What is a Windows 8 App?
With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has provided a service for Application Developers to build and distribute Apps through the Windows Store. These apps must meet the Microsoft defined regulations for Modern apps (usefulness, content appropriateness, portrait and landscape functionality including snapped state, no restricted API usage, performance standards, etc…) These regulations help ensure that the Windows Store is populated with high quality, valuable, and secure applications.
Any App published through the Windows Store becomes available to all Windows 8 users including desktop, laptop, and tablet (Surface RT and other ARM devices). This is the first App marketplace that allows developers to create once and submit to the previously mentioned three platforms simultaneously. As of January 2013, Microsoft has announced that 60 million copies of Windows 8 have been sold (3 months since the Oct 2012 release date) which makes Windows one of the fastest growing and largest App market places.
Microsoft provided several new features that developers may leverage to support the new design concepts that are associated with high quality Modern apps. Transitional animations, tile frameworks, user interface elements, and other features have been created by Microsoft and released to developers for use. These features enable developers to quickly create apps that have a common usage interface, however Windows Apps are not required to use these elements.
In the Windows Store today a wide diversity of applications may be found. Anything from currency exchange calculators to Angry Birds to Facebook clients. The most powerful and popular apps are backed by cloud services which enable user accounts, interpersonal messaging, and data sync between all of a user’s computers. These apps have the added benefit of leveraging Microsoft’s online services platform which provides single sign on, push notifications that display a message to a user regardless of where they are, updates to the app tiles themselves which allows a developer to communicate exciting information to a user without a user having to explicitly open a app, and more…
Why would our company build a Windows 8 app?
Windows Apps should reflect your business, or be a business within itself. Modern Windows Apps may be used to engage with your customers, provide a rich and cost saving experience to your existing web presence, and support a high performance mode that leverages built-in Windows technology. In a very similar fashion to Web Sites in the late 90’s, Windows Apps are becoming an expectation from your customers.
Customer engagement and brand growth are critical to any business, and to that extent, many organizations are utilizing the power of Windows Apps to deepen their relationships with customers. A business with a Windows App makes a statement that they are serious about staying up to date with technology and they will be available to their customers on the platforms that they use. Many organizations are reaching out to their customers via Applications, such as a bar keeping their tap list up to date, or a theatre with show times and a calendar of events. Traditionally this information has been available via legacy web sites, however, in a bleeding edge world Modern Apps are providing a captivating experience that a web site is unable to accomplish.
A growing trend amongst mid-level web properties is to follow the major player’s example and build companion Windows Apps for their properties. Google, Netflix, Ebay, Amazon, Shazan and many other Tier 1 cloud properties have already released Windows Apps to connect to their existing services. With an extension App, a web service provider unleashes the power of built in Windows features and as well as the computer’s abilities. This results in Apps with high resolution graphics, impressive animations, responsive interfaces, and robust error handling. As a cloud service grows, delivering high quality images and processing data on hosted servers drives up the operating cost of the service. In the Windows App model, some of those expenses can be diverted to the user’s computer that is running the app using client features such as hardware acceleration. By using client image caching, and data processing, a cloud service property can save on bandwidth and server costs, thus allowing for a better user experience while also optimizing financial performance.
Beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft has provided a suite of features for developers to interact with the operating system at unprecedented levels. App (Live) Tiles may be linked to server side content which can update on their own. Single Sign On (SSO) for user accounts is provided with linked Microsoft Accounts, which provide a seamless experience between Windows Apps and Windows itself. The automatic data synchronization feature will ensure that what a user does on their laptop will be available on their desktop or tablet device. These are just a few of the new Windows App features that Microsoft supports in Windows 8, and many developers are looking forward to this list expanding further with future releases of Windows.
How is a Windows 8 app different from iPhone or Android?
Fundamentally an iPhone (iOS) or Android app is similar to a Windows App; however, there are some key differences which provide unique challenges.
The success or failure of an app depends on the available customers or install base. Companies have spent significant development resources to build apps for platforms that never reached significant market penetration (Blackberry Bold). At this time both iOS and Android have a very large share of the smartphone and tablet market, thus many app developers have created products for those platforms, resulting in IOS and Android supporting over 500,000 apps. By contrast Windows has sold 60 million copies in 3 months and current the Windows Store has roughly 30,000 apps.
Even though Google has experimented with breaking into the laptop computer market for a couple of years, they have not made a significant impact in the marketplace. In the desktop and laptop space Microsoft enjoys a > 90% market share globally. As customers purchase new computers, whether they be desktops, laptops, or Windows tablets, the install base for Windows Apps will expand dramatically to upwards of over 1 billion users. Microsoft Windows has seen an unprecedented adoption in the business world, and starting with Windows 8, Microsoft has begun to recognize that a user’s experience spans both home and work use. To this end, a user’s settings and preferences can now sync between work and home, and more relevant to this conversation, so do Windows Apps acquired from the Windows Store.
What are some example Windows 8 apps that are popular?
The Windows Store has over 30,000 apps (Feb 2013) across 109 language markets. The quality of Apps range from exceptional 3D games, to homework assignments from college professors. Microsoft has created strict guidelines regarding the quality of apps that will be accepted into the Windows Store, and many developers are finding that they need to create Apps with real value in order to meet their certification guidelines. This policy has led to a higher quality bar in the Windows Store versus what has been observed in the IOS and Android market places.
The Apps below have been chosen to highlight the different business spaces where a Windows App brings significant value.
The Amazon app is a great example of an existing tier 1 internet property extending their reach by building a Windows App. It is very responsive and has been optimized for a touch interface.
Microsoft Studios published “The Gunstringer”, a Windows 8 app after the widely successful Gunstringer XBox game. Gunstringer really shows the power of the Microsoft DirectX 3D platform, especially with the accelerometer and touch controls. Once released, Gunstringer shot to the top of the “Top Paid Games” category and has stayed there.
