The Nokia Lumia 900, the first real test of the Microsoft-Nokia relationship, goes on sale this weekend. Nokia has spared no expense on the hardware, Microsoft has labored over its Windows Phone Mango update, and AT&T is contributing super-fast 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) speeds. That leaves just one last area for scrutiny by consumers considering taking a chance on what all parties hope will be the third major competitor in the mobile ecosystem: applications.
To more quickly fill up its Marketplace app store, Microsoft has been paying developers to create popular applications, The New York Times reported April 5. Developers, understandably, go where the money is, which right now is Apples iOS and Googles Android platforms. Its not that theyre not interested in developing for Microsofts Windows Phone, the thinking goes, the latterwith its currently minimal following and so also-minimal paybackjust isnt a priority. Developers can often only afford to develop for one or maybe two platforms, and these days their time is even more divided by the need for tablet-optimized apps.
The Times reports that Casey McGee, Microsofts senior marketing manager for Windows Phone, confirmed that company was offering developers an array of incentives, but declined to list all the apps Microsoft has financed.
Looking back at the last major effort to challenge iOS and Android, the Palm platform had a very weak applications library, which limited its chances of success right from the start, Ken Hyers, and analyst with Technology Business Research (TBRI) told eWEEK. Microsoft is ensuring that, having made a much greater investment in Windows Phone, that it doesnt stumble at the most basic level by not having an appropriate app portfolio available for its devices.
An executive at Foursquare told The Times that it had been compensated by Microsoft to build a Windows Phone app, as did an executive at Cheezburger Network, which makes entertainment sites like The Daily What and I Can Has Cheezburger.
Marketplace now has more than 70,000 apps to the Apple App Stores 600,000-plus and Google Plays nearly 400,000. Apps such as Angry Birds, Netflix, You Tube and Amazon Kindle will be available for Nokias Lumia, but notably missing are other popular apps such as Pandora, Instagramwhich only developed an app for Android this weekand games from Zynga, the maker of Farmville and Words With Friends.
More important than chasing Google or Apples numbers is making sure Marketplace has the apps the majority of people want, and in the interest of this, Microsoft is taking matters into its hands in a way that neither Apple nor Google need to.
Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies, explains the application conundrum this way: Most people use about 20 apps. Of those, 19 are popular applications like email, a mobile browserthings Microsoft can even build itselfwhile the last app is an oddball app, which isnt common to a lot of other people. Then there are about 100 critical apps, like Instagram that users want, Kay explains, suggesting a theoretical budget of $100,000 for each app for a total budget of $10 million, a figure he calls not outrageous.
But then theres the long-tail group. For many people, their twentieth app wont be one of those 100, Kay explains. Say Im a mariner and I need my coastal navigation app. If a platform doesnt have it, its not going to work for me.
Such long-tail apps, says Kay, arent very monetizable, as theres a small amount of revenue associated with each one.
That problem only solves itself when the platform gets big enough that the developers have to pay attention ¦ and come over on their own.
Given how late its arrived to the party, helping the platform to get to that pointand give a fair shot at success to the Lumia 900 and whatever else Nokia has in store for later this yearis what Microsoft is doing, in paying to make sure its shelves hold those critical 100 or so apps. No shame in that.
Plus, with Nokia and Microsoft most aggressively angling the Lumia 900 toward potential feature-phone converts, as Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps pointed out in an April 5 blog post, perhaps those users wont even know what theyre missing.