Microsoft Seeks Windows 8 App Wave

As Microsoft works to attract developers to Windows 8
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Microsoft has begun offering developers up to $2,000 to create applications for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The incentives could stimulate needed growth in Microsoft's app market, which offers fewer titles than any of its major competitors and has failed to make waves with consumers. But the program also suggests that Microsoft is eyeing quantity above quality, sending mixed messages about the software giant's priorities and intentions.

Microsoft is now paying developers $100 for each of up to 20 apps published before June 30. Programmers can submit no more than 10 apps to a single platform, so only those who write for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will be able to max out the payment. The incentives are also limited to the first 10,000 qualified entries. Microsoft quietly began the program on March 8 but publicity has only picked up over the last few days.

Though still the dominant player in the lethargic PC space, Microsoft has struggled with its newest platforms to loosen iOS and Android's stranglehold over the mobile market. In that sense, incentives can be seen as Microsoft's pragmatic acknowledgement that it is playing from behind.

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Microsoft recently has made several efforts to engage developers, including releasing new videos to get programmers started, hosting a variety of hackathons, and partnering with developer feedback site PreApps. It's too early to say for certain but the gestures appear to be having an effect; according to MetroStore Scanner, this month's Windows app store launches have averaged 247 per day, which is not only a 74% upsurge from February's average of 142 but also the first time since Windows 8 debuted that monthly developer activity has increased.

Microsoft might also feel encouraged by the success BlackBerry achieved with its own incentives program. The longtime enterprise staple appeared left for dead only a few months ago but it now boasts a BlackBerry 10 marketplace of 100,000 apps and a CEO bold enough to take swipes at the iPhone. Skeptics aren't convinced BlackBerry's progress will translate into market share, but 100,000 apps represents rapid growth, especially given that Windows 8 hasn't yet reached half that number.

That said, BlackBerry's pitch to developers is meaningfully different than Microsoft's. It restricts incentive eligibility to apps that earn between $1,000 and $10,000 during their 12 months in the app store. After a year, developers collect the difference between $10,000 and the app's total gross. As a result, any BlackBerry 10 programmer whose app earns at least $1000 is guaranteed $10,000 for his or her efforts, via either app store revenue, an incentive payment, or both.

In addition to offering bigger max paydays than Microsoft, the Company Formerly Known as RIM also distinguishes itself by encouraging developer investment. Microsoft's approach could allow shoddy apps to earn their creators $100 a pop. BlackBerry's earnings-based eligibility threshold, in contrast, discourages developers from even bothering with such half-hearted efforts. Microsoft's app catalogue will certainly grow during this campaign, but a big marketplace is valuable only if it includes "must have" titles. Such apps have so far been in short supply on Windows 8, and It's hard to know if $100 is enough to motivate developers to give their best if they aren't already doing so.

Indeed, former Windows Phone manager Charlie Kindel raised similar concerns in a blog post written last September, warning that developer incentives not only project desperation but also impede lasting commitments between platforms and programmers.

Microsoft has traditionally opposed paying for developer submissions, and one can only guess whether the new program would have been instituted if Windows president Steve Sinofsky hadn't resigned. It's certainly possible that Microsoft is offering some developers guidance in addition to money, and that the seeds for delightful and productive apps have already been planted. It's also possible that Windows Blue, which is expected to unify development across Windows platforms, will address concerns.

But many users are already content with iOS and Android devices. The allure of a touch-oriented tablet that also runs Microsoft Office hasn't yet proven itself strong enough to turn heads, so if Microsoft wants to make strides, it will need to offer a competitive overall experience, not merely a competitive number of apps.

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