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This article was published on September 25, 2012

Only 2,000? Developer interest in Windows 8 is stagnant, opening a new line of worry for Microsoft

Only 2,000? Developer interest in Windows 8 is stagnant, opening a new line of worry for Microsoft
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Windows 8 contains the Windows Store, making it the first edition of Windows to sport such an app store. Platforms are increasingly reliant on strong app ecosystems, as serviced through their app stores, to entertain, amuse, and monetize their users.

No smartphone platform can survive with a weak app pool, and exclusion from top-tier developer interest can harm a mobile line’s ability to grow. Windows Phone suffers from these problems, filling its market share rise with ballast, even as its user experience is strong.

Windows 8, a version of Windows that will be mobile as none of its predecessors, given its RT edition and tablet focus, will lean on its third-party app situation. The fewer apps that Windows 8 launches with in the Windows Store, and the lower their quality, will cause it to suffer. In short, Windows 8 needs to launch with a strong app portfolio, out of the gate, or the operating system could stumble as consumers take it for a spin, but are underwhelmed with what sort of applications they can quickly download and use.

Users of iOS and Android devices won’t have much patience for a limited stocking of applications, given their experience with fully-stocked app stores; when it comes to third-party application diversity, those platforms are the top of the heap.

Now, quite obviously, Windows has traditionally been the defacto standard for app diversity given its massive market share, and open development environment. However, as Microsoft moves its operating system to a formal app store environment, it must play by those rules. Thus, despite there being endless desktop apps that Windows 8 can run, if the Windows Store itself isn’t packed as full as the larder of a hobbit, all of Windows will feel a bit empty.

This will harm the operating system’s ability to build tablet market share for Microsoft.

Where do we stand?

The news of late has been that the Windows Store has passed the 2,000 app mark. Naturally, not all of those apps are available in every region, so what you see in the Windows Store should you fire it up – and you do have a Windows 8 machine handy, right? If not, catch up – is but a slice of the larger store’s offerings.

Now, we’ve recently broached the 2,000 app milestone, which this graph from WinAppUpdate puts into context:

That bump you see following the 11th of September is the days following Microsoft’s opening of the Windows Store to essentially anyone; the jump then is the pent-up demand in regards to developers waiting to submit their apps, once the doors opened.

And, as you can see, development activity has certainly risen following the opening of submissions on a daily basis. Breaking down just what sort of apps are in the Store, we turn to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, who summarized that data set moments ago:

As of yesterday, September 24, there were 2,188 Windows Store applications available internationally, with 1,593 of those available in the U.S., according to Directions on Microsoft Vice President of Research Wes Miller. There are approximately 150 apps that are available for x86/x64 machines and not ARM, Miller said. In other words, there are about 150 apps in the Windows Store currently that do not work on both x86/x64 (Windows 8) and ARM (Windows RT).

It is roughly one month until Windows 8 hits general availability.

Is that good?

TNW reached out to Microsoft for comment on the 2,000 app figure. The company declined to confirm it, instead providing TNW with the following statement:

As the number of apps in the Store continues to grow each day, we cannot say specifically how many apps are available at any given time. We anticipate the availability of apps to grow significantly now that we have opened up the commerce platform with RTM, as well as once Windows 8 is generally available.

There is a key element to that statement, that Microsoft expects the total number of applications to spike in two moments in time: after the opening of the app platform, and when Windows 8 hits the streets.

The first of those is already passed, and generated on the order of 500 apps, a figure that represents, as we noted, accumulated pent-up developer interest.

Thus, for Windows 8 to break the five-figure app threshold – in a world in which it’s six figures or bust – by launch, the operating system must undergo a massive burst of developer release before its debut.

However, looking at the above chart, the Windows Store is growing by under 100 apps per day. Thus, at its current rate, given the time until Windows 8 becomes generally available, we can expect around 5,000 apps to populate its virtual shelves. Remember, however, that not all will be available in all places. Thus, under 5,000 apps for everyone.

Assuming another spike on launch day, say, of four times the boost that Windows 8 enjoyed when app submissions were opened, and we have a tally of around 7,000. That, in my view, is disappointing.

What gives?

I’m confused by how slack those numbers are. Nearly two months ago, Microsoft detailed the massive response to the various Windows 8 pre-release releases:

We continue to be sincerely humbled by the breadth of participation in our pre-release testing. The previews of Windows 8 (Developer, Consumer, Release) have been the most widely and deeply used test releases of any product we have ever done. Over 16 million PCs actively participated in these programs, including approximately 7 million on the Release Preview that started 8 weeks ago. The depth and breadth of testing validate the readiness of Windows 8 for the market.

That combined with the fact that Microsoft has not been quiet in boosting its platform, stating the number of devices it expects to run it in a year’s time and the like, and we have just over 2,000 apps; it’s almost nonsensical.

However, it cannot be ignored. I know for a fact that Microsoft is working with various businesses to ensure that a wide number of ‘tier one’ apps will be present at launch, but that can’t quite salvage the fact that current developer activity is underwhelming.

Even if you don’t like Windows 8, and that’s a fine view to have, even if I don’t share it, simply ‘because Windows’ it is going to land on hundreds of millions of machines in the coming years. That’s a massive developer opportunity, especially given how barren things are at the moment.

Perhaps developers are lying in wait, hoping to see how early sales of the operating system go, before diving in. Or it could be that developers are simply content with writing for the platforms that they already do. I’m not sure.

I don’t think that it is a stretch, however, to say that 2,000 apps is a disappointment, and one that Microsoft will need to rectify if Windows 8 is to stand up to something akin to the full height that it expects of it.

Top Image Credit: BUILDWindows

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