Windows Phone is finally filling the gap and stepping into the role as the third ecosystem.
For those not wooed by the vast app and digital content selection in Apple’s App Store or Google’s broad range of web services, Microsoft is a viable alternative. Windows Phone is maturing (albeit slowly) and Microsoft’s ecosystem is growing at a similar pace.
Still, it’s impossible to overlook the attention the platform has garnered in just the last six months.
This is likely thanks to new, innovative hardware, a big purchase from Microsoft, and the recent firmware update, which brought support for newer chipsets and display technologies. But there’s also another factor which many seem to believe is contributing to Windows Phone’s recent surge in popularity: application support.
Last Wednesday, after months of anticipation and begging, two high profile applications landed in the Windows Phone Store: the official Instagram BETA and Waze. Following the news of these two application launches, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone Program Management, sent a tweet which erupted into a great debate about the so-called Windows Phone “app-gap.” Said tweet:
We're all gonna look back on the end of 2014 as the ending of the app-gap for Windows Phone. The 3rd ecosystem is decidedly here!
— joebelfiore (@joebelfiore) November 20, 2013
We can’t entirely discredit Belfiore’s quote. By alls means, the app-gap could be closed by the end of 2014. And Microsoft’s ecosystem is a far better candidate as a third alongside Google’s and Apple’s than any other contenders. However, two – or even more – high profile applications isn’t all it takes to close an “app-gap.”
As a long-time Android and iOS user, the switch to Windows Phone, even as many times as I have attempted, has been bumpy. The most recent switch (for the Lumia 1020) was markedly easier than all the rest. Having hardware I actually wanted to use certainly helped, but I spent weeks on end searching for alternatives to the applications I had grown to love and use on other platforms – applications and services I now rely on.
For instance, Feedly is an application which is essentially the core of my mobile usage. NextGen Reader was a decent alternative that I could cope with. I also use Google Voice instead of carrier SMS, and MetroTalk got the job done … decently well. I also found Mehdoh for Twitter, 6tag for Instagram, Metrotube for YouTube, and a handful of other alternative applications.
Although I could access most of the services I needed, there was this feeling I couldn’t seem to shake. Everything felt like a knock-off, because, well, everything was a knock-off. Using a handful of third-party clients is one thing. Using an entire suite of third-party clients is something else entirely.
It makes the entire experience with the platform feel … second rate. The fact that you have to dig deep to find compelling applications and services speaks to how wide the “app-gap” still is. And I’m not sure one year’s time is enough to fill that gap.
This past Friday, during our recording of the Pocketnow Weekly, we had a chance to weigh our opinions on Belfiore’s comment and the current condition of the Windows Phone Store. We all seemed to share the same opinion: Windows Phone application support is improving, but until smaller developers are on board with the platform, the gap will continue to exist.
Few will argue about major application and game developers supporting Microsoft’s blossoming platform. Angry Birds, Instagram, Vine, and Waze, are all welcomed additions to the store. Companies like those have the bankroll to develop for Windows Phone; they have the luxury of taking a risk on an up-and-coming, yet-to-be-proven platform.
But what about the smaller (yet still very important and popular) applications and developers? Feedly? Pocket? Pocket Casts? Buffer? Snapchat? Soundcloud? Five out of those six applications are applications I use frequently and simply cannot access from Windows Phone – the first four, I rely on every single day.
It’s developers likes those which will truly end the app gap: developers of smaller, rising applications and games which decide to support Windows Phone out of the gate.
Android is unquestionably the dominant force in the mobile OS space. It has been for the better part of the last four years. Yet only last year did developers begin releasing new applications and services on both Android and iOS at the same time. And even today, iOS is often first in line to get official application support, followed by Android.
Automatic, which we reviewed last month, is a perfect example. The OBD-II module launched with support for iOS, and the Android beta is expected to release sometime next month. And Windows Phone? It’s not even on the map.
Pebble is another example of exactly this. Pebble has no current plans to support Windows Phone, but may in the distant future.
Until the rising stars of the mobile realm begin to see Windows Phone as a profitable platform on which to launch their applications (instead of waiting a year to two to support it), the so-called “app-gap” will exist in a big way.
It still exists on Android, albeit far less than before and significantly less than it does on Windows Phone today. But rest assured, a few big, official titles being added to the pool of nearly 200,000 applications filled mostly with third-party clients and knock-off apps is hardly enough to fill the hole left by thousands of developers who don’t want to develop for yet another operating system.
We can only hope that will change by the end of 2014. Just don’t set your expectations too high.