Why Isn’t Microsoft Touting Number of Windows Mobile Apps?

25 Comments

windows-mobile-logoThe timing of news from Cupertino is eerie. They’re shouting from the rooftops that over two billion apps have been downloaded to the over 50 million iPhone and iPod Touch devices sold. Obviously, when we recorded our latest podcast a few days ago, we had no idea that Apple (s aapl) would hit these numbers today. But we focused our entire show on Windows Mobile — what was once a leader in the smartphone space. And I have to wonder: why isn’t Microsoft (s msft) sharing the numbers of available applications for its platform?

See, that’s one of the common responses I get when I talk about Microsoft becoming a potential “also-ran” to Apple, Google and Research in Motion. Folks defend the platform passionately with quotes like “I can install any third party app on my Windows Mobile device and there are tens of thousands of them out there.” Or “Windows Mobile currently has every single other platform beat hands-down in terms of app library due to its long history.” Good points. Apple says there are now 85,000 applications in their store, but I really have no idea how that compares to the Windows Mobile space. Nor do any other consumers.

I know that I’ve used a fair share of third-party applications during my WinMo days. Some of them were outstanding and I’d load ’em up on every WinMo handset I had. And I suspect that many of you have felt the same joy about certain programs in the past. So why then, isn’t Microsoft defending Windows Mobile in this regard? I’m sure it’s difficult to determine the exact number of applications available for Windows Mobile since there isn’t yet a centralized place to find them, but even an estimate would be handy, no?

25 Comments

serwei

Why can’t they just use the WMP shop thingy to run the store?
That’s what iTunes does — “ooh look my iTunes has a new feature! Let’s take a look…”

serwei

Well winmo dev is a PITA just to kick off. I asked @wmdev why did I have to install the full Visual Studio just to develop mobile apps, and the answer was “VS is more than just mobile development.”
duh

Compare this to the Apple SDK which is a free IDE + SDK until you decide to list your app.

I wonder which brings in more revenue for MSFT, the WinMo licence, or the VS licence.

Rove-IT

Having heaps of free apps must be a big part of driving sky high App numbers. With Windows Mobile it was easy to focus on the best apps with the websites and Pocket PC Magazine (now gone iPhone – what does that say!) The multitude of Apps for my iPod Touch and the chaos that is the App store with multitudes of Apps under basic categories means I just shove lots of fully free and free Lite versions on to try. I love the Touch but also love Grafitti in Windows Mobile (all the way from Newton days). The patent by HTC to have a touch screen plus use a pen sounds promising. Microsoft dropped the ball with Windows Mobile but hey the Empire will strike back and it will be something pretty special. Stuff like Windows 7, Windows Home Server, Live Mesh etc in 2009 tell me that you would write off Microsoft at your peril when it comes to mobile devices. Can’t wait for what Microsoft come up with.

Bay Area Mobile Nerd

To start: Microsoft isn’t releasing numbers because iTunes App store and GetJar.com are kicking the crap out of them six times a week and twice on Sunday.

Funny thing is – I read those numbers posted by Apple and they just didn’t add up. “Apple also said there are now more than 85,000 apps available for the more 50 million iPhones and iPod touches and 125,000 developers creating apps for the devices.” Someone is either misquoting or flat out lying.

Sp1pot

There might be another reason why MS doesn’t brag about the number of apps.

Windows Mobile is not a single platform. For example, there are devices with touchscreens and those without. Within each of those sets there are many sub-sets of devices with different capabilities (eg, screen size, radios, etc). So one of the real problems for developers is how to cope with the diversity of the installed base (to say nothing of upcoming models) – so many developers seem to refuse to cover the field. (If you want to know what I mean, try loading some of the better known apps on say a Treo Pro!)

So if you say there are (say) 20,000 or 50,000 apps out there say – that leads to the question: do they run on the ‘professional’ version of Windows Mobile or the non-touchscreen version and many other questions like that. When you get down to that level of detail, the headline number about the quantity of apps available becomes nonsensical.

Also, with WM7 on the horizon, which promises to be a revolutionary advance in the OS, there is the question of backwards compatibility. I guess it would look stupid for MS to boast about the number of available apps today only to find that they don’t work on the new version of WM in a few months time. That would produce a lot of bad press.

A lot of the point made in other posts above (eg, lack of an app store) also make sense.

So, I’m thinking that maybe there are good reasons why MS doesn’t go out of it’s way to publise the number of available apps.

Nameless

I’m not sure where Microsoft gets their app figures, especially when there is no centralized WM app store. There are multiple third-party WM app stores (which also tend to deal with other platforms like Palm OS and BlackBerry), not to mention the few one-off apps that aren’t on any of those stores.

While it could be that maybe Windows Mobile doesn’t have the most apps out there, what I at least know is that they certainly have more apps that provide the exact functionality I’m looking for.

