Windows 10 gave the Windows Store a much-needed face-lift. The horizontal interface from Windows 8 is hidden, the top charts are a lot easier to find, and there’s a friendly assortment of featured apps on the main page. But has the change made much of a difference for developers?
“It will be years, if ever, before the Windows Store has any meaningful impact in the consumer space,” developer Scott Peterson of Liquid Daffodil told Digital Trends.
If the Windows Store has a veteran, it’s Peterson. His company is behind Outsider, one of the first Windows Phone apps to hit a million downloads. Since then Liquid Daffodil has been a consistent presence on the Windows Store top charts, for desktop and mobile alike. Recent successes include Cortanium, which adds new features to Cortana, and FanBand, which lets users customize the interface of the Microsoft Band wearable.
These are Windows Store apps, through and through, built by and for fans of Microsoft’s platforms. Peterson’s company should be in any list of Windows Store success stories.
Yet he says the apps aren’t enough to make a living.
A hobby, not a career
“It has never ever been my bread and butter,” he explained, saying the apps net his four-person team around $2,000 a month. “We’ve had months that were $4,000, we’ve had months that were $300, but a good average is a couple thousand.”
Peterson’s four-person team nets an average of $2,000 per month.
Not that Peterson is bitter, mind you. The Houston-based developer is a steadfast evangelist for Microsoft’s platform. He makes most of his living designing custom Windows software for oil and gas companies, and during our conversation sang Microsoft’s praises more than once. He’s quick to tell me he’s been making Windows apps since Windows 2, in the late 1980s.
Peterson has no beef with Microsoft. He’s just not convinced designing Windows Store apps for consumers is, or ever will be, lucrative.
Windows Phone still dominates Store sales
Microsoft brought the Windows Store to their desktop operating system in 2012, with the launch of Windows 8. The store’s shopping bag icon was prominently placed on the start screen for millions of users. But a scarcity of apps, an excess of shovel-ware, and general consumer confusion about the difference between “classic” and “universal” apps meant users didn’t visit often.
Such problems could be an opportunity for legitimate developers. In theory, high-quality apps should stand out. But that’s not what Gaurav Kalra, part of the team behind NextGen Reader, has discovered.
“Nextgen Reader was very successful on Windows Phone Store, so when Windows 8 came along we decided it to release on Windows store as well,” Kalra told Digital Trends.
That pathway, from Windows Phone to the potentially larger Windows desktop market, is a common one for Windows Store developers. To this day, however, Windows Phone accounts for the vast majority of NextGen’s sales. The RSS app has been downloaded 300,000 times, according to Kalra, 70 percent of which went to Windows Phone.
That means NextGen, which regularly shows up on the “Top Paid” chart, totals around 90,000 downloads on the desktop in all its years of existence. It sells for $2. You can do the math. While the sales numbers are high enough to produce a respectable revenue, they’re definitely not enough to keep a development company afloat.
Desktop users don’t think about app stores
Peterson’s sentiments agreed with Kalra, as he told us most his sales are on Windows Phone devices, despite the much larger userbase of Windows 8 and Windows 10 PCs. His explanation? Desktop users just don’t think of checking app stores.
“They’re used to checking the app store on their phone, but when they’re on their Windows machine at work it doesn’t occur to them that there might be an app that solves all their problems,” he says. “And when you go on there [the Store], apps are actually hard to find.”
The consumer market is a dead end for would-be Windows developers.
That isn’t to say that the desktop market doesn’t exist. Cortanium, for example, has surprised the Liquid Daffodil team by selling mostly to desktop users. But Peterson says the store itself doesn’t generate interest or customers. Media attention does. Sales spikes come after blog coverage, not after things like being featured on the “Top Paid” list.
“It’s 100 percent outside press,” Peterson said. “It’s a tough spot, because the reality is that it’s difficult or impossible to even get a list of all the apps that are in the store right now. You can see the top rated apps, but if I just wanted to go and see all the health and fitness apps that are only paid, you actually can’t do it.”
While Microsoft adjust the Store for Windows 10, discovering apps there is still difficult, according to Peterson.
Peterson did have a few good things to say about the Windows Store, and particularly the review process. He feels it’s a lot less burdensome than what iOS and Android developers have to go through.
“If I dreamt of an billion dollar app this morning, and wrote it in the afternoon, I could submit it, and later tonight or in the morning it would be available to the entire world,” he told me. Peterson also loves how many platforms a Windows Store app can reach, without much tweaking. “It’s really fun to create an app today and know it runs on Xbox and HoloLens.”
Should college graduates make Windows Store apps?
Fun came up more than once when talking about consumer apps, but would he recommend recent college graduates take up the skill? He said yes, but not because the apps will be profitable.
“I would recommend it for the experience, and for fun,” he told me. “But mostly because those skills are going to translate into the corporate world. If you want to transfer to making money and being billable in the corporate world, Windows is the only way to go.”
The consumer market, Peterson feels, is a dead end for would-be Windows developers.
“What it feels like they’re doing is trying to beat Apple and Android at their own game,” said Peterson, adding that Microsoft has “a story in their world that nobody else can tell: they’ve always been way better at the business side of it.”
And the Windows Store has turned out to be a decent way to distribute corporate apps for Liquid Daffodil. Applications can be offered there for free on the platform, and unlike Apple and Google, Microsoft is (currently) willing to distribute apps without taking a cut of subscriptions. To Peterson, this makes Windows Store a platform worth leveraging.
“My ultimate goal is to only create these apps for business,” said Peterson.
App stores don’t happen overnight
Launching a wide-reaching, consumer-facing app ecosystem is no small effort, and certainly it didn’t happen for Apple or Google overnight. And it’s worth noting that Apple has similarly struggled to build up an app store ecosystem for desktop users. December saw Sketch, a poster child for Mac development, leave the App Store entirely, and it wasn’t the first to do so.
Microsoft’s ecosystem is different because the apps offered there, referred to as “Windows Store” apps, cannot easily be distributed outside the store. They also work on more than desktop computers. It could be that these apps, which work on Windows 10 devices as well as Microsoft’s line of phones, the Xbox, and even the upcoming HoloLens, will eventually have a broad consumer appeal.
We reached out to Microsoft, and a representative told us they’re working on it.
“With the release of Windows 10 Home, we made several updates to the new Windows Store to increase app discovery, including App Suggestions in the Lock Screen and Start Menu,” a Microsoft representative told Digital Trends. The company also emphasized the volume of devices the platform can reach, and the potential for monetizing with advertisements.
But based on our conversations with developers, the Store needs more changes than what Windows 10 offers. There’s no doubt that Windows’ has a massive user base, but it means little if they don’t use the store. Microsoft needs to solve that problem if the Store has any hope of competing with traditional means of distributing software.