Win8 Developers: Don’t Make the Terrible Mistake of Treating the Windows Store like the iOS App Store

Hi there, average Windows 8 developer – take a seat right over there. Can I offer you some water or coffee perhaps? No, ok well let’s get down to business then.

Windows Store Logo The reason I asked you to step into my office today is because we need to have an honest conversation about the way you’ve been working with the Windows Store.

No, your apps are ok – plenty of live tiles, colorful squares, et al. We’re not here to talk about your apps. We’re here to talk about the fact that you’ve confused the Windows Store for a mobile marketplace and you have made a massive mistake in the process.

The iOS App Store is a Race to the Bottom

The first thing we should talk about is the current thought leader behind curated native application marketplaces – the iOS App Store. For all intents and purposes, this market sets the tone for all of the others.

However, as you may have noticed, there are some not-so-nice things about this App Store for the overwhelming majority of independent app developers:

  1. The iOS app store is effectively a hit-driven market – if you’re not one of a small handful of winners, then you’re toast. That article was written in 2009 – it’s gotten only worse since.
  2. The App Store redesign introduced in iOS6 is a giant kick in the groin to developers – there’s not much visibility or discoverability for apps that are new and aren’t massively popular.
  3. It’s a race to the bottom when it comes to prices on the iOS app store – particularly for purchases made on iPhones.

There’s a tremendously negative pressure on prices since the novelty of the app store wore off years ago, self-inflicted by developers who wanted to make up for the loss in margin by achieving greater scale. It’s much harder to achieve that scale in an App Store with 500,000+ apps and tens of thousands of apps in each category.

In the process iOS developers birthed a consumer expectations monster, where users balk at paying $1.99 for an app but don’t think twice about paying $4.99 for a 12oz cup of gourmet coffee.

Some iOS developers are finding success with free-to-play but with in-app purchases – but is only really applicable to a relatively small number of apps (games, in particular.)

The short of it is: the iOS app store is not a model that should be emulated on a new platform like Windows 8 – developers completely screwed up the economics of iOS app store.

Now, shall we take a second look at how we price our apps and market them in the Windows Store?

The Windows Store Will Have Very Different Market Fundamentals from a Mobile Marketplace

First and foremost, we should call attention to the fundamental differences between how Windows 8 and iOS will be used in practice.

Windows 8 will be run primarily on the large form-factor, Intel devices initially

The number of users running Windows 8 on large form-factor devices like desktops and laptops will vastly outnumber the people using Windows 8 on ARM tablets and phones for the foreseeable future.

The reason for this is simple: Microsoft has a gargantuan 90% chunk of the traditional PC market; barely a toehold on mobile; and no established presence in tablet at all. Of the three markets, which one will move the most devices initially?

iOS, on the other hand, is used entirely on small form-factor devices like phones, mp3 players, and ARM tablets.

The larger the form factor, the higher the perceived utility of the software that runs on it, and the more people are willing to pay for access to said software. iPad prices are higher than iPhone app prices (I found an even better link but haven’t been able to relocate it), and desktop software prices blow iPad app prices completely out of the water.

The reason for this is simple: big form factor devices have more utility, and in the case of laptops / desktops people actually do work with them!

I use my iPad for watching Netflix and reading books on Kindle; I use my MacBook Air and ASUS G60X to get work done. Apps on small devices are closer to toys than tools.

Most consumers are willing to spend a lot more money on an application if it provides me with some utility that integrates into their value-producing workflows every day; in fact, let’s talk about that.

Windows Store (Metro) applications can be run side-by-side with Office, PhotoShop, and all of the tools people use to create value every day

You know what makes a Metro application inherently more valuable than any iOS app, in my eyes?

The fact that I can use them side-by-side with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visual Studio, Sublime Text, SmartDraw, or any of the other Win32 apps I use every day to get my job done.

Think I’d be willing to spend a lot more (compared to iOS) on a Python reference application in the Windows Store knowing that I could pull it up on a second monitor and copy-paste examples directly into the REPL or text editor I’m using? Or how about being able to syndicate out an image I was editing in PhotoShop on the same machine using MetroTwit? Hell yes.

