Windows Phone Success Depends On Apps

The platform has to compare well to Android and iOS on base features, but that alone won't cut it. Is Microsoft creating enough app momentum?
The new wireless platform from Microsoft has gone from zero apps last fall to over 20,000 today. That is still well below what you can find in Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market, but it is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the rapid rise of apps may have been a factor in Nokia's decision to dump the MeeGo platform and hitch its wagon to Microsoft.

No one would argue that HP's webOS isn't a competent platform, but it is struggling. This is partly because for over six months it was exclusive to the Sprint network, the third place network in the US. The other reason, though, is the store for webOS apps is languishing. The last official count I could find was 5,000 by the end of September, 2010. That is fifteen months after the platform launched.

Microsoft has collected four times that amount in less than half the time. It is still missing a lot of apps from a number of key players. While Bank of America has an app for Windows Phone, Citi, Chase, Schwab, ING Direct, and Wells Fargo do not. They all have apps for the iPhone and Android devices though. The tale is similar across major apps like Dropbox, X-Marks, and others. When sites like Lifehacker post an article on how to save money with smartphone apps, all or most are available for iOS and Android, but few if any are on Windows Phone yet.

Still, 20,000 is a good start. But the platform has a long way to go. Amassing over 2,000 each month may have been enough to tip the scales in favor of Windows Phone over MeeGo. Nokia's Ovi store would need to start largely at ground zero. That is a tough sell. The days of people buying a smartphone for the operating system are over, platform fan boys notwithstanding.

Consumers want apps. They want to access their bank information, find local deals, access social networks, play games, etc. Starting a new platform today is a risky proposition, because consumers want a phone with apps, and developers want a platform with consumers. It is the classic chicken or egg scenario. Microsoft jump-started its platform by writing a healthy amount of its own apps, mostly in the way of games, and by reaching out to the developer community, something they know how to do.

It is doubtful Nokia could have pulled the same stunt off.

Windows Phone hasn't really pulled it off yet either. It is still early, but the momentum is definitely headed in the right direction.

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