05
Jan 14

Bimodal tablets (Windows and Android). Remember them when they’re gone. Again.

I hope these rumors are wrong, but for some odd reason, the Web is full of rumors that this year’s CES will bring a glut of bimodal tablets; devices that are designed to run Windows 8.1, but also feature an integrated instance of Android. But why?

For years, Microsoft and Intel were seemingly the best of partners. While Microsoft had fleeting dalliances with other processor architectures, they always came back to Intel. There were clear lines in the sand;

  1. Intel made processors
  2. Microsoft made software
  3. Their mutual partners (ODMs and OEMs) made complete systems.

When Microsoft announced the Surface tablets, they crossed a line. Their partners (Intel and the device manufactures) were stuck in an odd place. Continue partnering just with Microsoft (now a competitor to manufacturers, and a direct purveyor of consumer devices with ARM processors), or find alternative counterpoints to ensure that they weren’t stuck in the event that Microsoft harmed their market.

For device manufacturers, this has meant what we might have thought unthinkable 3 years ago, with key manufacturers (now believing that their former partner is now also a competitor) building Android and Chrome OS devices. For Intel, it has meant looking even more broadly at what other operating systems they should ensure compatibility with, and evangelization of (predominantly Android).

While the Windows Store has grown in terms of app count, there are still some holes, and there isn’t really a gravitational pull of apps leading users to the platform. Yet.

So some OEMs, and seemingly Intel, have collaborated on this effort to glue together Windows 8.1 and Android on a single device, with the hopes that the two OSs combined in some way equate to “consumer value”. However, there’s really no clear sign that the consumer benefits from this approach, and in fact they really lose, as they’ve now got a Windows device with precious storage space consumed by an Android install of dubious value. If the consumer really wanted an Android device, they’re in the opposite conundrum.

Really, the OEMs and Intel have to be going into this strategy without any concern for consumers. It’s just about moving devices, and trying to ensure an ecosystem is there when they can’t (or don’t want to) bet on one platform exclusively. The end result is a device that instead of doing task A well, or task B well, does a really middling job with both of them, and results in a device that the user regrets buying (or worse, regrets being given).

BIOS manufacturers and OEMs have gone down this road several times before, usually trying to put Linux either in firmware or on disk as a rapid-boot dual use environment to “get online faster” or watch movies without waiting for Windows to boot/unhibernate. To my knowledge most devices that ever had these modes provided by the OEM were rarely actually used. Users hate rebooting, they get confused by where their Web bookmarks are (or aren’t) when they need them, etc.

These kinds of approaches rarely solve problems for users; in fact, they usually create problems instead, and are a huge nightmare in terms of management. Non-technical users are generally horrible about maintaining one OS. Give them two on a single device? This will turn out quite well, don’t you think? In the end, these devices, unless executed flawlessly, are damaging to both the Windows and Android ecosystems, the OEMs, and Intel. Any bad experiences will likely result in returns, or exchanges for iPads.


08
Feb 13

Task-Oriented Computing

Over the past six years, as the iPhone, then iPad, and similar devices have caused a ripple within the technology sector, the industry and pundits have struggled to define what these devices are.

From the beginning, they were always classified as “content consumption devices”. But this was a misnomer then, and it’s definitely wrong today. Whether we’re talking about Apple’s devices, Android phones or tablets, Blackberry’s new phones, or devices running Windows 8/RT and Windows Phone, calling them content consumption devices is just plain wrong.

A while ago, I wrote about hero apps and promiscuous apps. I didn’t say it then, but I’ll clarify it now. Promiscuous apps hit first not because they are standout applications for a device to run, but rather because they’re easy!

Friends who know me well know that I’m often comparing the auto industry of the early 1900′s with today’s computing/technology fields. When you consider Henry Ford at the sunrise of the auto industry, the Quadricycle was his first attempt to build a car. This wasn’t the car he made his name with. But it’s the car that got him started. This car featured no safety equipment, no windscreen – it didn’t even have a steering wheel, instead opting for the still common (at the time) tiller to control the vehicle.

