Microsoft uses cash to boost Windows Phone, but some app developers aren’t biting

One of the big challenges Microsoft faces in mobile phones is that developers don’t have the time — or resources — to make new applications for the emerging Windows Phone platform. The software giant is using its checkbook to help jumpstart that ecosystem.

But as it turns out, even that financial incentive doesn’t always work.

As The New York Times reports, the company has been paying creators of popular mobile apps like Foursquare and Cheezburger to move their apps into the Windows Phone universe. Microsoft is also promising advertising and prime placement in the company’s app store.

Last month, Microsoft and Nokia announced that they are investing $23 million into a program called AppCampus to help spur even more app development.

Obviously, as we’ve reported in the past, Microsoft has a long way to go to catch up to its rivals. Developers have created some 70,000 mobile apps for the Windows Phone platform, which may sound like a lot until you realize that Android and Apple’s iOS are in the hundreds of thousands.

And many popular apps, such as Pandora, Redfin and games from Zynga, aren’t available on Windows Phone.

Redfin tells GeekWire was approached by Microsoft about the subsidy program, but the Seattle online real estate company turned Microsoft down.

“We had to focus on the platforms that the vast majority of our customers use to connect with Redfin,” said spokesman Matt Wakefield, adding that there’s still a maintenance cost associated with keeping apps up-to-date.

“There is an opportunity cost here, of course, and right now it just made sense to keep focusing on Android and the iOS apps, for the time being,” he said. Redfin unveiled a new version of its iOS app today.

Redfin’s cross-town rival, Zillow, does have a Windows Phone app and it did receive a subsidy from Microsoft.

Many of the small mobile app developers we talk to on a regular basis say they just aren’t investing resources in Windows Phone, choosing Android or iOS instead. For many, Windows Phone isn’t even part of the conversation until we bring it up.

The subsidies for app developers could help solve those problems, but there’s also the potential for backlash. After all, what does it say to those app developers who actually invested their own resources in developing for Windows Phone, the early adopters? Will everyone now be looking for a handout?

Steve Murch, a former Microsoftie and founder of the popular mobile recipe app BigOven, was an early adopter of Windows Phone, creating an app for the platform in late 2010. Even though Murch wasn’t approached about the subsidy program, he’s glad that he got out in front: BigOven is now the leading recipe app on Windows Phone.

BigOven's Steve Murch

“We’ll continue to invest in Windows Phone since our WinPhone users love it, the platform shows promise with new devices (notably the Nokia partnership) and it shares a great deal of similarity to Windows 8 app development,” Murch tells GeekWire.

And Murch said he won’t feel slighted if Microsoft helps bankroll his rivals.

“I’m supportive of the idea, as I feel confident we’ll continue to have the best app in the cooking category, and a rising OS tide lifts all apps,” he said.

But Murch has some advice for Microsoft, suggesting that they complement the subsidization program with outright acquisition of a portfolio of apps so that they got first, or only, access to the best apps.

“Imagine if the only place you could get Instagram or Draw Something or BigOven were on Windows Phone?”

Follow us on Twitter @Geekwire.

  • Guest

    How many billions of lost profit and lost opportunity has just this single failure of Ballmer’s many cost?

    “Imagine if the only place you could get Instagram or Draw Something or BigOven were on Windows Phone?”

    Yeah, imagine MS actually investing to have a killer app for their otherwise badly lagging platform, instead of say bringing even Skype to the platform last. Why that would be almost like business competition 101…

  • Guest

    I support this initiative. If a startup can throw millions of dollars of others’ money at a problem that naysayers thought was already solved, why can’t Microsoft?

    • Guest

      MS has thrown billions – literally – at mobile for more than a decade. And thanks to a series of poor leaders, worse execution and ineffective marketing they now have less than 4% share and dropping. At some point you have to decide when to call it quits. MS hasn’t been able to catch Apple at anything over the last decade where Apple got out in front. Nothing. It’s not going to happen here. So MS’s chances all come down to Android falling apart. And despite the best efforts of MS and Apple, that doesn’t look likely.

      This is now a two horse race: iOS and Android.

      • Guest

        I seem to remember you saying the same thing about BlackBerry and Palm OS a decade ago. Remember the two-horse race of PDAs?

        Horses die, Gary.

        • Guest

          Your memory, like your judgment, is faulty.

          Also, sometimes horses don’t die. They just end up lame and need to be shot. See MS’s mobile efforts for an example.

          • Guest

            I see millions of devices sold, integration with the world’s #1 home gaming console, and a forthcoming integration with the world’s #1 desktop OS. What, may I ask, is so “lame” about that, my mustachioed chum?

  • http://twitter.com/kforeman1 Kevin Foreman

    We too invested our own resources (no subsidy) to create the leading traffic app on WP7, and are glad we did.

    Kevin

    Kevin Foreman, VP Mobile Applications,
    INRIX, Inc.

