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Entries in iOS (1)


Nobody Cares About Apps

Via Daring Fireball, I came upon a post by Mark Damon Hughes arguing that Apps Are the New Apps, or in a few more words, that success in the smartphone market is "all about who has the most good apps." Ergo, Windows Phone 7 is doomed.

I'm not so sure. Windows Phone 7 may or may not succeed commercially, but if it fails I don't think it will be primarily because of its App Market. Although Hughes' argument seems plausible at first glance — all computing platforms, game consoles, etc. are only as succesful as their apps are good — for me it starts breaking down around paragraph 2:

Right now, and for the forseeable future, that's iOS. Android's store is mostly junk, often outright frauds or viruses, but it's on the chart. Everybody else is in the gutter, under 50,000


[Developers] ship on the best platform: iOS. If you have time and money, you maybe target the also-ran Android […] This costs a lot, because us iOS devs are not cheap; even Android devs aren't as cheap as you'd think. […] Developing on the gutter platforms like Symbian, Blackberry, or Windows Phone 7 won't even pay the bills.

Small problem with this argument: by market share, the also-ran is iOS. How is that possible if what people look for in a smartphone is a huge number of good apps? Yet Hughes seems absolutely convinced of that:
When you ask people what they do with their phones, they talk about apps. […] Small talk now consists of "check out these awesome apps I found!"

I think the issue here is sampling bias. Hughes is an iOS developer, and presumably knows disproportionately many people who use iOS and are excited about apps. Talking with my dev friends, I also hear: you should try this app! Most often it's an iOS app, sometimes it's an Android app (I use both) but yes, apps are exciting. Among devs and tech-enthusiasts.

Outside this bubble, things are very different. When one of my non-geek friends, and yes I do have a few of those, asks me for advice on what smartphone to buy, apps almost never enter the picture. (By the way, phones in Belgium are only sold unsubsidized, so these "non-geeks" are still ready to spend more than 500€ on a phone. We're not talking about luddites.) Here's a typical request: "My mom wants a smart phone. She wants to be able to show her friends pictures, answer emails, go on facebook or other random sites." All current major platforms can do this without third-party apps, and for some use cases, Windows Phone 7 might be the best.

Obviously smartphones are much better with apps. But what they really need is a few good apps. Mail, twitter, facebook clients. Kindle. Angry Birds. Maybe Spotify. Windows Phone 7 has all of these, and it has much better games than Android. Sure, it doesn't have anything like the breadth of creative, high-quality apps that the iPhone has, because indie developers are much more likely to make money on iOS than on any other platform. However, the "must-have" apps are not built by indie developers. They're financed by big firms like facebook who want their mobile apps on every platform.

If Windows Phones become as desirable out-of-the-box as the competition, and arguably they already are, people will try them in the store, confirm with the vendor that, yes, facebook works, and buy them. Granted, someone who already bought 40 apps on another platform is unlikely to switch, but those are a minority: many people have yet to buy their first smartphone, Apple has less than 30% of the smartphone market, and Android users rarely buy apps.

I also disagree with John Gruber about the problem of WP7 dev tools being windows-only:

I also suspect, like Hughes, that it’s a big problem for Microsoft that developers need to use Windows to develop for Windows Phone. Sure, a majority of all “programmers” in the world may well still be using Windows, but because of iOS, an overwhelming majority of the best mobile app programmers in the world are on Mac OS X.

My guess is that many, perhaps most of these programmers switched to the Mac because of the opportunity provided by iOS. They're still familiar with Windows. If demand for Windows Phone 7 development increases, they'll simply dual-boot Windows 7 and start coding.

Now I'm not saying that this will necessarily happen. Microsoft is perfectly capable of screwing this up. Customers may fail to warm to the platform in spite of its critical appeal. Perhaps the carriers will insist on pushing Android no matter what. And yet, as long as the big guys continue to target Windows Phone 7, which seems to be the case, and Microsoft continues improving what is already a remarkable platform, reports of WP7's demise seem highly premature.