Microsoft's Windows 8 app ecosystem badly needs a jolt to make it competitive with iOS and Android on tablets, an analyst said today.
And it's looking like that won't happen anytime soon.
"Most of the top apps are still not supported by Windows 8," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights Strategy. "Not only is that a major issue on its own, but Windows 8 now has a reputation for not having the right apps."
And that reputation will stick -- and the taint stink -- long after the developers of the must-have apps have created something for Windows 8. "Even when Microsoft rounds out the catalog, Windows 8 will have a lingering perception issue with consumers," Moorhead contended.
Moorhead, who has been critical of Microsoft's app strategy since before the launch of Windows 8 last October, was reacting Wednesday to an analysis of the current state of the Windows Store, which distributes Windows 8 and Windows RT "Modern," ne "Metro" apps.
Nick Landry, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and product manager at Infragistics, a New Jersey maker of user interface (UI) development tools, came up with a "must-have" list based on the top 100 iOS apps, then dove into the Google Play, Windows Store and Windows Phone Store outlets to count how many Android, Windows 8 and Windows Phone versions were available.
Of the 100 apps on Landry's list -- everything from ABC News and Citibank to HBO GO and Zillow -- the Windows Store had just 54, slightly more than half.
To Landry, who heads Infragistics' mobile development tools group, the 54-out-of-100 was impressive. "I don't know about you, but for a new platform that is less than a year old, having 100,000 [total] apps -- including 54% of the top 100 apps -- is not bad at all," Landry argued.
Moorhead begged to differ.
"Kudos, first of all, to [Landry] for doing this. It is a very nice analysis, and for me passes the smell test," said Moorhead. "But I reject the notion that it's been less than a year. It's been two years."
He was referring to the September 2011 debut of Windows 8, when Microsoft began distributing a preview of the OS at its BUILD developers conference, where it touted Windows 8's radical UI and the app model that would battle Android and iOS on tablets.
"The numbers just reinforce the challenge that Windows 8 still has in apps," said Moorhead. "Windows 8 still doesn't support the No. 1 social app, Facebook, the No. 1 paid-content app, HBO GO, the No. 1 sports app, Watch ESPN. These, and others, are the same apps that I've been griping about for over a year, and they're still not supported."
Although Facebook has yet to appear on Windows 8 and Windows RT, in June Microsoft said that the social network had committed to developing an app. CEO Steve Ballmer, who announced the future Facebook app as well as one from Flipboard at this year's BUILD, did not set timelines for either.
Landry cited other examples of AWOL apps, saying that many were also missing from the Windows Phone Store and concluded that their omissions from the Windows Store were for similar reasons, including, he said, "Because some of these developers (reportedly) love sticking it to Microsoft, or they just don't feel the platform is important enough."
To Moorhead, Microsoft has run out of excuses and at this point, if it wants to play with the Android and iOS big boys, it simply has to have comparable app coverage. Half doesn't cut it.
"If there's a viable alternative to Windows, and there is, and you're a consumer, you're going to try to mitigate your risk," said Moorhead, referring to potential customers' rejection of Windows 8 and RT because it fails to deliver on apps. "It's more than a numbers game. What if HBO is your favorite channel? What if your bank isn't supported?"
Until Microsoft can overcome not only the app shortage -- and Moorhead wasn't talking about store tallies, which every platform backer likes to brag about -- it won't overcome both the perception that it fields a sub-standard ecosystem and the reality that it can't deliver the most sought-after software.
"Look at the history of Android," said Moorhead. "Even though it's been moving up in app coverage for two years, it still has a reputation that it doesn't have enough apps."
Landry counted 95 Android versions of his top-100 app list.
So what's Microsoft to do? Persevere, obviously, as the company has promised.
"With consumers, you get one shot ... unless you essentially relaunch," said Moorhead. "But you need a reason to relaunch. Windows 8.1 would have been that relaunch."
Now he's not sure Windows 8.1 will be impressive enough, and that enough of the missing apps will be in the Windows Store this year, to convince consumers that it is a new day for Microsoft and tablets.
So far, Microsoft's Windows tablet strategy has failed to produce big returns. But it has gained ground. In the quarter ending June 30, IDC estimated, about 2 million Windows-powered tablets were shipped by Microsoft and its OEM partners, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous quarter. Windows share also increased, from 3.7 per cent in the first quarter to 4.5 per cent in the second.
So it's moving in the right direction.
But until Microsoft closes the app gap, it's going to be a hard climb out of the single-digit cellar. "It is going to be difficult for them, and they're going to have to go through a period where the perception [of inadequacy] remains. They should really push to educate consumers about when they're going to add apps," said Moorhead.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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