I’ve bought myself a Windows Phone. I love the phone and I love the operating system, but there’s one major fault with Microsoft’s silky OS that I just can’t get over: the horrifically over-priced apps. When you look at the Marketplace as a whole, there appears to be a massive gap in the market just waiting to make some plucky developers rich…
The price is wrong
Let’s do some comparisons, just to bring you up to speed. Plants Vs Zombies for Windows Phone weighs in at £3.99. That’s not bad for the caliber of game you’re getting in return, but when you compare it to the iPhone and Android’s £1.99, things start seeming a bit steep.
Next: Angry Birds. £2.29 on Windows Phone, £0.69 on the iPhone and free on Android. But forget games, this is about all apps; the cheapest price bracket for paid apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace is £0.79. That 10p difference from cheapest apps on the iPhone might make a difference in decision-making, but it’s not the real problem.
The problem is that barely any apps seem to be £0.79 anyway. The majority are either £1.19, over the £2 mark or free, and the free apps are either ones you’d expect to be free (like Facebook) or seriously lacking in star ratings.
So why is this? Hard to say. If you look at it from a developer’s point of view, you’d imagine that the numbers don’t really stack up in Windows Phone’s favour. While the platform is steadily growing, there’s still not a huge number of people with Windows Phone handsets nestled in their pockets. Estimated figures claim that the platform’s only got about 1.5 per cent of the market share.
Low market share means low numbers of actual people, so if you’re going to build an app for the platform you’re going to want it to be worth your trouble. I.e. Make up for low sales numbers by raising the price.
There’s another reason, too. Microsoft actually wants the platform to have expensive apps. The company doesn’t want the platform filled with the sort of free dross that litters the Android Market; it wants Windows Phone developers to spend more time and effort crafting beautiful apps that can be sold at higher prices.
“I’d rather developers sell fewer than a million downloads and get to a million dollars. If we can support a higher price point that’s good for developers,” says Microsoft program director Brandon Watson.
A race to to the bottom
From Microsoft’s point of view, it’s about avoiding the ‘race to the bottom.’ It’s the reason why the minimum price is fixed at £0.79. The iPhone app store is locked in a potentially dangerous battle for cheapness.
People expect apps to be cheap, and that breeds an incredibly fierce sort of competition. Make Tiny Wings and sell it for £0.69, and some joker will bring out a clone for free. In terms of sheer downloads it’s all about who’s cheaper, but that hardly leads to quality. It’s lowest common denominator stuff.
Microsoft wants to assert the notion that the Windows Phone Marketplace is about quality, rather than spiraling app numbers, especially if quantity leads to the kind of competition that kills attention to detail. But… That does open up an exciting prospect.
A gap in the market
The upshot of all of this is simple: Windows Phone apps seem to be more expensive than similar apps on other platforms. At the moment there are 50,000 apps, which is a drop in Apple and Android’s collective oceans, so it strikes me that there’s an obvious killing to be made by eager devs.
I know an app developer who’s always coming up with ideas for apps that he wants to build for the iPhone. He is convinced that the iPhone is the way to go because it has a huge user base and doesn’t have the fragmentation issues found with Android.
He reasons that people with iPhones will always be buying apps in droves and he’ll be able to make more sales through that channel than he would anywhere else. I keep pleading with him to build for Windows Phone 7. And not just because I’d like the platform to grow.
In my mind, there now exists an amazing sweet spot for developers. There’s a drought of cheap apps and only 50,000 apps to compete with, compared to well over half a million on iOS. If you built a decent app for the Windows Phone Marketplace and keep it at that low end £0.79p mark, you’d find it a lot easier to shoot to the top of the charts.
You could call it ‘being the biggest fish in a small pond,’ but in this game that seems preferable to being a minnow lost in the seven seas. The iPhone is reaching a state of app saturation. Think of an idea and it’s already been done several times.
There’d be no glory in it, but small scale developers could easily copy any of the popular iPhone apps, keep things cheap and rise to the top of the Marketplace, becoming the de facto app for that task in the process.
There are so many gaps to fill in the Windows Phone Marketplace at the moment. Do a half decent job and you are so much more likely to make a dent than in a store where you’re fighting a much larger set of rivals. I lack the ability to code apps, but if I could do it then there’s no way I’d bother with Android or the iPhone at this stage. I’d much rather build something for a platform where it’d get noticed.
I mentioned earlier that developers probably see Windows Phone as not being worth their time, but there are millions of the things out there in people’s hands. The advice I keep giving to my developer friend is simple: make an essential £0.79p app on the system and you’ll make a million quid within a week. Make an essential iPhone app and you’ll have already copied someone else.
Still… it’s not all bad. Check out these Windows Phone apps that shame the iPhone.