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Microsoft’s developer problem

One of the biggest problems Microsoft will face with the Windows 8 platforms is that they’re effectively starting from zero apps. What can Microsoft do to encourage developers to create great Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps?

In Developers don’t rush to new platforms, I suggested that developers are heavily swayed by three factors when deciding which platforms to develop for:

Platforms that can satisfy all three will usually have very strong developer support, which is why the iPhone and iPad have had such incredible developer momentum and such amazing apps. But poor performance on one or two of these factors can make good developers stay away from a platform even if it ranks well in another factor.

It’s safe to assume that Windows 8 for PC-like hardware will have a large installed base. If the ARM-class Surface sells well, Windows RT will succeed, too.1

But will Windows 8 app development be very profitable? A large installed base alone doesn’t guarantee that. How easy will payment be for customers? How many Windows 8 PCs and tablets will have payment accounts already configured, ready to buy apps with almost no effort, from many countries? Because that, more than anything else, is why paid apps can exist reasonably profitably on iOS and why they usually suffer by comparison on Android and BlackBerry.

The even bigger problem, I think, will be the lack of dogfooding: most developers of the kind of apps Windows 8 needs don’t use Windows.

The term “developers” includes quite a lot of fairly different professions, but the kind of developers that Microsoft needs to consistently build killer Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps are generally developers who enjoy working individually, in smaller companies, or in startups, building consumer-facing apps or services.

By 2005 or so, most of those developers were working on web apps. The web was the platform for that kind of work for most of that decade.2

And during that decade, almost every such developer I knew switched to the Mac if they weren’t already there, partly because it was better for developing web apps.3

That’s one of the biggest reasons there was so much pent-up developer interest in the iPhone before the App Store opened: these consumer-product developers were all using Macs already. As the dominant consumer platform shifted from the web to apps over the last four years, most talented consumer-product developers built products for their app platform of choice during that time: the Apple ecosystem.

Many Windows developers were upset that iOS development had to be done on a Mac, but it didn’t hurt Apple: the most important developers for iOS apps were already using Macs.

But the success of Windows 8 and Windows Phone in the consumer space requires many of those consumer-product developers, now entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, to care so much about Windows development that they want to use Windows to develop for it.

How likely is that?

Anything’s possible, but that’s going to be an uphill battle.


  1. Windows Phone 8 probably won’t do much better than Windows Phone 7, unfortunately, because Microsoft hasn’t meaningfully changed any of the conditions that made WP7 fail. And they’ve burned bridges with the few WP7 adopters by having no upgrade path to WP8. 

  2. I still don’t know what to call the decade from 2000–2009. 

  3. Myself included. I was a die-hard Windows PC user (and builder) until 2004, which may surprise anyone who’s new to my site. 

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