Some interesting things are happening in the app marketplace lately. After a very poor start, Microsoft’s Windows Store is beginning to emerge as a viable competitor to more established developer targets like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
This is news because, until recently, the app store comparison has not been flattering to Microsoft. Industry analysts have long complained that the Windows Store lacks the quality and quantity of apps that are readily available in rival app stores.
These headwinds have been fed by user apathy to Windows 8 and what I would describe as “withering” media scrutiny. That may be changing, however — according to TechCrunch, Microsoft’s Windows Store averaged 1.7M daily downloads in October.
Growth is still very choppy from month-to-month, as this article titled Windows Store app growth stalls. Despite some breakout months, the lack of robust incremental growth must be a constant headache for Microsoft.
But it should be noted that other bright spots are starting to emerge from the Microsoft ecosystem. For example, Windows Phone is seeing 200M downloads per month according to Microsoft, so the company is finally making a dent in this thriving app market. The strong adoption of Nokia’s Lumia line of phones running Windows 8 is to be credited with much of this surge, no doubt.
Of course, we have to consider the adoption rate of Windows 8 itself, which got off to a dismal start in late 2012. By June 2013, Windows 8 powered just 5.1% of all personal computers according to Net Applications. By October 2013, that percentage had risen to 9.1% of all systems online so the massive Microsoft install base is starting to bear down on the adoption numbers.
In what appears to be a smart (albeit obvious) move to reduce “sign-up friction”, Microsoft is opening Facebook login to Windows 8 and Windows Phone app developers.
Finally, the momentum that Windows Azure has generated in the past 12 months is another bright spot for app developers. It’s not overstating the case to say that Azure is now a legitimate cloud alternative to Amazon Web Services. Azure is priced to compete head-to-head with AWS and, despite giving up a 3 year head-start to Amazon, Azure has comfortably surpassed the $1 billion revenue milestone for Microsoft.
Where do all these numbers leave developers, you might ask? Apple and Google are still the front runners in app marketplaces, both in terms of quality and volume — but it’s starting to look like a third horse is entering the race at a steady gallop. That’s good news for app consumers and it’s even better news for developers using Microsoft’s developer tools within the .NET ecosystem.
At InnerWorkings, we’re watching these trends closely — our platform usage data is showing signs of increased interest in Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Windows Azure training. After a very slow past 12 months for those technologies, it’s good to see our users inquire about filling skills gaps to meet the pent-up demand for app development.