After several months of using Windows Phone 7.5 and reading about Windows 8, I must say that I'm a believer. It's not a sentiment I often espouse. As an industry analyst I have borne witness to the "next great thing" more times than I can recall. Many of these inevitable disasters have been foisted upon the world by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Dare we recall Play Ready DRM (and the associated Windows Portable Media Centers), the ill-fated Zune, Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Vista, and no list would be complete without Windows ME.
The history of Microsoft may be littered with failure but it is equally full of sensational hits--Windows 95 or the Xbox to name a few. On the verge of the Windows 8 launch, the industry is rife with speculation about its future. Will Windows 8 be Microsoft's New Coke or will it be a hit?
Even more important than my opinion or that of the pundits is the opinion of the developers who will fuel the ecosystem with great apps. Luckily for Microsoft and its partners when it comes to Windows Phone, developers are increasingly enthusiastic. According to the Strategy Analytics developer survey--fielded in March and April 2012--support for Windows Phone is growing. The chart below shows the steady growth in both primary and secondary support for Windows Phone *.
Primary and Secondary Support for Windows Phone (N=1,377)
Source: Josh Martin, Strategy Analytics
Support for Windows grew nearly 1.5x in the last year. Amongst the primary motivators for support were interest in developing apps leveraging Live Tiles, Microsoft's developer programs and a less competitive platform. One of the least cited reasons was direct financial support from Microsoft, which shows there is organic developer support for the platform.
Where are the developers coming from?
Support for Windows Phone must be coming from somewhere. According to respondents that primarily support Windows Phone today 30 percent primarily supported other platforms last year. The table below shows where primary support for Windows Phone is coming from for developers primarily supporting it this year and those expecting to primarily support it next year.
Source: App Ecosystem Opportunities, Strategy Analytics
The data shows that those primarily supporting Windows Phone this year have broadly moved from a range of other platforms. The transition from Symbian should be noted as it would appear Nokia has done an effective job of moving its substantial developer base to the Windows Phone platform. Further, Microsoft is winning over Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS developers as well--the two most broadly supported platforms. This dovetails with the developer motivations highlighted in the previous section.
Next year, Microsoft can expect to win even more Android and iOS developers. To continue momentum, Microsoft should tout success stories of developers leaving (or no longer primarily supporting) other platforms and the success they have found on Windows Phone.
In addition, Microsoft will retain 82 percent of its primary developers from this year until next year, with those leaving primarily moving to support HTML5.
Can Windows Phone maintain the momentum?
For those currently supporting Windows Phone the platform ranked 9.6/10 in importance for the next year. Overall importance by all developers ranked at a more middling 5.3/10.
In order to understand how Microsoft could motivate developers we asked if allowing for cross-development between the PC and the phone/tablet would increase the interest in the platforms amongst Microsoft biggest naysayers--those responding five or less to platform importance. The average rank amongst that group nearly doubled from 2.23 to 4.36, which is not a spectacular increase but nearly double the original level of support and enough to increase overall support to 6.3.
At the time of the survey it remained unclear if Microsoft would enable simple multi-device app development, though it is now a key component of Windows 8. Combining this news with the impending launch of Microsoft's Surface, an influx of Windows 8 Phones, and compelling PC/tablet hardware from Microsoft's partners, we expect developer interest to increase in our next survey, which will be fielded in early November. However, if the platform fails to gain market share quickly developer enthusiasm may wane by mid-2013.
Industry support, multi-device apps and the expected penetration of Windows 8 should be a message Microsoft stresses at its Windows launch event in New York City Oct. 25. One essential motivator is improved communication with developers who are still awaiting the Windows 8 SDK as the OS is on the verge of launching. Microsoft will need to better manage developer relationships in the future.
In addition to organic growth, Microsoft has partners motivated to grow the level of support for Windows Phone. Already one of Microsoft's biggest surrogates--Nokia has worked hard to garner support from app bigwigs such as Rovio and Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) for the Windows Phone platform. If other hardware partners continue to push the platform forward expect increased developer interest.
Does increased developer support ensure success?
So, what does this all mean? Can we assume that because increased developer support ensures success?
Certainly not. At the end of the day it all comes down to the installed base of users. Will there be enough users to justify supporting Windows 8? That remains to be seen, but developers see upside in the potential of Windows 8.
One major hurdle is clear, and that is assuring that developer support and the top apps will be available at launch. Microsoft announced more than 100,000 titles in the Windows Phone Store earlier this year, and once more cross pollination takes places between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 expect those libraries to grow ever faster. In fact, I expect Microsoft to announce more than 125,000 titles available across the ecosystem at the launch event on Oct. 25, but many of these will unfortunately not yet be optimized for Windows 8.
Only time will tell if Windows will be a success and one critical factor will be the marketing.
As a now longtime Windows Phone user I have a perspective of what makes the platform unique. In my personal opinion the most engaging and compelling attributes of Windows Phone 8 are those that take the longest time to appreciate--People Hub, live tiles and deep pinning. In the scant few seconds a retailer has to list the virtues of an OS to a buyer, these nuances may get lost in the shuffle.
So if I may offer a nickel's worth of free advice to Microsoft, Create a campaign focused on the evolution of an iOS or Android user as they acclimate to Windows Phone. It can focus on several activities. The first I would suggest is checking a news feed on Facebook. Have the user begin by opening the app, waiting for it to load and scrolling through endless updates until he finds what he is seeking. Later, he can discover People Hub and check updates from there. Then, the user can learn about Live Tiles and pinning. Suddenly the user is immediately connected with the content he wants all the time. The idea can be spread over several activities and several mediums. It hammers home that the apps/experiences a user wants are available on Windows Phone but in a new paradigm that is different from the existing platforms. It also reminds developers about the unique features they should embed in their apps.
The tagline: Windows 8. Evolve.