01
Nov 12

Windows RT, Sideloading, and Office. Oh my.

When you start working with Microsoft licensing – well, to be fair, almost anyone’s enterprise licensing, it can be mind-numbing. Truth be told, when I stepped up to pinch hit for my colleague, to cover the immense changes to SQL Server 2012 licensing, I developed a migraine with vertigo – something that hadn’t occurred for several years. While it could have been coincidence, we’ve taken liberty with it at work, and turned it into a running joke for our boot camps, that enterprise licensing can give you migraines.

In junior high school, we had a science experiment using perspective-flipping glasses (kind of like these). Now the lore goes, if you wear this kind of glasses day in and day out for 3-5 days, your mind will actually adjust, and flip the image right side up (take them off and it’ll take a while to reverse again). I could barely walk, and felt like I was going to hurl when I tried the glasses.

But licensing? I’ve been wearing those glasses for around six months, and you know what? My vision is stabilizing, and I can honestly almost walk straight. So while some people new to (Microsoft) licensing may look at certain things that Microsoft does and say, “WTH?”, I say, “It makes perfect sense – squint and turn your head upside down for a second”.

Two recent decisions from Microsoft fall in this same category:

  1. Office Home and Student in Windows RT not including commercial use rights.
  2. Windows RT requiring a… bit of work to enable sideloading of applications.

Now, these don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other, except they do. Follow along.

When you have a business model – whether it’s working or not, you like the line for revenue to go up (and operating expenses to ideally go down) – even if it’s just a little bit. Microsoft is fastidious about this. Keep earnings up, and don’t drop the income ball.

So why is H&S free for non-commercial users? Easy. Windows RT (and largely Windows 8) is all about consumers. Look no further than the marketing materials. Windows RT and Windows 8 are intended to bring Windows, touch, and power efficiency to a new world of devices (and ideally, stave off some/much of the appeal of the iPad by doing so). Some businesses may move to Windows 8 in short order, but most won’t. They’ll stick with Windows 7 until they see how, and where, they want to deploy Windows 8. In the meantime, the users within these businesses will buy iPads, Android tablets (somebody does, right?) and Windows RT tablets for home use, and wind up bringing them into the office. All three platforms bring legal landmines for Microsoft and other enterprise software. But this isn’t the place for me to dive into that. We offer a whole 2 day course that covers many of those issues. ūüôā So Windows RT includes Office as, really, a loss leader. It’s a prize at the bottom of the Windows RT box. I don’t mean to denegrate either product by saying that – but the goal is very clearly a better together strategy, even though Windows RT includes only a few of the Office apps, and limited ¬†functionality when compared to Office on x86/x64.

By offering H&S as free on Windows RT, Microsoft can make that platform more appealing to consumers. By not including commercial use rights, Microsoft can ensure that (back to two paragraphs ago) it doesn’t harm their enterprise sales/Office 365 subscriptions/Software Assurance revenue as it does so. All of those are non-small numbers for Office.

Mary Jo Foley walked through how businesses can obtain commercial use rights, and in a nutshell, you buy Office 2013 for a user’s Windows 7/8 PC, they get commercial use rights for Windows RT (turning RT into a companion device by definition). Now, that means that for the business, Office on Windows RT isn’t free, but it also means it isn’t full price. In many ways, businesses get to take advantage of the multiple-device licenses that Office has had for some time (install on your primary and a secondary device), it’s just that the license is applied to Windows RT, rather than the actual bits as users would have historically done in the past. So that’s Office. What’s the deal with sideloading?

Matt’s lengthy walkthrough demonstrates the technical hurdles of sideloading apps (putting apps on Windows 8 or Windows RT without going through the Windows Store), but there’s a licensing angle here too – and in many ways it’s the same one I just demonstrated, if you put your glasses on and turn your head over.

Why is sideloading so complicated? Because there are three competing forces at play (in no particular order):

  1. Microsoft’s desire to keep the WinRT platform and Windows Store secure – sideloading gates what can/cannot run on these devices.
  2. Microsoft’s desire to keep the Windows Store as the preferred means of obtaining apps written for WinRT – retaining the 30% (or 20%) of revenue from app sales.
  3. Microsoft’s desire to (hum along if you know the tune) maintain Windows enterprise licensing sales – Enterprise includes sideloading. It’s a paid option on other editions.

