Why Microsoft is finally winning over Windows Phone 8 converts

It's the kind of strategy that might catch iOS and Android developers off guard: a mobile OS platform provider going out of its way to make it easier to publish on its app store. 

nokia lumia

Nokia's Lumia phones have helped propel Microsoft's Windows Phone platform.

Microsoft, however, recently did just that when it announced changes to the Windows Store aimed at offering more control over app release dates, as well as changes to the app certification process. Developers will be able to set both hour and time zone for when an app release goes live, for example, or remove an app temporarily, which can be important as bug fixes and other updates are done. The revised app certification guidelines also turn some former rules into best practice guidelines and offer more options around where ads can be displayed.

Microsoft responded to an interview request from FierceDeveloper by pointing to a blog post in which Keith Senzel, Windows Store Dashboard principal group program manager, said: "We're always thinking about how we can improve the Windows Store onboarding and publishing process to make things easier for you as an app developer."

Windows Phone gains ground
The efforts may be paying off with increased market share among consumers, at least outside North America. According to a report from Kantar Worldpanel from December 2013, Windows Phone has leapt from just under 5 percent to more than 10 percent market share across Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Microsoft claims there are now 24 countries around the world where Windows Phone devices are outselling the iPhone. According to IDC, Windows Phone shipments shot up 156 percent over the last 12 months, a growth rate three times that of Android devices and six times that of iOS devices. 

Mikael Litendahl is among the developers who have remained loyal to Windows Phone for several years. The CEO of Dawnbreak Studios in Gothenburg, Sweden, Litendahl and his team started working with the OS because their programming background was with .Net and XNA Game Studio. 

Dawnbreak's Ragdoll Run game is available on Windows Phone.

"At the time we started, Windows Phone 7 was fairly new and XNA was by far the best way to develop games for the platform," he said. Since then, though, Microsoft has abandoned XNA, "which was kind of a hard blow for us but the torch has been passed over to Monogame, which is an open source implementation of XNA."

The other reason Dawnbreak has chosen to stick with Windows Phone for now is that Litendahl and his team have a good understanding of how the Windows Phone Store works, how to get exposure and the whole design language of the Windows Phone OS.

"Windows Phone also has a nice ratio of risk versus revenue," he said. "There is nice money to be made on Android and iOS but there is also a much longer road to actually reach that money than on Windows Phone since there are more developers competing for it."

HealthPack Games, a studio based in Toronto, has a similar story. After what owner and lead designer Michael Kloubkov describes as "a few failed games on Windows Phone 7," its Monster Stack 2 hit the No. 1 spot in 11 countries. The firm has since had similar success with Chicken Story 2.

"I consider ourselves very lucky to get to where we are with zero marketing dollars for Windows Phone," he told FierceDeveloper. "Nokia and Microsoft really helped us by featuring our games on the marketplace."

Nokia pushes Windows Phone forward
The influence of Nokia on the Windows Phone 8 developer community cannot be underestimated, according to Nathan Eagle, co-founder and CEO of Boston-based research firm Jana. Recently, Jana published a survey of 1,500 people across nine countries who spoke highly of the Windows Phone brand, performance and integration with desktop PCs. However, it is Microsoft's planned acquisition of Nokia that may partially account for its recent surge in emerging markets and beyond, said Eagle. 

"What's striking is companies like Nokia have invested huge amounts of capital and time in cultivating a developer community across APAC, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America," he said. "From what I can tell, a lot of that effort is still continuing."

Litendahl agreed, saying he is excited to see how the combination of the two firms changes the competitive landscape for mobile apps. 

"Windows Phone is already doing great in the low-end market and we personally hope that it will capture a bigger part of the high-end segment in the next year," he said. "It's too early to say, but with the right marketing, we believe the Nokia 1520 could do it. Its timing to the market is spot-on now that everything is moving towards a bigger screen size."

Of course, developers may be unlikely to focus on Windows Phone on its own the way they have iOS or Android. Even Kloubkov said HealthPack has been using a cross-platform engine for Monster Stack 3 HD that has allowed the firm to create iOS, Android and even Tizen ports in a few weeks. What's interesting, however, is the notion that more developers might make Microsoft's OS their top priority. 

"iOS and Android are great platforms, but we're always targeting Windows Phone as our primary market due to our success on the platform," he said.