Having your Windows Store apps sit alongside the traditional, business-critical desktop applications that people use to do their jobs every day inherently makes them more valuable.

Developers’ Windows Store apps sit on the same device that people depend on for work every day, and if those apps can help customers complete their work or their accounting or anything else that they traditionally use a PC for, then you can expect that your Windows Store apps will benefit from the same kind of price lift that traditional desktop applications have over mobile ones.

If developers like you don’t screw it up, that is.

Windows Store apps offer greater utility to end-users, by virtue of the WinRT runtime and the traditional Windows Ecosystem

The first app that I paid for in the Windows 8 store, and one of my absolute favorite apps so far, is Router .CoCPit – it’s a simple little app that monitors all the speed and performance of any UPnP router on my network. I use it at home and at work whenever something goes wrong with the network.

Now why is that cool? This is an app that was put to market before Windows 8 was ever sold to a consumer, at a time when documentation on WinRT’s capabilities was and still is really quite scarce. The developers didn’t have to write their own UPnP client or do anything crazy like our iOS friends.

In fact, I’m fairly certain the developers used WinRT’s built-in device API and its UPnP capabilities.

WinRT and Windows 8 give you a giant chunk of the Windows ecosystem to play with out of the box; capabilities normally reserved for big desktop apps. You can do more with Windows Store apps without having to implement drivers and codecs yourself!

This means you can build bigger apps that do more things (utility, for which people pay a premium), and still do it cheaper than you can on other platforms. People will pay more for that!

How Not to Screw Up the Windows 8 Economy: Do More, Charge More

So now, Mr. Windows 8 Developer, we get to the call to action. Your goal is to not do what your careless friends in iOS-land did and create a hopeless ghetto of a marketplace.

You are to take advantage of the rich, unique platform capabilities offered to you by WinRT and do more interesting things with it than you ever could on iOS, Android, or Windows Phone. Take advantage of the fact that your Windows Store Apps will ride shotgun with PhotoShop, Office, QuickBooks, and more – create apps that are designed to produce value and work alongside those big, sustainably profitable desktop apps.

And once you’ve done both of those: actually charge your users to use your software. Take advantage of the fact that users can try your premium apps for free on Windows 8, or the fact that in-app purchases can expire! You can even use your own payment engine if you don’t want to give Microsoft a 30%-20% cut!

I know what you’re thinking: but this is the way things are – ship free apps and hope people click on ads, or charge $0.99 and hope millions of people install them.

Look, you’re a developer – not a rodent in a maze. You should be able to recognize the pattern and the habit-forming behavior from a distance: if you bring iOS’s terrible economics to Windows 8, then Win8 will have similarly terrible economics.

Microsoft set the minimum price of an app in the Windows Store to $1.49 for a reason: to give developers a clean slate on app economics. You want a better opportunity than iOS? Then don’t ship iOS-utility (low-utility) apps with iOS prices on a platform that is purposefully engineered to do better!

You as a developer have a responsibility when it comes to the economics of the Windows Store – you are the supply.

Developers like us have an opportunity to get things right with the Windows Store – the last thing we should do is import our biggest mistakes and worst habits from other marketplaces!

Let your users pay you for what your app is actually worth – they’re on Windows, so believe me: they’re used to paying for software.

So, do you understand what to do now? Good. Glad we had this talk :)

31 Responses to “Win8 Developers: Don’t Make the Terrible Mistake of Treating the Windows Store like the iOS App Store”

  1. sean

    Or how about we cut out the middle man altogether?

    Fuck the very idea of a Windows store, it’s the exact opposite of where computing should be going. It should be an open-platform with availability and security in mind.

  2. Philip White

    Great article. Now is the time to reset expectations. The fundamentals are there for higher prices. Now we just need to get everyone on board.

  3. Aaron

    @Philip – I want everyone to get onboard with the idea of not polluting the Windows 8 store with the same crappy toy iOS apps that ruined the App Store.

