HOW Many Apps?! – What Does That Mean?

Last week, the Windows Phone Marketplace hit 40,000 apps.  The prediction is that it will hit 50,000 in January 2012, which would be two months longer than the iPhone AppStore , and 4 months faster than Android Market took to hit the same milestone.  My friend Shawn Wildermuth wrote a blog post asking “40,000 apps – What Does That Mean?”.  Shawn thinks it is remarkable that the Windows Phone Marketplace has managed to grow to 40,000 apps in one year with a such small percentage of the overall smartphone market share.

I agree with Shawn.  I think that is quite an incredible fete!  Hopefully, some of that growth is a result of the hard work my teammates have been doing with Windows Phone developer evangelism.

But I have to ask the same question today that was in my head when Windows Phone first came out just over a year ago: 

Does the number of apps really matter?!

Right now, if you ask any consumer off the street, of course it does!  In terms of raw stats and numbers, if you consider “# of apps” to be a “feature” of your phone, bigger is better.  500K makes 50K look less desirable.  And why is this?  Because we’ve all been hard-wired through years of marketing, etc, it’s virtually human nature to believe that “bigger” and “more” are “better”.

Flashlights1Are they?  When I hear “500,000 apps”, I think “that sounds spammy”.  In other words, how do I even begin to navigate through the cruft to find the apps I really need and want?  If there are 500,000 apps, there’s bound to be a lot of junk in the mix.  (How many flashlight apps do we really need? And which is the “best”?)  I’d rather have the “right” apps than a lot of junk.

Disclaimer: This is the crazy opinion of one lone person who happens to work for Microsoft.  This is NOT an opinion of the company itself!

I think Windows Phone has an opportunity to change the perception around the “# of apps”. 

One of the greatest things I like about Windows Phone is that the Metro UI design with hubs and integration eliminates the need for a bunch of apps.  You get to navigate the various bits of data you are interested in within the context of the OS UI itself without shooting off into an isolated app. 

As Paul Thurrott (a big Windows Phone advocate) has pointed out, I understand that this is not completely true or optimal for all scenarios today. (I think there is a LOT of room for future improvement here through 3rd party developer access to the OS hubs.) 

But if for the majority of things I do on my phone, I don’t need an app, then why is the “# of apps” important to me?

500,000 apps a bad thing?!

Instead of actively promoting the “# of apps” as a selling feature, perhaps we should be painting a world where 500,000 apps is a negative thing?! 

Last year, there was the “Really?!” line of Windows Phone ads when it first launched.  These ads showed people “lost” in their phones to the exclusion of everything else going on around them.  It promoted the idea that Windows Phone lets you “get in, get what you need, and get out”. 

I’m thinking some sort of wacky TV commercial that shows people lost in a wacky world where apps have gone crazy, taking over their phones, and making them almost impossible to use or get things done.  This could be an extension of those “Really?!” ads.  Think of people trying to accomplish easy tasks, but a sea of apps (or icons) has them confused.

PokerTimers1I have the perfect anecdote for this ad (true story):

I was playing a poker tournament with some good friends over the weekend.  We needed a timer to control the “blind” rounds.  Everyone at the table was too lazy to get up and set the timer on the kitchen stove.  I suggested to our host, who is addicted to his iPhone, to just pull up a poker timer app on his phone. 

His response was: “meh, I have too many on there, and by time I dig through all the icon screens and folders to find where I put it on the phone, it’s just not worth it.”  We ended up using the timer on the kitchen stove.


Back to 40,000 (or soon 50,000) Windows Phone apps… 

I don’t take this point of view of 500,000 apps being a “negative” as a clever ‘spin’ on the current # of Windows Phone apps.  I honestly wonder if this “# of apps” is the right “feature” to be getting super excited about…  not just for Windows Phone, but the entire mobile industry?

More Apps!  More Integration!

Don’t get me wrong… we need apps!  I have a (shrinking) wish list of apps I very much want to see on my Windows Phone.  But if tasks and data that apps provide us with now can be integrated seamlessly into the device OS itself, doesn’t this make things easier for end users?

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

Of the major mobile OS’s out there, I think Windows Phone is best poised to deliver on this promise in the future based on its Metro UI design.

In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the the rise of the Windows Phone Marketplace!  More apps…   nom nom nom!


Want to learn how to build a Windows Phone app?  Attend a Phone Camp in your neck of the woods!

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