Here are some of my most-used WM apps:

-PocketBreeze (Very nice PIM frontend. It makes the default PIM suite usable, and integrates well with Pocket Informant if you have that.)
-iLauncher (Not only does it make launching things from the Today screen easy and not take up too much precious screen space, it also places a battery meter along the top edge and a task manager invoked by pressing-and-holding in the upper-right corner, where “X” or “ok” would normally be.
-Pocket Informant (The Windows Mobile version is the most powerful PIM suite I’ve seen outside of a Newton MessagePad 2000/2100. They also took some time to making the ability to set exact times for appointments much easier for the user, which is very helpful even with PocketBreeze, and the note-taking portion restores the handwriting recognition found in WM2003SE’s standard Notes app and adds even more functionality on top.)
-TCPMP (I’ve rarely found a file that DOESN’T play under TCPMP without conversion, and that’s the way I like it. The interface could use a lot of refinement, though.)
-SoftMaker Office (This is the most powerful Office suite for a pocket computer I’ve ever seen-it even rivals desktop Office suites! Documents To Go and QuickOffice look like good basic editing tools, but don’t appear to have even half the functionality that SoftMaker Office provides.)
-XnView Pocket (Very nice image viewer. Interface needs work, but it views all sorts of files without problem-especially animated .GIFs, which I’ve only seen Resco Photo Viewer handle, and that app plays them slower than normal.)
-Resco File Explorer (Basic file operations are a cinch with this app, and it even can access network file shares from my desktop or tablet! It also doubles as a registry editor.)
-Opera Mobile/Iris (WM5+) or IBM J9 + Opera Mini 4 + VGA hack (WM2003SE) (Now, if my hx4700 wasn’t stuck to running WM2003SE without slowing down all the time, I wouldn’t be as concerned here…but with a WM5 or later device, there are plenty of browsers that give Safari Mobile some good competition and suffice for my needs.)

Also, if I ever manage to get my hands on that Samsung Mondi I’ve wanted for a while and can afford it, I’m getting Kinoma Play as well, which has a nice interface and handles streaming multimedia very well, though I’m not sure about its format support compared to TCPMP (which is practically second only to VLC on desktop/laptop platforms).

I even have a Bluetooth GPS receiver I haven’t used much at the moment, and with that, I’m not limited to simple turn-by-turn navigation. I could use it for geocaching or other relatively niche uses of the technology.

Oh, and you’ll notice that none of these apps are even phone-related in the slightest. That’s because I do NOT want a phone-it adds to the cost significantly, and I don’t have a lot of freedom in phone choice (dumb LG LX350 or no phone at all). I want a fully-fledged pocket computer that provides all the functionality I expect out of a computer, and so far, only Windows Mobile delivers until the developers on other platforms get cracking.

GoodThings2Life

I have an HTC Touch Pro 2. It comes with a lot of stuff that I intentionally wrote a script to purge and tweak and improve. It screams now.

I install exactly 10 things on it:

1. Contact Changer (changes contacts sorting for all contacts).
2. Facebook Mobile
3. Kai ABC Editor — WordComplete Dictionary Editor
4. Kai AutoCorrect.NET — Word Correct Dictionary Editor
5. Microsoft Bing Search
6. Microsoft .NET Compact Framework
7. PHM Registry Editor
8. S2U2 — Slide to Unlock
9. SPB Mobile Shell 3.0
10. Total Commander (File Explorer replacement)

Most of those I only use occasionally. The ones I use daily are:

1. Outlook (built-in for SMS/MMS/Email)
2. Mobile Shell (Today / TouchFLO replacement)
3. Facebook Mobile
4. Microsoft Bing (not daily, but whenever I need gas and want it cheap)
5. Slide-to-Unlock
6. Internet Explorer (to Hell with Opera!)

My point is… yeah, OK, sure, there’s lots of apps out there, but I don’t want or need thousands of apps, and I could care less how many are out there and even less still about how many are downloaded.

Phil

The problem with saying how many winmo apps there are, that now there is the App Store, is how would anyone access them? 18,000 or 100,000 – unless there is an easy way to get to the apps it really doesn’t matter.

Scotty

The other problem Microsoft faces in counting toes is how many of the apps are working on WinMo 6.5. Their own MSReader was an excellent example of this issue. It was MIA on 6.0/6.1 (and oft rumored to have been KIA’d) and I haven’t checked to see if it makes an appearance on 6.5 yet.

The WinMo crowd likes to taunt over the app store’s restrictions but I’d point out that those restrictions come with a pay check. Just look at the number of freeware WinMo apps and ask “How many of those free apps would like to be able to collect $.99 each?” But until Apple came along there was much wailing and wringing of hands over how to collect micro payments for such developers: Apple made it work. Microsoft has already ceded the sub $2.99 market before selling even one app.

Oliver

> when I talk about Microsoft becoming a potential “also-ran”

Potential? It very much is that. Quite frankly, I have been using mobile devices since the original Pilot and currently own an iPhone 3G, a Google ION and a Palm Pre, but I couldn’t even *name* a single current Windows Mobile phone or handheld by name anymore. When was the last time you saw one advertised on TV.. or in the newspaper?

