In an effort to show that Windows Phone has most of the apps anyone would want, a developer and Microsoft partner compiled a list of the most popular iOS apps, indicating which are also available on Windows Phone and Android.
There are some important observations to make in comparing app availability. But the most interesting aspect of the exercise is that he also showed which apps are available on Windows 8.
The comparison, compiled by Infragistics senior product manager Nick Landry, found that Windows Phone has 63 percent of the top 100 iOS apps. In contrast, Windows 8 has just 54 percent. That should be very worrisome to Microsoft.
Windows Phone has a good excuse for being behind iOS and Android in app count. According to a report released today by IDC, Windows Phone had 3.7 percent of the worldwide smartphone market share in the second quarter (up from 3.1 percent a year ago). In that light, it’s actually pretty impressive that Windows Phone has almost two-thirds of the most popular iOS apps.
Windows 8 has no such excuse. Sure, it’s a newer OS and yes, the PC market is shrinking. But Microsoft and its partners still ship several hundred million copies of Windows every single year. That should be incentive for app developers to build for Windows 8.
So why aren’t they? Former Microsoft engineer and consultant Hal Berenson lays it out in excellent detail in a recent blog post. In a nutshell, all Windows 8 PCs will happily run old-style Win 32 apps. So there's little incentive for developers to do the extra work to rewrite their apps for the new UI.
“So today there are about 100 million PCs actually running Windows 8, and perhaps 98 million of them also run Win32 Desktop apps,” Berenson wrote.
The other couple million are Surface RT and other Windows RT devices, which can only run new-style Windows 8 apps. That paltry number does not give developers enough incentive for developers to build in the new Windows 8 app style.
Microsoft didn't even bother to transfer its flagship app, Office, to the new style of UI at launch. Office 2013 runs in the desktop view and has barely any features optimized for finger-touch, although it does accept touch input.
There are more than 100,000 apps in the Windows 8 Store, but Berenson notes they are mainly built by smaller developers. “But for medium and larger developers, the incremental market reach of doing a Metro app pales in comparison to the costs associated with maintaining a desktop application (for Win 7 for example, or for power users) in addition to the Metro app,” he wrote.
Microsoft should care about the availability of new style Windows 8 apps, since such apps should drive users to the new interface. It's clearly not working -- so many people complained about wanting features like the start button in the desktop, and the ability to boot directly to the desktop view, that Microsoft relented and added these features to Windows 8.1.
That indicates that many people spend much of their time in the old desktop view, rather than the new UI that Microsoft is hoping to transition into.
Notably, Landry’s app list comparison doesn’t have columns for iPad or Android tablets. It doesn’t need to, since apps run across platforms in those respective ecosystems. Not so for Microsoft, which requires developers to re-create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8. That puts up another roadblock for developers.
Landry’s list is otherwise a good resource for people who might be considering a Windows Phone but are worried about lack of apps. He also notes that the list is subjective. It doesn’t tally the top iOS apps by download -- he chose sustained popular apps and excluded what he calls “flavor of the month” apps.
Read into the lack of certain kinds of apps as you will -- Landry does. For instance, he speculates that the reason many news apps aren’t available on Windows Phone is that “it’s no secret that journalists are HUGE Apple fans. They all use iPhones and Macs after all.” I gather he hasn’t been in a press room recently to see the mix of laptops and tablets in the hands of journalists.