Microsoft’s Latest Problem: Windows Phone 7 Isn’t Attracting Developers

The other night I read a post on the Seattle Times about Windows Phone 7.  What initially caught my eye about the article in question was the fact that it was the only news pertaining to Microsoft’s mobile operating system that I have seen or come across in quite a long time.  After all, there isn’t much news these days about WP7, as the platform doesn’t seem to be making much traction at all with consumers and has far from proven itself to be a viable competitor to platforms such as Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system.  Not surprisingly, the post in question wasn’t about any breakthroughs, successes, or milestones in the Windows Phone 7 OS, but rather a new effort on the part of Microsoft to push WP7 into the mainstream in hopes that the OS – one that I personally believe has a certain degree of potential – will catch on.

But unlike the large media campaigns that we have come to expect from large companies such as Apple and Microsoft, this latest effort isn’t driven towards consumers in the least.  Rather, Microsoft is hosting a few events this week aimed at getting developers on-board with Windows Phone 7 with a series of workshops and small events that Microsoft hopes will pave the way for more applications being developed, made available, and used by consumers on WP7.

But why is Microsoft being so hands on with current and prospective Windows Phone 7 developers?  Simply put, the platform in question has incredibly low numbers of available third-party applications; a component that has become a standard in mobile operating systems, devices and platforms.

You see, recent estimates put the number of applications available through Microsoft’s WP7 marketplace to be just shy of 12,500.  Sure, this is indeed a considerable number, but when compared the 150,000 apps available through the Android marketplace – or the estimated 350,000 apps available for iOS, it is evident that Microsoft is lacking in the app arena; and they clearly know it.

After all, Google and Apple openly use the number of “apps” available for their devices in their media campaigns in order to show the versatility of their platforms.  In fact, with the level of focus in mobile applications, many people, myself included, would go as far as to say that the selection of applications takes precedence (to a certain extent) even over the features and specifications of a mobile device.  And being in the position that it’s in now, Microsoft has been forced to put its tail between its legs and sit in the corner when it comes to mobile applications; something that is especially ironic considering that Microsoft’s “Windows” desktop OS is often seen as having the upper-hand because of its strong array of third-party software applications.

But you would think that developers would already be lining up to develop applications for the relatively uncharted Windows Mobile marketplace simply because of the minimal competition and the potential to see unthought of growth down the road.  This, however, is far from true as the developers that have the potential to bring WP7 up to par with other platforms such as iOS and Android (in terms of apps) are already busy developing for these already well-established platforms.  Why?  That’s where the money is.

And of course the potential to make it big as a Windows Phone 7 developer isn’t there yet simply because the market of potential customers is so low in retrospect to the user-base of iOS and Android that it really doesn’t make sense for developers to invest their precious time with a platform that in its current stage shows little promise in terms of return on investment.  And going back to the issue at hand, I honestly think that the shallow number of applications for WP7 is one of the largest, if not the single largest, component that is preventing the platform from becoming a legitimate option in the eyes of consumers.  Where does this leave us?  When it boils down to it, we’re witnessing a classic gridlock between developers who are holding out on developing for WP7 until the device has a large enough user-base to justify their time and effort and consumers who are reluctant to buy into the WP7 family because of the pitiful selection of applications.

For Microsoft, it is very clear that this single issue is holding Windows Phone 7 back from achieving the potential that many think it has.  The software giant has previously put forth efforts to encourage app development on the WP7 platform, even going as far as pushing their own employees to take up app development as a secondary job to no avail.

Even though I’m not a big fan of Microsoft, I must admit that Windows Phone 7 looks like an amazingly solid and well-polished product.  And really, I think that aside from the application issues Microsoft really has done everything right with WP7.  They’ve integrated it into other Microsoft services, they’ve created a minimal interface, and they’ve even invested in marketing (even if it has been a bit over the top).

So really, even though it’s definitely going to be easier said than done I think that Microsoft will open up the doors to success once they succeed in winning over developers and convincing them that WP7 can be a profitable venture for those who choose to partake in it early enough.

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