By requiring a key for other versions, and requiring payment for that key, and requiring a minimum number of those licenses, Microsoft discourages “casual bypassing” or piracy of those keys as a mechanism to try and avoid using the Windows Store by tinkerers or hackers, or commercial distribution of apps that wouldn’t meet store guidelines, which is something sideloaded apps can do (see 1 and 2).

By not requiring any special keys or costs in Windows 8 Enterprise, Microsoft rewards those customers who have invested in SA (or Intune) and incentivizes customers on the fence about Windows client SA (or Intune) to take one of those avenues (see 3).

Like Active Directory membership was in the beginning (guilty!), sideloading is important, but I think may have been overblown in terms of either importance or complexity. The more I look at it, the more I realize that there are very few apps that will really require sideloading. Most commercial apps should be distributed on the Windows Store, either for sale (sharing revenue with Microsoft) or for free with a subscription (which, unlike Apple, for now at least, does not require revenue sharing with Microsoft). Instead, only enterprises building in-house Windows 8 and Windows RT line of business (LOB) apps will really need sideloading – at least as Microsoft would like it to exist.

As we start progressing to more of these enterprises building LOB apps, the need for sideloading may become more important. But I don’t anticipate most enterprises going into their own Windows 8 development lifecycle in short order (<6-12 months). They’re still trying to get their hands around the platform as a whole. That, combined with the lack of guidance on building LOB apps that align with the design principles Microsoft has been evangelizing for the last year, are taking, and will continue to take, some time for them to digest. Not that some companies won’t build their own WinRT LOB apps – some already are, and those may likely require sideloading. For customers with SA, which are likely to align reasonably well with those who have the time and energy to build apps for Windows 8 and Windows RT, the licensing “bumps” put in front of sideloading are likely a non-event. For consumers or hobbyists? Sideloading is a non-starter. Exactly as it was likely intended.

 


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) Рthe 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 Рwhile 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¬†Netflix,¬†Hulu Plus,¬†Food 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 Рall 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 РI 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.


10
Oct 12

Windows Store: Wednesday Number Time

Apologies for the brevity of today’s post – didn’t time my travel to Chicago well.

This week has been a rather slow week, as I think next week may be as well. I’m anticipating things really picking up as we go in to the week of 10/22 and on after the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. There should be well over 5,000 apps on launch day – perhaps more – depends on the bumps on the way.

For now, here’s where we are.

Globally, the store was at 4,326 Windows Store apps when I ran inventory last night, of which 3,783 were free.

Most days only added 100 or less apps, with one exceptional day that added 351 apps. Here’s what the chart of all apps looks like currently:

The percentage of free apps has been holding steady at 87-88%, globally:

As of last night, there were 2,854 total apps available in the US English Windows Store.

The category breakdown in terms of apps is holding relatively close, though the total percentage of the store that is comprised of games appears to be down (18%, was 20%), which frankly I’d like to see continue. We need some strong productivity apps in the store. While I’ve seen a few good mind mapping tools, more is needed, so I hope to see apps in the productivity category in particular grow between here and launch.


07
Oct 12

Windows Store: What’s interesting today?

I thought for something different, I’d take a look through one day’s apps to see what showed up that actually looked interesting to me. Easier said than done, since I decided to do this with yesterday’s apps (356 new apps yesterday). As I noted last week, there are a lot of apps showing up that are simply Web portals. I’m not really considering those in this list. I wanted to try and highlight a few apps and games that looked interesting, unique, or important, to me. Here goes:

Education:

Entertainment:

  • Sky TV NZ (Free) by SKY Network Television Limited

Finance:

Food & Dining:

  • In Season (Free) by Long Hair Software, LLC

Games:

Health & Fitness:

Lifestyle:

Photo:

Productivity:


03
Oct 12

Windows Store: Show me the numbers.

If you haven’t yet read my post from yesterday, please do. It’s very relevant to this conversation.¬†As I stated – The Windows Store doesn’t need a large number of apps to be successful. It needs a number of great apps that drive people to the platform.

Sermon aside, I know many people are visiting this site to find out where the store is at, and where it may be by 10/26. So let’s have a look.