Promiscuous applications show up on new platforms for the same reason that Henry’s Quadricycle didn’t feature rollover protection and side-impact beams. It’s easy to design the basics. It’s hard to a) think beyond what you’ve seen and b) build something complex without understanding the risks/benefits necessary to build it to begin with.

As a result, we see these content portals like Netflix, Skype, Dropbox, and Amazon Kindle Reader show up first because they have a clear and well understood workflow that honestly isn’t that hard to bring to new platforms so long as the platforms deliver certain fundamentals. Also, most mobile platforms are “close enough” that with a little work, these promiscuous apps can get their quickly.

But when we look out farther in the future – in fact, when we look at Windows RT and criticize it for a lack of best-of-breed apps that exploit the platform less than 4 months after the platform first released, it’s also easy to see why those apps aren’t on Windows RT or in the Windows Store (yet), and why they take a while to arrive on any new platform to begin with.

Developing great new apps on any platform is a combination of having the skills to exploit the platform while also intimately understanding the workflow of your potential end-users. Each of these takes time, together they can be a very complicated undertaking. As we look at apps like Tweetie (Twitter for iPhone now) and Sparrow (acquired by Google), the unique ways that they stepped back and examined the workflow requirements of their users, and built clean, constrained feature sets to meet those requirements – and often innovative interface approaches to deliver them – are key things that made them successful.

The iPad being (wrongfully, I believe) categorized as a content consumption device has everything to do with those applications that first arrived on the device (the easy ones). It took time to build applications that were both exploitative of the platform and met the requirements of their users in a way that would drive both the application adoption and platform adoption. People looked at the iPad as a consumption device from the beginning because it is easy to do so. “Look, it’s a giant screen. All it’s good for is reading books and watching cat videos.” Horsefeathers. The iPad, like Windows RT, is a “clean slate”. Given built-in WiFi and optional 3G+ connectivity, tablets become a means to perform workflow tasks in ways we’d never consider with a computer before. From Point of Service tasks to business workflow, anytime a human needs to be fed information and asked to provide a decision or input to a workflow, a tablet or a phone can make a suitable vehicle for performing that task. Rather than the monolithic Line of Business (LOB) apps we’ve become used to over the first 20 years of Windows’ life, instead we’re approaching a school where – although they take time to design and implement correctly – more finite task oriented applications are coming into vogue. Using what I refer to as “task-oriented computing”, where we focus less on the business requirements of the system, and more on what users need to get done during their workday, this new class of applications can be readily integrated into existing back-office systems, but offer a much easier and more constrained user workflow, faster iteration, and easier deployment when improving it versus classic “fat client” LOB apps of yore.

The key in task-oriented computing, of course, is understanding the workflow of your users (or your potential users, if this is a new application – whether inside or outside of a business), and distilling that workflow into the correct discrete steps necessary to result in an app that flows efficiently for the end users, and runs on the devices they need it to. A key tenet here is of course, “less is more” and when given the choice of throwing in a complex or cumbersome feature or workflow – jettisoning the feature until time and understanding enable it to be executed correctly. When we look at the world of ubiquitous computing before us, the role that task-oriented computing plays is quite clear. Rather than making users take hammers to drive in screws, smaller, task-oriented applications can enable them to process workflow that may have been cumbersome before and enable workers to perform other more critical tasks instead.

When talking about computing today in relation to the auto industry, I often bring up the electric starter. After the death of a friend in 1910 due a crank starter kicking back and injuring him, Henry Leland pushed to get electric starters in place on his vehicles, and opened up motoring to a populace that may have shunned motorcars before then, do to the physical strength necessary to start them, and potential for danger if something went wrong with the crank.

When we stand back and approach computing from the perspective of “what does the software need to do in order to accommodate the user” instead of “what does the user need to do in order to accommodate the software” as we have for the last 20 years, we can begin to remove much of the complexity that computing, still in its infancy, has shoved into the face of users.