    Take advantage of WinRT’s new capabilities and pricing models to find a way to deliver value to customers and build a sustainable business.

  4. Steve

    I agree with Sean. A better option is not to play in the windows store at all. If this fails for MS, it will be years before they try it again. If it is a success, then look forward to a time when MS will dictate to you the type of programs you can write, and get a 30% cut of all your income.

    Send the biggest message of all. Don’t participate in the store at all

    • Sara Lannan

      I agree completely. Microsoft is expecting to learn a number of lessons from this experiment.

      1. Will a single operating system designed for multiple, diverse form factors work in the market?
      2. Will a single point of purchase for vetted applications be a winner?
      3. Can they lay in the basic framework for appliance-based computing and start ringing the death knell for general-purpose computing.

      The answers to all of these questions must be an emphatic no, if we are not all to be dragged bound and gagged to the torture chamber of single-vendor control of a once thriving ecosystem.

      • Administrator

        Having been an employee of Microsoft as recently as August, let me clear up some of the FUD here…

        No – Microsoft doesn’t really care about the content of people’s apps. The influx of frankly crappy apps in the Windows Store TODAY is a pretty clear indication of that. What they care about are insecure apps that abuse user’s privacy or security. And they care about unstable apps that haven’t been thoroughly QAed too.

        All that Microsoft ultimately wants is to unite all of its consumer-facing devices behind a single app runtime in order to scale beyond just X86 / X64 laptops and desktops. That’s the ultimate vision behind the Windows Store.

        They will never try to shut down the traditional desktop ecosystem; that’s ludicrous. Office is worth more than Windows, in terms of revenue – and the majority of the third party ecosystem revenue comes from desktop tools and services. They have no designs on replacing a platform worth half a trillion dollars.

        Making lightweight apps that are touch-friendly and available on smaller devices like phones, tablets, and consoles though? Definitely.

    • matt

      Supposed to read – who knew you could write so well…

  5. Vinny

    The W8 ecosystem is much more attractive and one step closer to transparency compared to its competitors.

    Also, certain markets (games) get better revenue returns on windows marketplaces.

    My concern is due to MS’s track record is the general community ready for another Marketplace?

    -.NET developer

  6. honkmast0r

    The prices will race to bottom because our chinese friends can survive on $20/mo/app and will spam the store.

  7. bobx

    Im sorry but there’s really no value in your post at all. It takes a lot of effort to build almost any kind of usable useful software.

    iOS app store is designed for limited device constraints and yet many fantastic apps are pushing the limits of these devices and delighting users.

    As far as the race to the bottom, its true but its also false. The mobile market will soon include every human being on the planet.

    And unlike the carrier driven sales model, app stores will allow apps on all these platforms to reach the entire world, so free, ad based or 99 cents all make sense if your app does something, anything.

    You can complain about the pop culturization of software all you want but the fact is, the economics and utility are there, more than ever. If they werent Apple wouldnt be the biggest capital company in the world.

    So what you really seem to be asking is, “will you please bet against the biggest winning strategy in application development today”

    My answer to you is no I wont.

    • Aaron

      “So what you really seem to be asking is, “will you please bet against the biggest winning strategy in application development today””

      LOL. I asked nothing of the sort – all I pointed out is that there’s a very different set of economics that will guide the Windows 8 ecosystem, due to the factors I listed. You can ignore those and ship low-utility apps no one wants to pay for, or recognize that you’re part of someone’s real workflow now if you choose to participate.

      Otherwise, I wasn’t able to follow the rest of your comment – not sure who’s strategy and for whom you’re referring to :)

  8. Adam

    Your ideas as nice but it’s never going to play out like that.

    There’ll always be developers that will sell at the cheapest in the hope of achieving those extra sales.

    It’s always going to be a race to the bottom.
    And browsing apps on the Windows 8 Store is not that great an experience either. It’s a maze of different colored tiles for the listed apps and just becomes very difficult to distinguish one from the other, so people will just go for the one with the lowest price or free.

