Last Thursday, my app counter went rather off the charts. Since the day before launch, the Windows Store has been adding 500 or so apps per day (with one exception). There aren’t a ton of stellar apps. I’m doing my best to document those that I do find on my Twitter feed, and I’m working on a better methodology. But for now, that’s where I put them.
On Thursday and Friday in particular, I expected a bump in the number of apps – and I saw that. One thing I saw struck me though. A lack of really distinct, platform exclusive apps.
Gaming consoles have historically had “hero titles” – exclusives that pull people to that platform because they can’t find them anywhere else. Those, theoretically, are the things that motivate consumers to buy consoles, and keep buying titles in that series from that publisher.
In the beginning, the iPhone had no hero titles. It had… no titles. Web apps or nothing. When the App Store arrived, it brought a gold rush of authors trying to make the most of the handheld, touch-driven, gyroscopic fundamentals of the iPhone platform (and make money). Among them? Angry Birds. Along the way, Rovio made themselves quite successful, as did a few other early iPhone developers, like Lima Sky (Doodle Jump) Pangea Software (Enigmo, etc). Many of the most successful games resulted in a virtuous cycle, as the titles were hero titles for the device, and the device was the exclusive place to get them. People bought iPhones (and then iPads) to play titles like Angry Birds, Enigmo, and eventually titles like (my personal favorite iPad game of all time), Contre Jour.
But in the end, exclusivity to a device matters little to independent developers – which is why you primarily see lock-in with hero titles that are primarily owned (Nintendo/Mario) or tightly licensed (and formerly owned – Microsoft/Halo). No, with independent developers, you see that they want to break free. To go promiscuously to almost any viable platform they think they can move to.
While Angry Birds did well on iOS, they moved to any other platform they could. I mean any platform. So today, when you tout that you have Angry Birds on your platform, it could be viewed as a staple (I hate the expression “table stakes”), but more likely it’s like saying your tires come with raised lettering. Nobody cares. What else can I do with your platform? I struggled with a name for these apps. A bunch of ideas were suggested when I asked on Twitter. But when I thought about it, the word that I realized I was thinking was promiscuous.
An app is promiscuous when it is as, or more concerned with it’s own viability than that of any platform it runs on. Examples of promiscuous apps? Angry Birds of course, but the Amazon Kindle Reader is probably the front-runner here. Though they make their own platform, the Kindle Reader has little shame, and will (luckily for content owners) run on almost any device. This compared to the iBooks app, which is so locked down, you can only read iBookstore content on handheld iOS devices. Other promiscuous apps? Netflix, Hulu, key video content providers, the NY Times, USA Today, etc. The amusing thing about almost all of these apps? They are literally about getting as many eyes as possible on content as possible.
To that end, a ton of the apps that have come into the Windows Store over the last week are just promiscuous apps. I’m not seeing stellar apps that are platform exclusives, and more importantly, I’m seeing a dearth of, well, productivity apps. I guess it’s only fair, right? Microsoft themselves said that writing productivity apps in WinRT is hard. Well, they didn’t say it was hard, they just didn’t bring Office over to the WinRT world. To be fair, it is going to be a ton of work to reproduce the productivity value of Office in a TDLFKAM world. A ton of work. I’ll write another post on this soon.
The other issue at this point is still a lack of some essential promiscuous apps. While Twitter surprised many (even seeming to surprise Ballmer during the Build keynote) by announcing they would create a distinct Twitter app for Windows 8. This is even more interesting given that Twitter recently killed Twitter for the Mac. Well, not technically killed – more created a zombie. While Twitter has promised a Windows Store app, Facebook and Microsoft are seemingly locked in a public “he said/she said” debate.
But I think the lack of apps that really help drive the plaform – hero games or hero applications, is a problem. We need to see more developers really taking chances with the Windows 8 platform, and finding things that you can do on Windows 8 and Windows RT that you can’t do easily on the iPad. (Do I know what these things are? No.)
It’s great to have the promiscuous titles, as it gives an air of familiarity to Windows RT and Windows 8 that users with earlier smartphones or tablets might expect to be there. But the hero titles are what pull people to the platform, and can help it grow and succeed – even if those hero titles shift to support other platforms in time too.
Update: A friend on Twitter pointed out, and he is correct, that Angry Birds wasn’t available until 2010, almost two years after the App Store debuted. So, my bad – it was a horrible example to use as a hero app – since it wasn’t even on iOS first, I believe it was on Facebook first. Apologies. Doodle Jump, Enigmo (and many of the Pangea titles, some of which were featured in the first Apple App Store commercials) are still good examples. Some comments below have pointed out that the platform will sell, which will bring app developers. This is definitely possible – it depends on how much the platform itself+the suite of “everywhere” apps, and the growing list of platform unique apps all appeal to them. The iPhone and iPad both benefited from a first-mover advantage, where the devices themselves motivated sellers before their app stores were even fully stocked. Trouble with a first-mover advantage is, it’s not usually available if you’re not the first mover, which, depending on how you look at Windows 8/Windows RT, Microsoft may or may not be the first mover. Regardless, there are a ton of dynamics at play here that really nobody can predict. It will be a fascinating holiday season to watch, and I look forward to seeing in the new year how Windows 8 and the Surface RT (and other Windows RT devices) have sold, and how well the Windows Store is stocked with titles that draw consumers. Again, apologies for the misstatement – and thanks for reading.