10
Dec 12

100 Days – On Twitter and the virality of exclusive information.

Early Aug. 2012 - Short of information about how the Windows Store, the forthcoming home for Windows Store (nee Metro) applications was doing, I began exploring the store, trying to assess how many applications were actually there. I had heard rumblings of 400 or so applications. As I said late in Sept. 2012, my intentions were never malicious. I pondered whether there was any way to query the store programmatically. Here’s how it went down.

Aug. 15, 2012 – I had discussed an idea with a friend on how to query the Windows Store, and tried it. My initial results, after fiddling with my idea for a bit, resulted in a count of 534 applications available worldwide.

Aug. 28, 2012 – I registered winappupdate.com and created the Twitter account @WinAppUpdate, but let them sit dormant for a while.

I was still only polling the store on occasion. On Sept. 5, 2012, I saw the store pass 1,000 applications worldwide – on Sept. 10, 2011 I began polling it every day, and we posted a State of the Store article at Directions that sought to more broadly discuss the composition of the store, not just the count.

Sept. 16, 2012 – I posted the first blog post on WinAppUpdate.com, announcing that there were 1,749 applications worldwide, and linked to it from Twitter. I added myself and a few other people, but effectively I had no followers. As someone with a psychology and sociology background, the virality with which the statistics spread and followers of the Twitter account for @WinAppUpdate grew, I found it fascinating, and I was glad that people found the information and the numbers interesting and helpful.

Over the next two weeks, as Mary Jo Foley, Alex Wilhelm, and Charlie Kindel, among others, mentioned this site, my stats, and the Twitter account, it began to grow in followers significantly. I can tell you from having had it happen on getwired.com before, you do not want to get sent Mary Jo’s traffic when you are not ready. It does unpleasant things to your site.

Throughout September and October of 2012, stats that I posted on Twitter resonated pretty well, and the @WinAppUpdate account began to grow in followers. Anytime Mary Jo or Alex would mention the Twitter account or the site, I would gain several – or many – followers. What I found most fascinating was how many of these followers were Microsoft employees or partners. There was a genuine scarcity of information around Windows 8 throughout the preview process and both employees and partners, among everyone else, seemed to want to know what was going on with the Windows Store. Over the next almost 3 months, the @WinAppUpdate account grew slowly at first, but then quite dramatically.

There were, for the next two and a half months, only two sources of application counts – my site and this site, where he has diligently counted the number of apps using a different approach than me, and at first I didn’t think his methodology would work – but I think it does, and lucky for him, it can continue where mine may have hit the end of the line.

Oct. 26, 2012 – Windows 8 RTM – I noted that the store was at 9,029 applications, and as media coverage of Windows 8 increased, so did discussions of my counts, and the number of followers. Conversations with Mary Jo and Alex on Twitter, as well as mentions of the Twitter account in the news media surely helped to keep the count of followers growing, even as I both diligently tried to stop making “the count” the focus of discussion – and in particular the discussion on my @WinAppUpdate account. On the same day, I also posted on getwired.com The Turn, where I more or less bared all about how I collected my statistics.

Throughout this exercise, as I said, my intent was never malicious. I knew at some point, Microsoft could - nay, should figure out how I was doing it, and either ask me to stop or simply shut off the spigot (easier said than done, as it could affect the SEO of the Windows Store). That said, I have always felt that if Microsoft asked me, I would have stopped counting or discussing the content on the store. I was providing the numbers, and then the deeper analysis, to help people understand what was going on in the store. I did announce when the store had hit 10,000, and 20,000, applications worldwide, and when there appeared to be more apps in the China Windows Store than the US Windows Store.

After I announced how I did my counts, as I somewhat anticipated, a few people started emulating.

Nov. 30, 2012 – I was about a group of guys who have built a Web-based front-end to the Windows Store, now at http://metrostore.preweb.sk/.

Over the next week, that site got some publicity. I continued to shift discussion away from counts both on my blog and @WinAppUpdate. Though that Web-based Windows Store now included a count, I only handed out a vague “over 25K” answer when asked during the week of Dec. 3, 2012. I had spent the last month really trying to find and discuss apps that I found significant, rather than discussing counts.

