Is developing for Windows Phone worthwhile?

Considering that hardly anybody seems to be buying Windows Phones, is it worth developing apps for that platform at all?

I think businesses that ignore the Windows Phone platform will be doing so at their own peril!

Why? Let me explain…

Starting from Windows Phone 8 (WP8), Microsoft has made a major technical shift in its underlying technology. At first glance, WP8 and its predecessors (Windows Phone 7 and below) look similar on the outside. But unlike its predecessors, WP8 shares the same under-the-hood engine with its Windows RT tablets and Windows 8 PC cousins instead. In other words, WP8 will be essentially running the same underlying operating system as desktop/laptop PC and tablets. A simple way to explain this: Before WP8, you have a phone that runs apps. With WP8, you now have a computer that makes phone call.

By unifying all of its operating systems with the same engine, Microsoft is embarking on a major strategic shift. What this means is that developers will be able to create apps (Metro apps, to be more specific) that can easily jump from the smart-phone, to the tablet and to the desktop. With a few tweaks, they can convert tablet/PC Metro apps into Windows Phone 8 apps and vice versa.

What this means is that Microsoft is able to help developers offer a user experience that has never been done before—a seamless continuation of experience across your smart-phone, tablet and your PC. To help you appreciate this concept, imagine this scenario: You start the day working on your favourite Metro app on your Windows RT tablet while commuting to work on the train. When you arrive at your office, you pull out the SD card from your tablet, insert it into the Windows 8 desktop PC, and continue working on the same app. In the evening, when leave work for home, while waiting for the train, you whip out your WP8 smart-phone, insert the same SD card and fire up the same app and make some changes to what you were working on.

This is in contrast to what Apple is doing. Apple’s tablet and smart-phone operating system, iOS, is different from its desktop/laptop counterpart (Mac OS X). Apps written for iOS will not run under Mac OS X. Therefore, they will have to be re-written to run on Mac OS X. Both operating systems offer different user interfaces and are not directly compatible with one another. They cannot share documents with each other conveniently and wouldn’t be able to work on the same external storage. To work on the same document, you need purchase two sets of software—an app for iOS and an application for Mac OS X. In other words, there is an experiential gap of discontinuity from iPhone/iPod/iPad to the Mac. (P.S. Apple users may object to the opinions of this paragraph and insist that the user interface of many apps between iOS and Mac OS X are similar. Granted. But note this: the similarity happens on an app-by-app basis. Ultimately, developers have to maintain two sets of code and design their iOS app to look similar to their Mac OS X counterpart. Microsoft’s Metro interface, on the other hand, impose the similarity on the operating system level across their various devices- smart-phones, tablets and PC. Also, developers only need to maintain one set of code to run on various devices with minor tweak. Regarding sharing, people say that document sharing can happen conveniently with iCloud. But there’re lots of counterparts to iCloud that runs on the Windows platform too- DropBox, Box, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive etc. This feature is not exclusive to Apple).

Make no mistake, Microsoft still commands the PC market. Even though tablets and smart-phones have cannibalised some PC sales, it is still significant part of the market. Consumers are not going to stop using PCs and Macs just because they are spending more time using Android and iOS (not yet anyway). As Microsoft release Windows 8, it will gradually run on more and more PCs. As older PCs retire, newer ones that run Windows 8 will take its place. Some existing Windows users may be tempted by the incredibly low price of Windows 8 and upgrade. With the release of their latest Surface tablet, Windows 8 and Windows RT will extend its reach to tablet computers. The prevalence of Windows 8/RT will increase—the question is the speed of increase.

As Windows 8/RT grows in prevalence, interest in Windows Phone 8 will grow as well. As consumers start to use Windows 8/RT more and more, it makes more and more sense to acquire Windows Phone 8 too because of the experience of seamless continuity. This experience is something that Apple is not offering and Google is not able to offer.

But this experience of seamless continuity is what consumers will want and Microsoft is planning to deliver. They may succeed and if they do so, snubbing Windows Phone 8 will be a big mistake!

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