First, why is a developer writing about this? The most obvious reason is that there has to be at least some market to make it worthwhile to create and promote apps. What I find misleading, however, is raw percentage numbers. There’s no denying that if a raw percentage is too low, e.g. Blackberry, you’re wasting your time. That platform is dead in the water.
But I also have doubts over the value of Android’s seemingly commanding 80% of worldwide smartphone users. And I find it amusing/disturbing that many still dismiss Windows Phone because it has 1/4th the share that iPhone does. While no one writes off Apple because it has 1/4th the share of Android.
From a developer perspective, it (literally) pays to look deeper into the numbers. Recently I’ve read that a good number of Android apps are simply pirated, which in certain countries is also true for iPhone, since a good many are jailbroken. I’m sure there are many reasons, including the “free” OS ethos Google likes to promote, that Android users don’t pay for apps. And that seems to apply across national boundaries. But in some places, Apple faces the same problem.
80% market share is not as impressive if only 1% of users ever pay for your apps. Granted, that can still be a large actual number. But the point is, again, it’s worthwhile to not just take raw numbers at face value. Because of the underlying lack of value, I’ve never been interested in developing for Android. Technically, it would seem more feasible for a C# developer to move to Java. Prior to Xamarin (which doesn’t solve all my problems), the main barrier to iOS development for me has been finding the time to fit in learning Objective-C. C# has been my bread-and-butter, actual make-a-living, development language for quite some time.
Going forward, I will develop or work with other developers to get into the iOS market. I’ve read a few negatives such as many iPhones in places like China are jailbroken. And that apps are mercilessly copied and slowly purged by an indifferent Apple App Store. (But the latter has happened somewhat to me too in the Windows Phone store, where elements of an app were poorly aped – like some sort of Bizarro Superman version). Yet – if one can do enough outside promotion – the iOS market is definitely worthwhile.
Much has been written about the diminishment of Apple (reflected in its stock price) and even its potential demise if developers ever switch to an Android-first policy en masse. But I doubt I’m the only developer that has noticed that Apple still holds almost half the American smartphone market (never mind tablets). And that, along with European/ANZ markets, is almost certainly where people are not adverse to shelling out 1/3rd the price of a Starbucks latte for apps.
On to Windows Phone. While it has made some impressive gains in certain markets – particularly in Europe (http://www.kantarworldpanel.com/Global/News/Record-share-for-Windows-phone) – there is both good and bad for the developer. First the bad: Windows Phone still doesn’t have a great share in the U.S. It’s just 3.5%…up from about 3.0 from the same quarter last year.
Also (less bad), the people buying Windows Phones tend to be converting from feature phones. While I don’t have proof, I have concerns whether they’re willing to spend on apps. Furthermore, it’s not Android/iOS users jumping ship and giving mind share to Microsoft/Nokia.
Finally, (least bad but also potentially indicative of shallow pockets), the Windows Phones people are getting are not the trophy devices like the Lumia 1020. Rather, the 520 is the most popular phone. I say least bad because – from a developer standpoint – even the lowliest Lumia is still going to hold up pretty well to your coding demands. It might not support some games but that’s an invitation to put more creative thought into the game play rather than the special effects. I have both a 920 and a 620. While I’d never choose the 620 as my personal phone, it’s a dandy little device and runs my code just the same as its bigger, heavier brother.
Also, bear in mind that outside the U.S. phones are rarely subsidized. In Europe, too, everything tends to be more expensive (my wife still reminds me how I paid €3.00 for floss in Italy). Paying for a phone up front would, in my opinion, lead one to the cheaper models. So perhaps given that backdrop doesn’t mean users are going to be payment-adverse when it comes to apps. (More on that below).
The good news for the developer is that market share is growing. It may not be perfect and may not be widespread, but if it was contracting after all this time, there would be no clearer message to get out. What is also encouraging is that – at least for my two current apps in the Windows Phone Store ( 7-Minute Workout – http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/7-minute-workout/879efccc-5c9e-4b19-b8e6-346b76ff0133 and Ballistica – http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/search?q=ballistica) – conversion rates from trial to paid are quite good. 7-Minute Workout, which is a more broadly popular app and is priced at the sweeter spot of $0.99, has a 20.6% conversion rate. Ballistica, which is definitely a niche app (aimed at target shooters and hunters), has a 14.3% conversion rate.
I should point out that despite not (yet) being localized, 7-Minute Workout has done really well in non-U.S. markets, further strengthening my hypothesis (Isn’t that what you call any notion relying on anecdotal data?) that Windows Phone users tend to be more like their iOS counterparts, i.e. willing to pay for good apps.
So when it comes to percentages, a larger paid percentage of a smaller market share may well beat writing apps that never make a dime off a vast pool of freeloaders…did I say that?
On a topical note: I do hope (as expressed in the intro to Outkast’s Hey Ya http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWgvGjAhvIw) that Microsoft doesn’t screw up the acquisition of Nokia’s phone assets. It’s still critical that they find a way to build up U.S. market share.