Early on, the script that ran my counter did its work in the morning. I shifted it to the nighttime – at about 10PM PST, when the time that Microsoft would push out their sitemaps seemed to have reliably occurred.

Dec. 5, 2012 – The last successful polling of the Windows Store occurred from my app.

Dec. 6, 2012 – I checked my stats in the evening before going to bed. My Excel spreadsheet, which has grown from several KB to more than 7MB, was completely empty, save my Excel formulas that I inserted at build. I checked the sitemaps manually. The first part was there, and pointed to the second. The second part was there, and pointed to the actual sitemaps. The actual sitemaps… were dead. Search engines that hit the site manually are going to be confused. But if Microsoft has elected to do this on purpose, then that meant they are likely submitting the sitemaps directly to Bing, Google, and Yahoo.

Dec. 12, 2012 – So here we are. It was 100 days since from the day I first created the @WinAppUpdate account and registered  the domain name to when I lost the ability to investigate the store. The Twitter account now has 1,378 followers, after only 831 tweets. That works out to 1.65 followers per tweet, or 16.65 followers per day. When you compare that to my original @Getwired account on Twitter, which I created on May 31, 2008, it’s pretty astonishing. After an insane number of tweets (59,518) and 1,653 days on Twitter, I have only 2,513 followers. With @Getwired, I’ve found that breaking the news – finding a news source before anyone else (or saying something genuinely, uniquely witty or thoughtful) – really does help generate new followers and create tweets that resonate. Though @WinAppUpdate did not generate a massive number of tweets, nor a massive amount that resonated widely on Twitter (I think 13 or 20 RTs of one was the largest I saw, and I’ve seen better than that on @Getwired), the number of followers, and followers who recommended the account to others, speaks highly of the value people find in Twitter when the information is truly unique, and can’t be found through any other source.

As for me, for now (for obvious reasons) I’m standing down on counting apps or mining the store. I can’t be certain whether I was the reason, or someone else was the reason, as to why the sitemaps went offline – or if they went offline by accident. @WinAppUpdate has been an amazing ride, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversations I’ve had around the Windows Store over the last several months. I’m leaving the app counting to those who have other means to count than my methodology, and leaving analysis of the contents and quality of Windows Store apps to those who have the time to do such an exercise justice – given the need to dig through the store to find them now, I don’t have the time to carry on with it.

I plan to retire the @WinAppUpdate Twitter account shortly. The blog URL will most likely redirect to this site, or perhaps a partner site if I can find a relevant one. All of the blog contents have been moved to Getwired.com for posterity, under the account  at WinAppUpdate. To my followers on Twitter – I thank you all for joining me on this wild and crazy ride, and hope you’ll join me at @getwired as well, where I’m really just getting started with Windows 8.


02
Dec 12

Windows Store: Any Way to Figure out Who’s On First?

The recent statistics Microsoft handed out about regarding the Windows Store made me think a bit. Microsoft noted that some apps on the store have had significant numbers of downloads. The fact that several “parts of Windows 8 and Windows RT” are only available as a download from the Windows Store innately twists what “some apps have had millions of downloads from the Windows Store” can mean. Some third parties have claimed to have statistics on this as well. In general, only Microsoft can really know or reveal download statistics – I have no ability to see this information without Microsoft sharing it with me.

However, I can look at the data I do have and extrapolate from there…

I contend, however, that the submittal of feedback is a bit of very useful data. In particular, applications with significant numbers of ratings (“star”) submittals tend to reflect apps that have either incited positive or negative feedback from lots of users. So while lots of ratings submittals may not correlate exactly to the most downloaded apps, there is, I believe, a correlation indicating that lots of users have downloaded it, as only a percentage of users take the time to submit feedback (either the app was stellar and they say so, or it was crap and they don’t mince words). I’ve often noticed that there tends to be a vacuum of feedback in the middle of the feedback range (2-4 star), which I theorize is a bit of a “couch potato factor”. People are satiated enough with the app to not submit negative feedback, but not ecstatic enough to submit positive feedback.