How does our company build a Windows 8 app?
As with any application or web project, a company could either leverage an internal team, contract out the work to an external app builder, or work with an App Factory.
Things to consider:
- Does your internal team have experience with any of the supported programming languages?
- Is the app simple and informational, or does it require advanced features such as 3D graphics or online service connectivity?
- What are you timelines for release?
- Is your core business based on technology or do you use technology to add value to your business?
- How do you plan to support your application in the long term?
Internal development teams excel in scenarios where incorporation of existing services and long term support are required. External app builders have an advantage of being very familiar with the technology for any given platform and can generally release simple apps to market at a higher rate than an internal team that is responsible for a variety of projects.
With the advent of the App revolution, a new industry has developed to create Apps that are scoped within some general restrictions and do not require advanced technical skills to create or manage. This is accomplished by an App Factory building a web based interface to allow customers to provision applications as well as manage the content. This is the fastest and cheapest option for a business interested in entering the App market place assuming an App requirements are met by the service provided by the App Factory
Many App Factories will have support for many platforms, such as Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. This provides an advantage for businesses that wish to reach the largest number of potential users quickly. However, App Factory templates may become recognizable by customers and thus disregarded as low quality. Another risk is that the App Factory companies own the App name and the relationship with the publisher (Microsoft, Google, Apple). The reputation of all of new Apps can be calculated based on the overall performance and ratings for the combined scores of all their Apps. Each publisher will calculate App ratings in a unique manner, and rarely are the reputation algorithms published publicly.
What are the advantages of developing a Windows App?
Despite the relative late entry into the App publishing marketplace, Microsoft has provided many compelling reasons to develop for the Windows Platform. They understood that engaging with developers early and providing high quality tools would be critical for growing an extensive app ecosystem.
With 60 million units of Windows 8 sold (as of Jan 2013), the Windows 8 platform already has achieved a user base that can justify the investment required to build and develop a Windows App. Additionally, Microsoft has not limited access to the Windows Store for non-genuine computer systems. Windows is one of the most pirated software packages of all time, by allowing pirate copies to access the Windows Store, Microsoft has demonstrated a commitment to growing the user base and thus expanding the audience for any potential App developer.
The PC refresh cycle naturally builds operating system adoption. Even with the life time of a computer now extending past the 4 year mark, desktops and laptops are still selling at a staggering rate. Over 90% of the computers sold will be pre-loaded with Windows 8. By default the Windows ecosystem will grow to well over a billion users over 10 years, and most likely hit the 300 million user mark within 3 years of release. (Oct 2012)
The growing prevalence of the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) movement is blurring the lines between work and home system usage. Progressive companies are relaxing the traditionally draconian control of their user’s laptops and tablets and are allowing personal machines on their corporate environments. This will even further grow the adoption rate of the Windows 8 platform, as the operating system has been tuned and designed to work well in this fashion with built in support for corporate networks, profile segmentation, Microsoft Account linking, corporate Sky Drive integration, Office 2013, and various other features. Additionally, an App acquired through the Windows Store is available to a user regardless of which machine that they are logged in. This results in potential customers having access to their apps in home, mobile, and corporate environments. This is an unprecedented level of integration between the home and office experiences.
Microsoft invested heavily across all their business division in Developers during the Windows 8 release cycle. This has resulted in a toolbox allowing for quality and expedient App development.
Modern App Templates
Visual Studio 2012 (the Windows 8 Development Suite) is bundled with several App templates that demonstrate and feature Modern App design and features. These templates may be easily customized to provide a stable and unique Windows App. Windows Apps like Bing and the New York Times leverage those same modern templates successfully.
Microsoft Account (formally Windows Live ID)
Traditionally, a registration process will drop user adoption dramatically. Industry standard is a 10% drop of adoption per click. With Windows Apps, Microsoft has provided access to the built in (or linked) Microsoft Account (Hotmail, Live, Messenger, etc…). With this feature user account registration and authentication may be accomplished automatically. Not only does a developer not have to create and secure an authentication system, but the process is transparent to the customers (Allow Access is requested on first App launch)
Monetization and Microsoft Advertising
As with most App market places, the Windows Store allows for Apps to be sold. Microsoft handles all of the payment processing and then pays out the developer once $200 worth of their Apps have been sold. The Windows Store has a graduated commission rate, where the first $20K of a given App sales are charge a 30% commission, however, all additional sales (for the lifetime of the App) are charged a reduced 20% commission. App pricing ranges from US $1.49 to $999.99 and international currency exchange rates are calculated by the Store.
In addition to App Sales, the Windows Store supports in-app purchases. This enables an App to be distributed as Free and then additional features sold inside the App. An example would be a Blackjack App that gives a user $500 in fake money every 24 hours. If they lose all their fake money, then they may purchase an additional $2000 of fake money for a $1.49 in-app purchase.
As with all internet enabled sites or Apps, advertising is a viable monetization option. Beginning with Windows Phone and then extending into Windows Apps, Microsoft offers a comprehensive advertising platform. The built-in tools allow for developers to seamlessly integrate a large variety of ad units into their Apps. Microsoft has taken Windows App ads to the next level by creating a rich experience regardless of the technology that the App itself uses. Each ad unit will refresh itself every 60 seconds inside of an App, this results in a significant higher impression rate than traditional web ads.
The Windows Store has roughly 30,000 Apps in their offering catalog (Feb 2013). Even though this is a high enough number to make the Windows 8 platform compelling to consumers, it leaves a lot of room for early developer adopters. Apps that have dominated the Google and Apple market places have not solidified their place in the Windows Store. This provides an opportunity for enterprising organizations to enter a market with high user base upside and relatively limited competition.