Now, we all know that today’s market leader can be tomorrow’s forgotten platform (say, Palm OS), and the iPhone could certainly be eclipsed by something else at some point, which could even come from Microsoft. But today they are dead and forgotten, as far as I am concerned. I think they really should have used the launch of Windows 7 to also restart their mobile initiative — tie things together.

Stephen

Microsoft did tout their apps when the iPhone was first released in a press release where they claimed 18,000 apps. But that seems pretty small now doesn’t it?

Kevin C. Tofel

I’d think they have more than that. But then again, it appears that developers are following the handset sales and devoting resources to other platforms. Hmm…

Stephen

Not according to their OWN press release! I will remind you even the 18K number is for ALL apps, not all of them run on every Windows Mobile device.

Stephen

Here you go:

According to the WinMo team back in July 2008 they provided some facts and figures:

* Windows Mobile sold more than 18 million licenses in fiscal year 2008, seeing triple digit gains in France, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, Japan and India.
* Consumers today can enjoy a number of Windows Mobile 6.1 phones, including the HTC Diamond, Touch Pro, and Samsung Omnia, and anticipation is rising for upcoming devices such as the Sony (NYSE: SNE) Xperia X1.
* We continued strengthening our position in the enterprise evident by 363 lighthouse wins (500 devices or more) which equaled 1.4 million total licenses; 91 were competitive (meaning a RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) BES server was decommissioned).
* We have more than 18,000 Windows Mobile applications, recently adding applications from Bloomberg, Reuters, and SAP (NYSE: SAP), giving people the choice and flexibility they demand.
* We are continuing to leverage acquisitions including Danger, MobiComp, Musiwave, and aQuantive to deliver the best mobile experience in the market

I guess they have little to say now!

Kevin C. Tofel

Thanks for the additional info, Stephen. And a great point (also made by others) that some of the apps only run on certain versions of Windows Mobile. I find that strangely similar to the legacy challenges Microsoft has faces on the desktop as well, no?

Stephen

Wow, Kevin. I guess we can see why Microsoft does not want to tout these numbers since they had a ten year head start! Apple adds 2,000 apps in less than a week.

Windows Mobile is stalled as it seems. There is talk of separating WinMo 7 and 6.5 among vendors and using the failed Zune strategy – Project Pink to have a new Microsoft phone. I don’t think this will stop Apple and RIM from continuing to beat them.

I know the argument is among some is that the iPhone has useless apps. I disagree as there are over 11 turn-by-turn GPS apps alone. There are loads of very useful apps for the iPhone, really.

Jake

I don’t see the point of playing this numbers game and don’t even understand why Apple does. Apple’s AppStore has a reputation for iFart-style apps and that impression is only reinforced by the release of these types of figures. Do you really believe that every iPhone/iPod Touch user has downloaded 40 high quality apps? Of course not. How many of these apps are so good that the user couldn’t live without them or would consider downloading them again? I’d wager only a few.

As everyone knows, quality is more important than quantity. I’m not suggesting that all WinMo apps are great (god knows I’ve seen my share of crap WinMo apps) but there’s no point boasting that you’ve got large numbers of poor quality apps.

turn.self.off

i still find calling iphone a smartphone weird.

or maybe i should start talking about my j2me enabled phone as a smartphone?

SAM

In our area, if you want a Smart phone,
it’s either a Blackberry or a WinMobile phone.

Windows mobile seems to have alot of freeware
programs that you can find on different sites.
I can get an app to do about anything for no charge.
If you want/need a fancier more complex programs,
then you have to pay of course.

Does iPhone apps have a freeware base as well?

Bcreekski

Thanks for stating my thoughts. I have an expired contract with VZW and want new “smartphone” with all the bells and whistles. BUT, I want to enjoy some of the iPhone apps and cannot really find that many for WinMo. I am waiting until after the WinMo launch next week to decide about a new phone.

Tim Ferrill

The easy answer is that they don’t force you to use their own app store (yet), so they don’t have the access to the numbers that Apple has as far as how many apps are available and how many copies have been sold.

One thing that I think is fascinating is how Microsoft is becoming the more “open” of the two companies, at least in the mobile space. At this point, the fact that you can get your apps from anywhere and things like the widget feature in WM6.5 actually uses the W3C standard for mobile widgets are fairly contrary to what a lot of people would expect from Microsoft.

Kevin C. Tofel

Tim the “open” point is interesting. Do you think Microsoft will try to have it both ways and allow for apps to be installed from anywhere a year or so after they open their app store? If so, I’m wondering if they’ll get the full benefit of having an app store or it will just water down the notion of it.

Tim Ferrill

I don’t know. Every indication that I see is that they won’t allow “side-loading” of apps, at least without some hacking. On the other hand, would they really cut themselves off at the knees and prevent you from loading all of the applications that people have purchased over the years?

My educated guess is that they will allow you to load apps without using the Windows Marketplace, but developers (at least the commercial ones) will see the benefits of getting their apps in Marketplace.

I really don’t see the future of Windows Mobile to be as bleak as some would say it is.

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