Because I don’t poll every page for every app in every locale (I long ago changed this to try and be kind to Microsoft’s site), I can’t tell you the statistics across every locale – there could be some apps in some locales (in particular, I know there are in the China Windows Store) that have a very high count of ratings submittals as well). But I can tell you in the US Windows Store. So, what happens when I take a look at my entire list of apps, filtered down just to the US? Here’s the answer:

Out of the 30 apps with the most rating submittals, 19 are from Microsoft. Almost all of the Microsoft apps have also been on the store since August as well though – so the stats may be a bit confusing/misleading. What’s more interesting is that even with the barrage of Microsoft apps early on, prolific (promiscuous?) apps such as Skype, Netflix, Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope, and Kindle have managed to eke their way into the list of apps with the most rating submittals. It’s also notable that an app from (what I believe is an) independent developer like Bernardo Zamora can both attract this volume of ratings submittals, and hold it’s review score as high as a 4.5! That isn’t easy to do.

So, while it isn’t possible for me to tell who the top downloaded Windows Store applications are, I think that this set of apps reflect a collection that lots of users are downloading.

Finally, while I probably shouldn’t really say anything here, it is notable that all of these apps in the top 30 support ARM. Um… Except two of them.

 


27
Nov 12

Windows Store: Developers, don’t stuff the store with clones!

Today while navigating the new Windows Store apps that arrived today, I ran across something that sort of broke my heart. I found dozens of copies of the same app from the same developer. Not identical, mind you. Subtle differences in how input boxes are laid out, as well as different names, colors, and application icons. Take a look at FlourMill here:

and then Personal Recipe Book here:

The developer, under the name LunaPlena, has submitted 118 apps in the last two weeks. Almost all but 3 of them (the three oldest) are effectively identical. They are the same “data input” application, with subtle design changes. It would be akin to Microsoft offering a version of Access for hair stylists, another for nail salons, etc. If you have a Windows 8 or Windows RT device, do a search for LunaPlena and you should see an innumerable number of Windows Store apps from the last week that are effectively identical.

This isn’t the only developer doing this, either – though the app is so similar, I have to wonder the relationship between the two. Developer Prafull Kelkar has 89 apps in the store. A few are actually an interesting “quiz-style” application like ADONetQuiz, but most of them are kindred spirits to MyProperties:

or GiftIsGot (which is of course ever so slightly different from GiftIsGave):

I guess in many ways, this isn’t that different from the cadre of developers I’ve seen submitting “quote” applications on the Windows Store (or the Apple App Store for that matter) where the engine of the app is identical, but one can choose a distinct app for each individual they want to find quotes for. Except here the engine is the same, and the candy shell for entering data changes. For what it’s worth, this also isn’t a problem unique to the Windows Store by any means. I’ve seen the same on the Apple store, and Microsoft even mentioned it in their Windows Phone Marketplace blog earlier this year, referring to it as “bulk publishing”, but not outright frowning on the process. I do distinctly recall Microsoft saying they frowned upon developers submitting multiple seemingly identical applications in the Windows Store, yet here we are, seeing exactly that.

Seeing developers do this is disappointing to me for a multitude of reasons. First, because it wastes time – Microsoft has to sort through a tedium of apps that will only ever be downloaded by a handful of users, when developers with a broader spectrum of consumer applicability get stuck in a queue behind them. Second, because it’s nonsensical. Customers with data entry needs would be better suited with one app that was more like Access, FileMaker (or even more likely, Bento), rather than almost 200 data entry apps that are subtly tweaked to each task. It shows a developer trying to flood the store, rather than one who truly crafts an application with broad appeal. Inundating the Windows Store with “fraternal twins” like this doesn’t help Windows 8/RT users find the applications that will make Windows 8/RT valuable to them, and it doesn’t help developers make money (heck – these are free apps we’re talking about here). Clusters of apps like this also make me feel even more that application counts – of anybody’s store are an emperor’s clothes comparison. Yet another reason why I have been de-emphasizing counts.


