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 :)