  9. Chris

    As long as there are developers there will be greedy developers and they will always price cheaper than you. Just take a look at the Mac App Store. It started out like the iOS App Store, not many apps, high prices, but now all common areas are a race to the bottom. The only money to be made is with in app purchases or niche markets. The Windows app store will work exactly the same way. Exactly, the same way.

    • anon

      a dev is greedy when he charges less :) that’s a new definition

  10. m$

    The fact that I can use them side-by-side with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visual Studio, Sublime Text, SmartDraw, or any of the other Win32 apps I use every day to get my job done. – Trying another Embrace, Extend, Extinguish aren’t you.

  11. Will

    How could you not include the Mac App Store in this comparison? Mac developers have found tons of success in the Mac App Store and this seems like a more proper comparison to your take on the Windows Store as opposed to the iOS App Store.

  12. Oleg

    I would say these points are very controversial at best.

    They are based on a presumption that developers are just stupid and if you explain to them that charging more is better than charging less they are going to hear angel choir.

    Windows Store ESSENTIALLY IS Apple AppStore.

    It is shaped after it, and more importantly people (customers) already perceive it as a copy of AppStore.

    And expecting different results trying same approach – well, you know that Einstein’s quote (no offence – I am guilty myself doing this all the time :) )

  13. Will Rubin

    Just like real life, allowing multiple stores will fix the race to the bottom issue. That does NOT mean storefronts or kiosks within the Win8 store! Over time, some stores will become high end boutique stores, others will will be dollar stores. Each store will have a reputation based on how well they screen for malware, etc. Each store will have different “return” policies. All the normal stuff different stores are known for.

    Having one store will all products can only lead to your race to the bottom because there’s always someone a little hungrier who’s willing to release a similar app for just a bit less in order to eat this week. If a dozen fart apps are sold side by side then price and sizzle marketing are the only things that will matter.

  14. PhilH

    Now that you mention it…. Yes this will be a race to the bottom if you believe there is one. You make sense in drawing attention to the fact that these aren’t mobile apps and people will pay more for them. But it has become the norm not only for developers but for consumers. Who’s at fault here? Microsoft. The whole idea of an app store now stinks of the mobile app stores. Combine that with the lightweight look and feel of Metro apps and people will expect to pay less for apps. Just watch and see.

    And all of this is forgetting the fact that at the desktop level apps were going the way of the web anyway and using a totally different pricing structure. Lets be real. The only things people are using on desktops are specialized things like IDEs and Photoshop. I don’t even need an office suite anymore as Google Docs does just fine and thats free. The time of the desktop app has passed. The reason native apps are in demand on mobile is due to the constrained real estate and Javascript processing power. You can get a much better experience out of native.

    So I say to those reading this. Don’t make the opposite mistake. Don’t assume that this MS app store is going to be the rebirth of apps on the desktop just because apps are hot in the mobile and tablet space. The minute people get a keyboard and a full fledged browser on Intel they will bypass your app for the web in a heartbeat.

  15. Don Taylor

    Sorry. Pandora’s box has already been opened and the precedent has already been set. If apps cost more in the Windows Store than they do on the Apple, Google or Amazon stores then the platform will be rejected. Yes, as a developer I resent people gladly pay $4.99 for a latte and complain about paying $1.99 for an app. But there’s little I can do about that.

  16. Thomas

    I think the big differentiator here is trial downloads. I’ve deleted quite a few apps minutes after paying .99 for them. That wouldn’t fly if they were 3 bucks, but losing a dollar is tolerable. I would have paid 8 bucks for tweetbot first if I had known how great it was. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

  17. Sal

    One of the reasons people get confused about Windows 8 and Windows RT (for ARM tablets) is because people write articles like this and add to the confusion.

    “The number of users running Windows 8 on large form-factor devices like desktops and laptops will vastly outnumber the people using Windows 8 on ARM tablets and phones for the foreseeable future.”

    I thought we were going to run Windows RT on phones and ARM tablets.

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