As of today, the Windows Store has 3,610 Windows Store apps available for purchase or free download. This is a non-trivial increase, and I’ve been seeing an average of 118 apps per day, but it ebbs and flows. Nothing so far matches the huge increase seen on 9/13, but during three days of the last week, over 240 apps hit the store each day. Charted with the earlier data, here is the result:

Pretty strong growth. If you trend that out, the Windows Store will indeed be at over 5,000 apps by launch day.

There was a rush of paid apps that became available, but generally a much higher percentage of apps coming in the store have been free. As of today, 88% of the store’s global inventory consists of free apps. Here’s how that has been trending:

There are a total of 1,837 developers (both individuals and organizations) represented in the store, with the majority having one application available each, though a large number have submitted 2 or more up to about 5. Above that, the spread gets thinner, with the top 10 developers all having 20 or more applications in the store. The top development organization has 96 applications, and the second most is the individual who previously had the most – who now has 51 applications available. There are quite a few larger organizations represented in the Windows Store, such as Asus, AT&T, Amazon¬†(of course), ¬†BMW, eBay, NBCUniversal, Toshiba,¬†and Viacom among others – but I’m also seeing a lot of apps written by individual developers, and a fair amount from Microsoft IT consulting organizations as well.

Many apps on the store are smaller, unitasking apps – the kind I’d frankly like to see less of, since it makes the store harder to navigate. In some ways, these small tchotchke apps are like the Windows command-line tools of yore – power toys for power users. Nice to have, but I’m hoping we start to see some truly unique, well-designed apps that reflect the tenets I mentioned yesterday.

From here on out, all stats are for the US English store (which still has the largest app inventory, at 2,420 apps).

Here’s how the categories break down:

The top two categories are the same, but games have declined 2% in the overall inventory (down from 20%), Entertainment is up 1%, and Tools is up dramatically, from 5% to 10%. Education is up dramatically, from 4% previously. Unfortunately, all of this took a toll on productivity, which is down 2% to 6% of overall inventory today. The Music and Video and Lifestyle categories were unchanged.

94% of the titles that are on x86 or x64 are available on ARM at the current time – though it remains to be seen if that changes after developers can obtain Windows RT systems to test their applications on.

Microsoft’s Mail, Calendar, and Contacts suite of applications has the largest number of ratings submissions by users, at 1,511 – with a rating of 3.2. A rating I expect to improve over time as Microsoft enhances and improves the somewhat constrained applications. The app with the second most ratings is Fruit Ninja, with a rating of 4.0. Aside from that, the apps with the most ratings so far are generally those from Microsoft, landing most in high 3 to 4.x territory.

 


02
Oct 12

Windows Store: Charmed, I’m sure.

I noted yesterday on Twitter that many of the apps that are appearing on the store look alike. This is really unfortunate. It’s unfortunate for consumers as they’ll need to sort through lots of chaff to find really unique apps. It’s unfortunate for developers because, well, they’re wasting their time. If you’re a dev who is cutting and pasting into the VS 2012 templates, and putting little effort into making something unique, you’re not going to stand out, and you’re not going to have many fans of your app (or make any money if you’re using ads in it or selling it).

I’m seeing too many apps that are glorified Web browsers – apps that simply take one of the Visual Studio (VS) 2012 templates and put a Metro-style veneer over public Web sites or Web content. If you’re taking the time to build an app, ask yourself, “is what I’m building better than if the user just used Bing to search or Internet Explorer 10 to browse?

What is more important on October 26th:

  1. That there be a giant number of apps available in the Windows Store?
  2. That there be a handful of truly compelling, unique apps on the Windows Store?

Through some fault of my own, the focus has become item 1. That’s not the case.

Let’s take a step back. Microsoft has written two blog posts that should frankly be required reading for Windows Store developers. If you are a developer and you ¬†haven’t yet read them, please do so.

  1. Creating Metro style apps that stand out from the crowd (July 11, 2012)
  2. Embracing UI on demand with the app bar (Sept. 6, 2012)

In looking through the range of apps in the store, it became apparent to me that there are some rules of the road that devs should really be trying to live up to.

