redfin

The new Redfin app for Microsoft’s Windows Phone promises to deliver the core features of the online real estate service, including the ability to search for homes to rent or buy, research neighborhoods, and find an agent. But unlike Redfin’s 4.5-star apps for iPhone and Android, this app gets a 2.5-star rating, and a string of negative reviews.

81600f64-e325-4ae1-aed5-8b79e89a2645“Mediocre experience at best,” says one reviewer. “Please get the real app.”

As it turns out, this isn’t a native Windows Phone app — and it wasn’t made by Redfin. It was developed by Microsoft, by packaging up Redfin’s mobile website in the form of an installable app.

In fact, the existence of the Redfin app for Windows Phone was a surprise to Redfin.

“Redfin did not authorize Microsoft to do this,” said Redfin spokeswoman Jani Strand in an email to GeekWire today.

Redfin is far from alone in experiencing Microsoft’s web-app wrapup. This is part of a broader initiative by the Redmond company to stock its app store with more of the popular services that consumers have come to expect on smartphones. There are more than 80 apps associated with the Microsoft WebApps account on the Windows Phone Store at the moment — including notable brands such as Trulia, Lowe’s, Meetup, Coach, Ugg, Jimmy John’s, Orbitz, and many more.

The initiative dates back to the fall, when Southwest Airlines asked Microsoft to remove its unauthorized web app, developed by Microsoft, from the Windows Phone Store. Microsoft complied with that request, but the overall initiative has continued, with one of the web apps, for the TOMS shoes and eyewear site, published as recently as yesterday. The Redfin app was published last week.

Responding to an inquiry from GeekWire today, Microsoft said the reception for the web apps overall has been positive. The idea, the company says, is to give Windows Phone users  “quick pinnable access to select mobile websites that work great on Windows Phone.”

nokiaThe company said in a statement, “Customer response to WebApps has been strong with an average user rating of more than 4 of 5 stars, prompting several companies to take ownership of a WebApp and republish it themselves.”

Microsoft’s statement continued, “We’ve found that the majority of site owners appreciate the fact that WebApps engage more people in the company’s own website experience; however, we are happy to work with content owners to resolve any concerns they may have. Website owners are welcome to contact us at wpwebapps@microsoft.com.”

The push reflects the pressure that Microsoft is under to bolster the Windows Phone Store, and make Windows Phone more attractive to users. The company has succeeded in landing many big-name apps, including Instagram and Waze last fall, but most developers still target iPhone and Android first. Windows Phone has moved into third place in worldwide market share, by some measures, but remains well behind its larger rivals, reducing the potential market for app developers.

It is true that the majority of the WebApps on Microsoft’s official account have an average rating above 4 stars, but almost 82 percent of all the WebApps published have 5 or fewer ratings. 33 of those apps haven’t been rated at all, and only one app has more than 25 reviews. Lowe’s, the sole outlier, has 72 reviews and a five star average, but that isn’t many reviews compared to the most popular apps, which often have hundreds or thousands of ratings.

In the case of Redfin, company spokeswoman Strand said that the description of its Windows Phone app isn’t “accurate or precise.” While the app’s description claims that users can search for homes to rent, for example, Redfin does not handle rental properties.

b4449096-294a-4a8f-9869-56ffd6ba9b36As it turns out, the Redfin app shares its description almost word-for-word with Trulia’s Windows Phone WebApp. In the case of both companies, Microsoft did not ask for their permission before creating a web app for them.

Reviews for both apps are filled with complaints about malfunctions, errors, and just the fact that the apps only redirect to a website, rather than serving as a complete native experience. That’s a common thread among all of the most-reviewed web apps from Microsoft: A number of users are disappointed with bugs and missing functionality.

“I’ll just stick with zillow,” says one reviewer of the Trulia app, after complaining that 99% of the homes in the app have a value of N/A. (Zillow, in fact, does have a native Windows Phone app — made by Zillow — although it hasn’t been updated in a year-and-a-half.)

Because the companies whose brands are represented by these apps are initially unaware of their existence, it can be hard for them to fix problems that users are having, leading to more negative reviews.

The apps are identified as web apps in their Windows Phone Store descriptions, and the publisher is listed as “Microsoft WebApps.” Clicking on the “show details” link in the Redfin description reveals this disclaimer, “Microsoft does not claim ownership of or responsibility for the content in this app. This app links directly to content available at http://redfin.com/.”