01
Nov 12

Windows Store: I’m holding out for a hero app

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.


26
Oct 12

Windows Store: The Turn

The Prestige is one of my favorite movies. Every time I watch it, I notice a nuanced plot twist that I missed before. Since I started counting, the second most frequent question I get after, “how many apps are there?” is, “how are you doing this?”

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

Back in August, I had an idea. I pondered… “What if there was a way I could count the number of apps in the store?” I had my reasons, as I’ve discussed before.

I bandied the idea around a bit, ran it by a few friends, and we were all stumped about how to come up with the best way to tally the number of apps in the store in any automated, robust way. While we could fire up the Windows Store app on Windows 8 and do a simple * query and get a dynamic result back of how many apps are there, it:

  1. Can’t be automated
  2. Isn’t categorized
  3. Includes only one locale at a a time
  4. It includes desktop applications that can’t be bought in the store and more importantly, don’t make Windows RT viable – that’s up to Windows Store (WinRT/Metro/Modern) apps.

So… what to do…

“Are you watching closely?”

I often say that everything in my career happened for a reason – and without a doubt, skills I’ve picked up in each job snowballed to be useful in the next one… As I tried to figure out how to peruse the store, I thought to myself - I know how to do this!

“Many of you may be familiar with this technique, but for those of you who aren’t, do not be alarmed. What you’re about to see is considered safe. “

I started poking around on Microsoft’s public facing Windows Store site (apps.microsoft.com). In a previous job, we focused on creating product videos – an innately unsearchable binary format. But you see – there are standard tools to make video indexed. The big giant heads of search all agreed several years ago on the concept of sitemaps. A very simple XML format, sitemaps indicate the content of a Website as the Webmaster wants it indexed. While sitemaps can be manually submitted by a site to each search engine if the Website wants to avoid random crawls, most sites simply post their sitemap publicly (see the NY Times’ sitemap as an example). I found that searching Bing and Google for Windows Store apps most definitely let me find very freshly added apps – indicating that there must be a sitemap in place on the Windows Store. Indeed, there was.

“Exact science, Mr Angier, is not an exact science.”

Through a process of <ahem> programmatic duct tape, I was able to create a system that iterated through the sitemap and indexed the content in the store. Through some futzing with XML, a few rough Regular Expressions, my existing experience with sitemaps, and some Excel automation (yes – really), I built a roughed-in prototype that worked – and took off. Bear in mind this is also why I only get results once per day. While Microsoft may be pushing new apps out to the Windows Store, the sitemap is not updated that dynamically. Someday it likely will. But my process of daily queries carried through the RTM and GA just fine.

“A real magician tries to invent something new, that other magicians are gonna scratch their heads over.”

So that’s it. It’s not really magic. I haven’t shared the source, nor do I intend to (you wouldn’t want it). I have been talking with a friend about possibly creating an app that helps provide better insight into what’s going on in the store – to help users find apps that they’ll love. Regardless, what I do intend to do from this point on is seriously constrain posts on statistics (at least sheer number statistics) related to the store. From this day on, regardless of what this site posts, the Windows Store will win or lose its role in the world not through the sheer count of apps… But instead through the caliber of apps that are there. The apps that users clamor for and say, “I need a Windows 8 or Windows RT device so I can run <insert title>”.

I may have been/still be a bit bearish on Windows RT and Windows 8 – and the WinRT platform as a whole. I don’t think that it as easy to ignite a platform -> app -> developer virtuous cycle as Microsoft thinks. But I also may be underestimating how important the typical consumer finds Windows (even the more constrained world of Windows RT) or Office to their life. We’ll see in time.


