When I returned to Windows Phone in August of last year, I penned an article in November where I discussed the app gap for the platform when compared to iOS and Android. The basis of that article was that when I left the platform in 2011 for iOS, the gulf of an app gap was so huge that it couldn’t be ignored and it eventually became too much for me to handle.
For those who stuck it out, I applaud you. You are better than me.
But over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize that I was at a basic level wrong in this article. Yes there is an app gap for Windows Phone and yes it is a problem. But the reality is that there are a lot of 3rd party apps in the Windows Phone app store to fill that gap. The real problem upon reflection is the app update gap. That is what is frustrating me as a Windows Phone user and fan and based on comments left here on the site and on Twitter, I don’t think I’m alone.
As a Windows Phone user, the last few weeks have been bitter sweet. On the one hand there has been a plethora of new games and apps that have hit the Windows Phone store which had been on iOS or Android only. This is great to see and only helps solidify the platform as a player in the market. There has also been some significant updates to apps that are already in the store. Audible for example update their app this past weekend and it has is nothing short of brilliant. And by brilliant I mean that it actually works!
On the other side of this particular coin you have the demise of the Chase and Bank of America banking apps this month. Both have not only shut down their apps but both, in the process, managed to point their users to a website that Internet Explorer on Windows Phone isn’t supported. Then there is Instagram which as of today is 1 year old and has yet to receive any updates. Any. It is still in beta and seems to be dying a death. Couple all this with the demise of the American Airlines app (I’m a million miler peeps – I’m not changing airlines) and the lack luster support from hotel chains like Marriott (who’s app is basically a web wrapper) and you get the idea. And don’t get me started on TripIt which hasn’t been updated since March 22, 2012. Three years.
I’m sure as you look at your own Windows Phone you see similar stories. Frankly, there are too many to name.
It is this lack of updating that is hindering the success of Windows Phone. When a new user of the platform looks in the Windows Phone store and sees Instagram, they expect it to function like it did on their iPhone or Android device. They don’t expect to have to download a 3rd party app like 6Tag to really get the benefits of Instagram. Indeed on iOS and Android, users are discouraged from downloading 3rd party apps to an extent. Yet here we are as a community saying, “No, don’t bother with Instagram. It sucks. Go get 6Tag”.
I love 6Tag and fully appreciate all the efforts that Rudy Huyn single handedly has put into the platform. But seriously, should this platform not have to deal with so many 3rd party apps for basic functionality of the native apps on other platforms? I don’t think so.
The problem of course is that developers like Rudy Huyn are filling a gap. Not so much an app gap but an app update gap. He makes an app that uses the latest Instagram APIs. Instagram themselves don’t bother with that level of detail.
If you need another example, take a look at the official Twitter app for Windows Phone. It has, thankfully, be updated a few times (it’s last update was January) but the problem with it is feature parity when you look at Twitter for iOS or Android. In fact I would contend it is night-and-day. Having been playing with the Twitter for Android app over the course of the last week, it is so fundamentally better than the app for Windows Phone. It update regularly, it allows video playing, it allows Tweet quotes. None of these things are in the Windows Phone version of the app.
By-the-way, if you are looking for a solid Twitter app for Windows Phone, check out Aeries.
The promise of Windows 10 and Universal apps is large. It should encourage development on this platform because of the nature of the app development that was discussed last week at WinHEC and the release of the Windows 10 SDK just today. And while I remain strong that Universal apps alone will not make Windows 10 a success, it should (it must really) encourage faster development.
If nothing else, perhaps Windows 10 will close the app update gap for many of the apps in the Windows Phone store today.