) need to be on the platform. If a person choosing a phone used a certain app on their old phone and all their friends/contacts use that app too (on other platforms). They won't choose a phone which doesn't have it. It'd mean being unable to communicate with their friends/contacts and isn't that the primary purpose of a phone anyway-communication?
"Flavour of the month" apps are those that everyone is talking about and using right now. Be that a game (usually it's a game) that allows you to throw animals, guess words or draw pictures, if "everyone" you know is talking about and using such an app you risk being left out if you can't get that app too. Coming to a platform 6 months after everyone elase has stopped talking about or even using the app doesn't help.
These may seem trivial issues and you could argue that there are alternatives available, but these are things that affect the phone people choose!

3. Feature parity matters
If an app is on multiple platforms but doesn't have the same features users can feel tricked. Say, for instance, you and your friends use a certain app for group messaging of texts and photos. If you get a new phone and have been told that it supports that app, it'll reflect badly on both the app and the phone if you get home to discover that the app on your phone only supports text messaging and not picture messaging as you'd suddenly be excluded from certain conversations. Not something you or the people using your apps want.
If an app is missing key features it would be better, in some peoples eyes, if it wasn't there at all!

4. Quality matters
While the number of apps doesn't really matter, the quality of the apps that people do choose to use does.
Windows Phone apps are generally perceived as being of a lower quality than apps on other platforms - people you need to raise your game!

What can we, as developers, take from this?
Three things:
  • Focus on quality, not just quantity.
  • Support multiple platforms. Especially if there's a social aspect to your app.
  • Aim for feature parity (especially core features) when moving to multiple platforms


  1. 1. Don't be an idiot, NO mobile platform (iOS, Android) became popular overnight! WP7/WP8 is still young, STOP BEING SO RUSHED, DAMMIT!

    2. No, WP apps are NOT of lower quality. There's a lot of junk for Android too. I have found ~550 WP7(!) apps worth mentioning, and I'm currently having ~150 of them installed: Béranger’s Adventures with Lumia and Tango.

    And I'm coming from Android... where I'll never go back!

    1. Anonymous1:04 am

      I just switched from android and won't go back, I'm loving my WP8 Phone so far.

  2. Anonymous7:14 pm

    Some critical functionality is still missing or in beta. I waited more than 2 months for Nokia Play To for DLNA devices to arrive in beta format. This feature should be standard in the OS. WP8 yet to support MHL adapters (micro-usb to HDMI out). Bought a MS wedge keyboard which won't connect because HID Bluetooth not yet supported in WP8. All these features I enjoyed on my Nokia N8. So WP8 may have potential, but was a step backwards in functionality compared to my previous phone.

  3. NOBODY who is mentally sane needs DLNA or a keyboard for a smartphone. Hey, it's a Phone + Apps you can use while on the go, that's all! It's NOT Surface, it's a phone!

  4. Anonymous7:07 pm

    My point is that a smartphone without the necessary apps and drivers to fully utilise the phone's hardware is pointless. Like the Nokia N8, the Lumia 920 is one of the best phone cameras available at present. Surely I'm not alone in wanting to enjoy and share my photos with friends via DLNA or an MHL cable. I'm a big Whatsapp user and find it much faster to type on an external bluetooth keyboard than using the touchscreen keyboard. I use my phone as a smartphone, its not just a phone.


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