26
Oct 12

Windows Store: Taking Inventory at Launch

The last 48 hours have been very significant for the Windows Store. More than the count – which is up significantly just in the last 2 days – apps from many mainstream news and entertainment sources have begun to arrive, and some new apps have shown up that take advantage of the WinRT platform on Windows 8 and Windows RT. I’ve posted quite a few updates in the last 2 days about what’s new and relevant on the store on my Twitter account, so start there if you’re looking for individual apps.

The big question is, where is the store at on 10/26? Well, the store didn’t quite bust the 10,000 app mark worldwide by launch. But it did come close – 9,029 applications available worldwide. In each of the last two days, more than 500 apps have shown up daily – and again, quite a few of these have been high-quality apps from mainstream content providers around the world that can help lift the platform.

Below, you can see the total growth of the Windows Store since I started a daily tally beginning on 9/9:

Recall that when I started counting in mid-August, the Windows Store had 530 apps in it. When I say 9,029 Windows Store apps worldwide – it’s important to understand a few things:

  1. This excludes desktop apps, which will not work with Windows RT.
  2. This is across ALL locales that the Windows Store supports. There is no locale that supports every single app, so all stores have a count of less than 9,029 in their own inventory.
  3. This is polled once per day, so the actual count can increase through the day.
  4. These apps are usually not available to pre-release versions of Windows 8. It’s time to update to the final release!

Out of the global count, 88% (still) of apps, a total of 7,940, are free:

Amazingly, while the store has grown dramatically, the worldwide percentage of free apps has remained almost constant for just under one month (hovering between 87 and 89% free). The number of free apps in the US Windows Store (until recently, the locale with the largest inventory) has generally been lower than that percentage.

The Chinese Windows Store continues to have the largest inventory, with 5,553 apps as of today. The second largest inventory is the US store, with 5,179 Windows Store apps. Yes, these two locales now feature over 5,000 apps – the only two that broke the 5,000 mark by today. That said, every locale supported by the Windows Store now features over 4,000 apps. This does not, however, take into account how well these apps are localized for each locale (if they indeed are), or how useful the apps are. There’s still too many apps barely above “hello world”, simply sugar-coating the templates provided by Visual Studio, and many that are failing at fundamentals such as inserting their own application icon, leaving the “todo” icon inserted by Visual Studio!

As before, about 6% of Windows Store apps available worldwide do not support Windows RT. We will see over the next few weeks if this changes as more developers obtain Windows RT systems and can test for, and properly support, Windows RT.

In terms of developers, there are 3,751 distinct entities with apps on the Windows Store worldwide. Regrettably, there are quite a few developers who are doing exactly what Microsoft had said they would discourage developers from doing, and submitting multiple apps that all had the same or nearly similar functionality (IMHO, “quote apps” seem to be one of the worst offenders in almost every ecosystem’s store). The top 11 developers all have more than 50 apps each – I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. That said, the mode of developers on the store have only 1 app each.

Looking just at the Windows Store in the US for a moment, then, we can see it holding at the same percentage of free apps as earlier, 83% (4,278), 5% lower than the worldwide average for the last month. The mode of app prices in the US is US$1.49, with a mean (average) of US$5.23. The most expensive app on the store is one at US$999.99 (BrainControl) – the previous most expensive app, EMR Surface continues to be available at US$499.99. These two financial standouts are, interestingly enough, both in the Health & Fitness category, one of the smallest on the US Windows Store (~2%).

Speaking of categories, we’ve had some good settling as the store wrapped up for GA. See the chart below:

 

I was happy to see that the Productivity category has doubled from 6% from the last time I inventoried the US categories. Games have declined 3% to 17%, but still make up the largest single category. In general, I think the spread of the top 6 categories is now in a reasonably healthy place, and as I noted, we’re starting to see some good keystone apps arrive in the store, and the next several weeks and months will likely bring more.

All in all, more than 9,000 apps worldwide, more than 5,000 in two key global markets, and more than 4,000 in all others? Not a bad way to start Windows 8 and Windows RT. Congratulations to Microsoft, their hardware partners, and the Windows Store developers.