When it comes to writing your own app for Windows 8 and Windows RT, you should make your app:

  1. Thoughtful. Don’t just take a VS 2012 template and interlink it with public Web content. What value is that adding? Take time before you even open VS up, and storyboard your app. Use a mindmap, PowerPoint, a whiteboard, OneNote… whatever – use a napkin! But take the time to understand the flow of experiences a user will have with your app. One app I looked at, a PDF viewer, comes with no built in content, and doesn’t display the App bar automatically. Result? It’s a blank slate with literally nothing for a novice user to do. They’ll close it and throw it away. Understand how your users will use your app – before you design it, and before you build it.
  2. Designed. Call it Metro, call it Windows 8 Style. Call it whatever. There are thousands of apps in the store, If you’re just taking a VS template and squishing content into it, with default images or bland stock photography, your app will get lost in the mix. Take the time to design your app, pay for good imagery if you need it, pay a designer to help you design it, if you’re a developer and not a designer. Take your time and do it right. We’ve found a few apps with weird font clipping that indicates the app hasn’t been that thoroughly tested. If you’re going to take the time to design it, take the time to test your app, and ensure it looks great, throughout. Take the time to build all of the suggested tile sizes, and if you elect to make a Live Tile, don’t go overboard. You’re passing along information that is intended to be helpful to the user at a glance. This isn’t Times Square.
  3. Unique. Do something that hasn’t been done. The Windows Store already has several password management apps and xkcd or reddit readers. What are you going to build that is so amazing that users will not only seek it out on the Windows Store, but download it, and not forget about it 2 days later? Do something new. Do something compelling that users will fall in love with your app over.
  4. Professional. Don’t use a cutesy name for your app or the company name you’re using for the Windows Store. Make it professional. Check the text and images in your app and on your Web site. Don’t lift someone else’s trademarked or copyrighted content for your app or your icon. If the language of the app you’re building isn’t your first language, take the time or money to find someone who speaks that language, and have them proofread it. Show adequate screenshots on your app’s Windows Store entry, but don’t show more than you need. Also, ensure the first screenshot shows what your app does –¬†don’t show a welcome page! That app page – that image – is your single best chance to make a first impression. Take the time to ensure it looks professional, and looks compelling.
  5. Cross-platform. Got a specific reason to not support one of the three architectures? Tell me about it. Just over 5% of apps in the US Store currently don’t support Windows RT. Now that may be because you all don’t have Windows RT systems to test on, and it’ll change. That’s my hope. Recall that Windows RT has no user-installable apps other than the ones you’re building. So you are Windows RT’s best hope – and if it’s successful, it’ll pay you back. Don’t drop Windows RT support unless you absolutely have to.
  6. Support contracts and the Charms bar. Contracts and the Charms bar are how your app interacts with the rest of Windows. Sure, one or more charms may not make sense for some apps. But really – if you’re not using any of them,¬†what does your app do??? If you have content, use contracts, and support the Search charm. Unless you’re building a strange app, enable the Share charm – this is the single easiest way for your users to share out your content –¬†and talk about your app, if you do it right! We’ve seen some apps that “barely share”, too – they share just a link, even if the user highlighted text. Conversely, if a user is watching a video and they use the Share charm to send an email, don’t just send the description, with no URL call to action for the recipient to click on (yes, this is a behavior I’ve seen too).¬†Take the time to sweat the details, and make share work the way your users expect. Don’t leave it out unless it doesn’t make sense. The saddest dialog in Windows is the Share charm telling a user, “This app can’t share.” Support the devices charm if your app will support printing, Play To, or sharing with other devices. Support the settings charm if, well, your app has any settings. Don’t stick app settings in the app or under the app bar. They go under the Settings charm.
  7. Support the app bar and navigation bar. I’m not going to add much other than tell you to read, and absorb the second Microsoft link above. Don’t skimp on designing your app bar if it makes sense to add it. In the case of the app I mentioned earlier, I think including a PDF tutorial that explains the controls would prove both more welcoming and more thoughtful, and enable users to more easily become familiar with the controls of that app that are contained in the app’s app bar.
  8. Support snap. Sure, there are whole categories of apps that make sense to not support snap. It also appears that there will be many budget-minded Windows 8 and Windows RT devices that may have a resolution too low to support snap. But if your app makes sense, don’t skimp on designing snap. For users who multitask and have the right hardware, this is how you enable them to use your app as a secondary app while another app is the user’s primary focus.

I think that Microsoft itself is doing a pretty good job of living up to the above rules, in particular with their Mail, Fresh Paint, and SkyDrive apps. Another great example is the Dailymotion app.

You’ve got almost one month before the Windows Store goes live. Take the time to build a few great apps. Don’t build a mass of mediocrity. There’s already app stores that do that.