  • Guest

    MSFT should have had a killer Skype app ready to go with the new Nokia phones. They have great products in house (Skype, Photosynth, Xbox). They should be proactive with these ventures for Windows Phone instead of paying (comes across desperate) outside developers for apps. I realize with 5% market share desperate times call for desperate measures.

    • Odog4ever

      This is business, not dating. Playing coy doesn’t make you more appealing to devs. They want support and at the end of the day they need money cause they have to eat. At least MS is not just sitting on its thumbs like Palm did. 

      It is what it is. MS is coming from behind so they have to pay. Chicken and egg. More quality apps means more customers, more customers means more apps.

      To the articles points:
      All I know is that I have several unofficial Pandora apps installed on my phone from the WP Marketplace that work well. What is an official Pandora app going to bring to the table? Idiot proof searching for people who only stick to the top 100 list perhaps, but no guarantee of a superior app experience.  

      I have plenty of  apps and games download on my WP. But even when I had and iPhone 3G I downloaded a bunch of games I didn’t touch after a week. And so-call zeitgeist games like Angry Birds didn’t grab my attention after playing the demo so I’m an anomaly.

      MS gimped game development on WP by not having support for the popular support game engines like Unity and not letting devs write to the metal, etc. So even if a dev wanted to bring a Unity game over it would be extremely difficult.

      Never been a big fan of exclusives games on consoles and I’m even less of a fan of exclusive apps on mobile platforms. How have consumers ever benefited from this?

  • Chris Lee

    “Imagine if the only place you could get Instagram or Draw Something or BigOven were on Windows Phone?”
    Unfortunately… if those apps were only available on WP… They wouldn’t be as popular at all. 

    If there is a lot of code share between Windows 8 and WP8 applications the number of popular applications available for both platforms will go up in spades. It would essentially allow a developer to create 1 piece of software and have it run on PC/Tablet and Phone. It would be hard for developers to ignore the market share the Windows 8 will have. That’s what’s going to turn the tide for WP. 

    • Guest

      What if W8 bombs as badly on tablets as WP has in mobile? It’s already unlikely to be a big desktop success. So what would be the draw then?

      • Finges

        Windows will be a desktop success… What else is a OEM (HP/Lenovo/Dell… etc) going to put on their new computers? Linux hasn’t gotten to a point where the general public will find it easy enough to use… and OSX isn’t available for OEMs.

        Microsoft is going to once again leverage their power in the desktop space to push their tech into other spaces… IE tablet/phone. Using Vista’s (MS biggest OS flop) numbers… 20 million copies were sold in the first month… 

        If I’m a developer… and I can write essentially write 1 set of code to work on 20million+ desktops, tablets and phone products.. why wouldn’t I?

        Currently the users aren’t there for developers to make an effort but if they can develop for that many users.. they’ll start developing…

      • Guest

        Windows enjoys 98% market share in a market where 3 billion PCs are sold every year. Let’s not be too pessimistic here.

        • Guest

          The actual number is now below 90%, and that’s not counting tablets. If you count them, it’s probably gone from 90%-70% in less than two years. And new PC sales are less than 500 million units a year, not 3 billion.

          • Guest

            Sorry. Only 450 million new Windows 8 PCs will be shipped this year.

            Sorry.

  • http://twitter.com/fijiaaron Aaron Evans

    Zillow is a Microsoft subsidy.  Like Expedia (and led by the same Microsoft exec) it’s a Microsoft investment property that they have given some leeway, in part to avoid taxes, in part to split stock, and in part to shelter risk.

    • Guest

      Don’t believe MS has any residual ownership position in Expedia now. Unsure about Zillow. 

  • Guest

    MS took too long and there’s now just too much momentum for iOS and Android. Neither looks like they’re about to stumble, leaving MS shut out.

    The silver lining is that this, finally, should result in Ballmer getting fired. After all, the board specifically “reprimanded” him two years ago and gave orders to improve MS’s position in mobile and tablets. Neither has happened. WP has landed with a thud, and W8 probably isn’t going to do a whole lot better in tablets.

  • Guest

    John,

    OT. But you guys need to do a story on Ballmer’s ultra low profile lately. No huge media events. No stupid public comments making embarassing headlines every day. No arrogant and misguided assertions about how MS is going to come back in any of the markets they have lost under his guidance. Odd, no? (Even Turner has gone dark). 

    Is Ballmer busy working on his last attempt to put MS back at the forefront of technology? Or is he winding down his profile intentionally with an eye towards announcing a transition to Sinofsky near fiscal year end that will unfold over the next year? If the replacement is SS, they need to do it before W8 ships. Because anything less than a successful launch for that product would make a Sinofsky candidacy problematic (and there doesn’t appear to be any other likely successors).

    • Guest

      I agree. Steve has become much more of a businessman than a salesman lately. I commend him for his very professional demeanour.

      You can tell that the men of Geekwire appreciate it as well; every time Microsoft, Google, or Apple does anything, a flood of comments revering Steve not only as a boss but as a father figure flow in. This is truly a town that is carrying its patriarch around in a litter.

      Thank you.

      • Guest

        You need to stop drinking before posting comments.