24
Oct 12

Windows Store: The (almost) Final Countdown

Quick post today, working to have a comprehensive rundown of Windows Store stats about mid-day Friday (pending any sort of explosion in either the number of apps or my system that counts them). But today, wanted to run through the basic set of numbers most people are interested in.

Worldwide:

As of today, there are 7,873 Windows Store apps available worldwide. Of these, 88% (6,964) are free – mirroring the percentages first seen much earlier this month. The number of apps added per day has been rather significant, and includes 459 apps worldwide that have been added since I polled yesterday.

Almost all applications are available in both x86 and x64 architectures. Only two apps appear to solely target Windows RT (ARM), 31 target only Windows 8 x64 and don’t have Windows 8 x86 or Windows RT  support. The gap I first noticed some time ago is still there, however. While almost all apps support Windows 8 on x86 and x64, 6% of apps do not support Windows RT on ARM at this time. This may change after GA when developers can test on Windows RT systems – but it may always stay lower, reflecting the challenges of developing WinRT apps on Windows RT that I have heard from several developers.

Speaking of developers, there are now 3,367 distinct developers who have apps available on the store at the current time.

Of the total number of apps added since I polled yesterday, 219 were added to the US Windows Store (likely added to others as well). Something interesting happened this week, though. More apps have been added to the Chinese Windows Store than US English. As a result, the US Windows Store is now the second largest, at 4,516 Windows Store apps – while the Chinese Windows Store features 4,795 Windows Store apps.

US Store:

As I noted, the US Windows Store now features 4,516 apps. Of those, 83% (3,749) are free – indicating more willingness to try selling paid apps in the US store than across the average of all other markets. I haven’t analyzed what other markets may be featuring a higher percentage of paid apps – I may try to calculate that later this week or early next.

More important the count, the past two weeks have seen several significant applications come on line, including NetflixHulu PlusFood Network (what can I say, I’m a foodie), and of course Skype coming on line Friday with the GA of Windows 8 and Windows RT – when we can also (hopefully) expect many more apps. Next update – including pretty pictures and category breakdowns, will be available on Friday.


18
Oct 12

Windows Store: Top Markets

A reader earlier today asked if the overall growth of the global count of apps while US English stayed at a lower count generally meant that non-English markets were growing well. The answer is yes – in fact I pointed out that the locale with the second largest app count is the Chinese/China locale, at 3,456 – which interestingly has a much higher app count than any other Chinese markets (Chinese/Singapore: 3,104, Hong Kong: 3099, or Taiwan: 2953) – indicating that – in this case – app developers aren’t blanketing apps across locales that may not be appropriate for them.

In general, I’m still seeing some app developers squeeze apps that aren’t locale appropriate outside of the locale where they do belong – but in general, I think this is getting better.

I thought I’d take a quick moment to examine the commenter’s idea of which locales were at the top of the charts. So here we go – the top 10 Windows Store locales (actually 5, since there are multiple ties):

Rank Locale Number of apps
1 US English (en-us) 3,660
2 China/Chinese (zh-cn) 3,456
3 (tie) Mexico/Spanish (es-mx) 3,384
3 (tie) Japan/Japanese (ja-jp) 3,384
4 (tie) Basque (eu-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Catalan (ca-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Galician (gl-es) 3,378
4 (tie) Spain/Spanish (es-es) 3,378
5 (tie) UK/English (cy-gb) 3,289
5 (tie) UK/Welsh (cy-gb) 3,289

Interesting notes – all of the *-es locales are tied other than Mexico. This likely means that apps are being offered across all of the locales even when they may not really be localized. Same in the two UK locales listed – I sincerely doubt (m)any apps have been properly localized to Welsh.

I also thought it was strange that by the time I hit 10, I hadn’t run into the German (de-de) locale. Amusingly, it was next, with 3,252 apps.

Disclaimer: These counts were tabulated using information available last night, and do not include desktop applications. As a result, when you perform a search from your Windows 8 (or Window RT, if you have one) device, the count will be higher than the above. That’s expected. I never include desktop applications in my counts, and only retrieve my dataset once per day.