Microsoft (s msft) is stoking the Windows Phone 7 fire a few weeks prior to its annual developer conference with data on the platform. In a blog post, the company shared the number of active developers, total apps in the Marketplace and a breakdown of paid vs. free mobile apps, just to name a few data points. The one number missing, however, is no less important to developers and potential purchasers of handsets running Microsoft’s mobile platform: How many handsets that use Windows Phone 7 have actually sold?
Before digging deeper into the missing number and why it matters, here’s a select look at the data Microsoft is sharing in order to keep developer interest on the rise before the MIX 11 event on April 12:
- 36,000 developers have paid Microsoft the $99 annual App Hub fee to allow their Windows Phone 7 apps to be in the Marketplace.
- Windows Phone 7 handsets can choose from 11,500 software titles, of which nearly 7,500 are paid apps. By comparison, Apple (s aapl) and Google (s goog) each offer more than 300,000.
- The average Windows Phone 7 owner has installed 12 apps, far less than the number found on competing platforms, but considered “healthy demand” by Microsoft given that handsets launched only this past November.
- Nearly half (44 percent) of all Marketplace apps leverage the Trial API, allowing customers to try before buying. This is a key advantage of the platform, in my opinion, and I expect this number to rise over time.
- Only 40 percent of all developers registered with Microsoft for Windows Phone 7 apps have actually published an app.
One can’t fault Microsoft for touting these numbers. After all, the company has to convince developers that building apps for Windows Phone 7 handsets is a winning proposition. But the data also illustrates some sense of how far behind the platform is as compared to that of iOS and Android. The number of apps is growing at a nice clip, for example, but why have 21,600 of the 36,000 registered developers not yet published any software? There could be any number of reasons for that, but it’s easy for observers to jump to the conclusion that devs are waiting for proof of platform viability (in the form of handset sales figures) before fully committing to the costly and time-consuming development process.
Consumers shopping for smartphones are looking beyond core functionality (some of which still isn’t available on all Windows Phone 7 handsets) by examining which apps are available for the platform. This is precisely why smartphone market share numbers matter: Developers with limited resources are more likely to focus on developing apps for the largest audience possible. That means all things being equal, apps will typically launch first for platforms that are selling in large numbers. Right now, that means iOS and Android-based devices. It can become a vicious cycle for other competing mobile operating systems, as consumers may not adopt phone platforms due to a lack of top-notch software, and developers won’t build apps for platforms that aren’t selling well.
Which, again, begs the question: Just how many Windows Phone 7 handsets are on the market? If the number was promising, Microsoft would surely be sharing it with developers and the public in advance of the MIX 11 event. The data Microsoft is sharing shows the platform is heading in the right direction. Omitting handset sales figures, however, means developers simply don’t know how fast or slow the platform is growing, and WP7 development will be a hard sell for many without that information.