Who will use the Windows 8 app store? That was the first question that came to my mind when Microsoft announced that its newest operating system would ship with an integrated store. Back then, I could not really think of many users. Sure, Windows RT users would use the app store because they only have that option, as they would not be able to install desktop application.
But Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro users? Why would they turn to the app store and not to desktop apps? The app store offers some advantages: touch support, auto-updating apps so that you will never run into situations where old program versions are run on your system for an extended period of time, or security checks for apps that get released to it.
I have been running a weekly series over at Betanews that looks at the best applications for Windows 8 that have been released in a week for almost a year now, and have monitored the store, its app, and its general development closely.
The application growth seems to have plateaued in the past month, with only about 500 new apps being released to store each week. That's not a lot, and while you will still find a couple of quality apps each week, it is clear that the store is not as popular as Microsoft hoped it would be.
The Windows 8 Store has a popularity issue
It is not that popular for developers, as other platforms are more attractive at the time. It is a numbers game and both Android and iOS are the two attractive options, with Windows Phone or Windows 8 following in third place. You will get better exposure on Windows 8 though, due to the limited number of apps that get released for the platform, while your great app for iOS or Android may very well be overlooked due to the sheer number of apps that get released for these platforms.
It is also not that popular for users. I base this solely on the number of reviews and ratings that apps receive in the store. Microsoft has not really revealed any numbers in recent time in regards to Store and apps usage.
Back to the initial question: Why is the store not popular?
- It does not have anything to offer for desktop users that they cannot get elsewhere. While you may find some great quality apps and games in the store that you would not be able to play otherwise, you will find even more on the desktop or on the Internet that you can access.
- Apps are too limited in terms of how you can run them. You can either display them full screen, half screen, or in a third of the screen, but that is about it. No option to align apps vertically for example, or a lot of apps next to each other.
- The store is difficult to navigate. While you do get recommendations and such on the start page, those don't change that much due to a lack of alternatives. Browsing horizontally feels awkward on a desktop system without touch.
- The store has a "fake" apps problem. You find dozens of media player apps there that try to look like app versions of legit players such as VLC or Windows Media Player.
How can Microsoft turn the situation around? I can think of several solutions, and Microsoft seems to already work on some of them.
- Cooperation. Cooperate with big developers so that they release their products on the platform at the same time as on others. Or, that they bring their back catalog to Windows 8. While this won't really increase the application count by much, it will at the very least increase the overall quality.
- Merging. Merge the Windows Phone platform with the Windows 8 Apps platform so that games and apps designed for Windows Phone can run on Windows 8 and vice verse. This is apparently in the workings right now. While Windows Phone lacks behind in sheer numbers, it has a thriving application marketplace that Windows 8 could benefit from.
- Incentives. It may cost you money, but you could try and convince developers to produce exclusively - or also - for Windows 8. Handpick talented developers that produce apps and games for iOS or Android and provide them with enough incentives to produce for Windows 8.
- Acquisitions. Microsoft has enough money in its treasure chest to buy several small to medium sized software companies that produce high quality apps and games for other platforms.
While this will make the platform more popular overall, it takes time to do so. Plus, it does not really address the underlying issue that desktop users face who do not see many reasons to use it in first place. Great apps and games may change that, so that it is being used like Steam for example to play certain types of games or apps.
The one thing that would help the most in my opinion would be to merge the two interfaces into one. So that users can run all apps and games on the desktop without restrictions in regards to window size or position.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft copes with the situation. The company has started to implement several of the solutions that I have suggested above, and while it will take anywhere from a couple of months to years before users will notice the effect, it is the right thing to tackle right now.
What's your take on the whole Windows 8 store issue? Are you running W8 and using it? Or do you ignore it largely?