Information Management, Mobile Marketplaces: What Microsoft Needs to Do to Make It Big
The Apple Store recently celebrated its 5th birthday and reading about what Apple has done with its marketplace caused me to take a hard look at what Microsoft is doing with its own mobile marketplace(s). What can Microsoft learn from Apple? What does Microsoft need to focus on to be successful?

The Mobile Marketplace

Apple’s Marketplace launched in July of 2008. It had 500 apps. Today it has over 800,000 apps and (since May) has had 50 billion downloads. That’s impressive growth.

It’s hard to compare Apple’s marketplace to Microsoft’s for a few reasons. First, Microsoft has been inconsistent in how it sets up its app stores. While Apple has one App Store for the iPad, iPhone and iPad, Microsoft has had several depending on certain devices. You have the Windows Store where you can tab between Microsoft tablets and Microsoft Phone, the Windows Phone Store and the Apps for Windows 8 Store.

But despite the confusion that I find comes with Windows mobile apps, Microsoft seems to be trying to get its act straight. The Windows 8 App Store was launched in October of 2012 and in seven months it had over 60,000 apps. Compare that to Apple having only 10,000 apps in its App Store one year after it opened. Also, a recent IDC market share report indicates that Windows has the 3rd spot in mobile operating systems and had the largest year over year increase.

I think it’s important to put that market share into perspective. According to the IDC, Android has 79.3% of the market, iOS has 13.2% and Windows has 3.7 percent. So while things are positive, Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up.

Building Windows Mobile Apps

Part of the challenge of building mobile apps for Windows is cross compatibility. Microsoft got a little lost in its mobile operating system development efforts and came out with different types of operating systems that aren't compatible with each other.

For example, you can’t run Windows 7 apps in Windows RT and with Windows 8, you can’t run older apps in “metro” mode. Compare this to building apps for the Apple devices where you pretty much have complete backward and forward compatibility regardless of device type or version (I’m sure there are exceptions to this).

As Microsoft moves to standardize on Windows 8 things should improve. One way it is pushing development on this new operating system is to offer developers a free beta version of the Windows Phone App Studio. The studio is a quick and easy way to get a simple app up and running quickly. And it’s a good idea to build momentum, but it’s only the start. In 48 hours, there were 30,000 new phone applications and projects built (we’ll leave the question of how many are actually good to someone else).

Mobile for the Enterprise

For Microsoft to really get a hold in the mobile apps market I think it needs to look to its roots -- the enterprise. Yes there needs to be games and fun apps in the Windows store. After all, we all need to have a little fun with our phones (Angry Birds helps relieve stress you know).

But Microsoft is first and foremost an enterprise company: Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Office 365, etc. However, it offers no professional enterprise class support for third party developers who build mobile apps on its operating system. This means if you want to build a really strong enterprise level app you have to do it on your own, and support it on your own.

There are likely a lot of developers who would like to create third party business apps. Cool business capabilities include the ability to talk and share data with other apps. I’m not completely sure you can do that with apps for the iPhone or iPad, but for Microsoft it’s definitely a highlight. But the risks involved might be greater with little enterprise level support.

For people to build and sell business apps, they also need to see some amount of money coming back from it. My friend, Dave Coleman has developed an app that he charges for. But in one year he made less than US$ 100! That’s not a lot of incentive to spend time building apps for Microsoft. Microsoft does say that it offers a better revenue sharing deal for app developers than Apple or Android (80% vs. 70% for the other two), but maybe the incentives need to be even higher considering that Microsoft needs to significantly grow app download rate in the short term to be competitive.

I do believe Microsoft has a great opportunity with Windows 8. But it has a long way to go, and needs to continue to offer better incentives to developers to build their apps on its platform. Monetary incentives, free develop tools and enterprise level support options are among these. Consolidating the different Microsoft app stores into one easy to use store would also make it easier for users to search and find the apps they are looking for. It will be interesting to see how things look this time next year for Microsoft. I know I’ll be watching closely.

Title image courtesy of jannoon028 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more of Steven's thoughts in SharePoint 2013: These are a Few of My Favorite Things