But the fact that they aren’t native apps can be easily overlooked by people quickly downloading them, and in many cases end users might not even make that distinction.

Microsoft said in its statement, “Windows Phone WebApps are developed by Microsoft to enable access to existing third party web-based resources. Windows Phone WebApps are not a replacement for full featured native applications.”

There could be good news on the horizon for companies that don’t want to spend time developing a Windows Phone app. A report surfaced last week claiming that Microsoft is investigating the possibility of letting users run Android apps on Windows Phone.

Redfin declined to say how it plans to handle its Windows Phone surprise. Trulia says it’s contacting Microsoft about the situation.

Comments

  • nobhill

    Ha! I made the mistake of buying a Windows phone because it was a lot cheaper than an Android, but it’s the LAST Windows phone I’ll ever buy. It sucks in so many ways – not just the apps.

  • cybersaurusrex

    I love Windows Phone and hope this “webapps” thing encourages companies to build more native apps for Windows Phone.

    • Carlos Osuna-Roffe

      Facebook learnt the “hard way” that Web Apps are not really apps.

      Today they have learn the lesson and are releasing Paper, although no WP app looms in the distance.

      • balls187

        Are you talking about their FB’s iOS App that was web based?

  • Thomas R.

    If anything this antagonizes companies from building apps. I’d think that their trademark lawyers are looking into this as building a bad app dilutes the brand and surely confuses consumers. This is done in very bad faith.

    If I were Trulia or Redfin, I’d be pissed.

  • dingl_

    &what exactly is wrong here? Similar to pinning sites to Start.. I do it all the time

    • gjgustav

      Copyright infringement. It was not clear to the user that Redfin did not make the app. MS even used the description without permission.

      • sir1963nz

        Maybe Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Samsungs book and figured copying other peoples stuff was OK :-)

    • http://tewha.net/ Steven Fisher

      Depends. Does Redfin even claim to support Windows Phone on their site? Because by launching this web app, Microsoft is saying they do.

      • dingl_

        Does Redfin support the Internet? I would think so. because that’s what this Webapp is, their mobile site(on the open internet)
        Redfin doesn’t want their service to be available on the internet and only in a Store app Redfin needs to take their front facing mobile site offline

        • http://tewha.net/ Steven Fisher

          No, that’s not at all fair. A site may or may not support a particular browser. It requires testing in that browser, and often corrections. If it doesn’t support it, that’s bad and unfortunate and all that, and of COURSE it SHOULD work…

          But what’d be even worse is saying that it DOES support it when it doesn’t, which is exactly what the Microsoft web apps are saying.

  • Carlos Osuna-Roffe

    Windows Phone relevance in the market diminishes by the minute. The admission that they might run Android in the near future is a tacit concession of defeat.

    I guess they should’ve learnt Sony’s lesson with Betamax which had accept the de facto standard just to save face (and customers).

    I think I have that story on HD-DVD somewhere. LOL.

    • Þoddi

      “Windows Phone relevance in the market diminishes by the minute”.
      I really think you base that on nothing. Even though they are small, Windows Phone has only grown year over year, doubling their marketshare every year since it was launched. In my opinion, that doesn’t translate to “diminishing by the minute”.

      • William Lawn

        Yup, two to one, doubles your growth. Still means nothing though.

    • balls187

      A more apt comparison would be the Zune.

  • Boter

    Sorry Redfin, that’s what you get. You don’t build an app for Windows Phone and show no intention of ever doing so, someone comes in and does so instead. And if it’s merely packaging your mobile site… and reviews are bad… maybe it’s your mobile site’s fault?

    • gjgustav

      BS. No company is obligated to build an app for any store. Is MS made an app and clearly labelled it as MS made, didn’t call it Redfin, and used their own description, this would be ok. But they didn’t – they’re making this apps to fool customers into believing third parties are supporting the Windows Phone store.

      The reviews are bad because it’s a web app and not native. And it’s not the mobile site’s fault. Mobile sites will always be behind true native apps.

    • Thomas R.

      Using your logic, if Microsoft doesn’t release Halo for Playstation should Sony just make their own version? If Microsoft doesn’t release Office for iPads should someone just make an webapp for it?

  • Allen

    Silly Redfin. Build a real app or lose customers.
    “But it’s such a small marketshare” maybe, but it’s still about 10,000,000 potential customers.

    I do not patronize businesses that do not develop for the platforms I use, I patronize their competitors. As reported, yes- Zillow has received all my real-estate business.

    • gjgustav

      So you posted this using the Geekwire native app then?

    • rick gregory

      However, that’s a choice Redfin gets to make. If they don’t want to have an app for a phone OS with 3% market share, they get to make that call and deal with the consequences.It’s overreaching to create an app for them under their name and which could affect their reputation.

    • ScottJL

      MS making an un-official Redfin app hurts Redfin’s brand name. Just as if you wrote your own version of “Windows computer operating system” and it was sub-standard you can bet Microsoft would send it’s flock of lawyers after you for all sorts of infringement. This is no different. It is Redfin’s decision if they do or do not want to write a Windows phone app, but they shouldn’t be damaged by Microsoft’s half assed attempt at doing so either.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Can anyone shed light on what packaging up their mobile website in the form of an installable app means exactly? I’m not clear on that.

    I’m surprised that this isn’t a violation of trademark or the like.

    From a security point of view, this behavior is extremely troubling. On Android repackaged or otherwise unofficial apps are a significant source of malware. I’m not saying these are malware but for the curator of an apps store to not only allow unofficial apps like this but themselves be the author of them raises concerns about the trustworthiness of apps in their store. I understand what’s driving them to do this but it’s just not a smart move for the long term.

    • Unbelievable

      Couldn’t agree more with every point you stated. I fully understand their rationale, but this will simply not play out well. And this is absolutely a trademark violation, otherwise I am going to create a few Disney apps for Android.

    • Not a lawyer, but…

      This pretty clearly steps over the ‘exclusive rights’ of trademark owners and creates customer confusion.

      Considering how quickly MSFT dropped ‘Metro’ on very weak claims of trademark, it’s really surprising to see them take a more obvious risk here.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Essentially, the “apps” are a wrapper around the mobile site. So you download and install the app, but when you launch it, it’s basically just a frame around the mobile site.

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        Ah, OK, thanks much. Yeah, that’s really troubling. What we see on Android is that legitimate apps are taken by others and repackaged to include malware. So any action that is a wrapping or repackaging by a 3rd party reinforces dangerous behavior.

    • 21tigermike

      Sounds like a Bookmarklet. See: 2007 iOS Development pre-App Store.

  • Dark Shroud

    Smart move by MS. It’s not their fault some of these companies also have garbage mobile sites in addition to no WP8 app.

    • gjgustav

      BS. Not having a native app doesn’t give MS permission to violate Redfin’s copyrights. They can make web apps, but they can’t use Redfin’s description or name for the app.

      • surur

        The apps are just and only links to the site plus an icon. Its the same as Google or yahoo listing a website in their index.

        • gjgustav

          That’s not the point (and actually a web app doesn’t just launch the standard browser, but its own environment containing a web view; it’s more than a link). But Redfin didn’t make the web app, and didn’t give MS permission to use their name or their description in the Windows Phone app store. MS did not have permission to use the Redfin name in their Web app, nor the description in their store, nor did they make it explicit that Redfin did not make or endorse the web app. It’s straight up copyright infringement, pure and simple.

          • sir1963nz

            So, based on the entertainment industry as the benchmark, Redfin should be in for a $537 Billion Dollar payout

  • Walt French

    TFA wrote, “Microsoft’s statement continued, “We’ve found that the majority of site owners appreciate the fact that WebApps engage more people in the company’s own website experience; however, we are happy to work with content owners to resolve any concerns they may have.”

    Microsoft is so sure that they didn’t offer it as an opt-in use of the companies’ trademarks?

    Pure, unadulterated bullshit.

    (By the way, a nice reminder to developers about the rotten economics of apps for WP, that even major consumer companies would rather go missing from WP than to associate with Redmond’s Amateur Hour Ecosystem. Or maybe they think devs don’t read blogs like this one, or twitter or reddit…)

  • watchesandmore

    I like my windows phone….

    Donna

    Website Owner

    http://easyappcreation.com

  • http://www.webspiders.com/ John Murphy

    Windows app is a surprise indeed. But do you know how critical is to create some of the most exciting mobile applications for your smart phone?

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