There is a lack of connection between Windows Phone and Mobile Start-ups

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"Find some nice stories, please", was the comment from the All About team as I boarded the flight to Dublin and the Digital Web Summit earlier this week. And what I found was disheartening. Not that I was expecting anything else, but the app development gap between Windows Phone and iOS was ridiculous.

There might be some big names coming to Microsoft's mobile platform over the next few weeks (including Instagram and Vine), and the volume of apps may be on the rise, but in terms of people choosing to program on Windows Phone at the start-up stage, Microsoft isn't even in the starting gate, let alone barely out of it. It's worth noting that the apps coming to Windows Phone that many have been looking forward to have already led long and productive lives on other mobile platforms. Windows Phone is in 'catch-up' mode with all of these, waiting for the companies to decide when the time is right to code for the platform - and in some cases giving up in frustration and coding apps on other's behalf... which might have worked for FourSquare, but caused a few issues with YouTube.

With hundreds of start-ups and web based technology companies exhibiting their ideas, prototypes, and business models, the preponderance of demos on iPhones was clear to see. Of all the demos I saw, I would say the ratio of iOS apps to Android apps was around 10:1. As for seeing a demo on a Windows Phone device, aside from a talk about the evolution of Bing (and let's be honest here, that was always going to be a 'win' for Microsoft), not one company demoed its new code on a handset running Microsoft's mobile OS.

Digital Web Summit 2013

The mindset of up-and-coming developers is owned by Apple. Outside of mobile, those showing web services and hardware again shows a huge bias to Apple hardware (such as the MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros), and while Windows hardware was present, it was in the minority.

To be fair, Android is in a similar situation to Windows Phone here. Android recieves very little love from developers who are incubating new projects, and is considered a second class platform. The typical path is that you develop and launch on iOS, then move to Android when you have the resources (of developer time, and capital to spend). The majority of start-ups in Dublin focused on iOS first with 'plans to move to Android in the future'. To a certain extent, having an Android release can be seen as a badge of honour for a start-up - they've made it through the stages of forming, storming, and norming, on iOS, now it's time to do it all again on Android, with its larger user base and lower revenues per user.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't have that same marketshare halo effect with Windows Phone. Speaking to some of the developers, Windows Phone is nowhere near their consideration. The volume of devices in the marketplace is still too low for a start-up app to build up significant traction and users in the small time windows available. And that low user base has a direct relationship to the income opportunities available to recoup the extra investment required to code for Windows Phone (investment over and above a presumably successful iOS launch and Android follow-on).

There's also a negative perception of the Windows Phone platform in the developers I spoke to. Many of them pointed out that some of the popular apps, such as Facebook, were written by Microsoft for the companies concerned, rather than those companies themselves. There was also a sly wink about what they would do if Microsoft offered them money and support to build the apps for its mobile platform.

Digital Web Summit 2013

I would be very interested to see what Microsoft makes of this internally. The traditional approach to 'getting developers on-board' has been through the seeding of developer devices, support in marketing the app to the user base, and a consistent message promoting the tools and speed of development. How this can be addressed is going to be a huge challenge in 2014. Market share needs to rise, there needs to be evidence and a belief that Windows Phone users are worth coding for and provide a decent return on investment, and while it's hard to define, Windows Phone needs a bit more mojo in the developer community.

From the evidence in Dublin, the mobile developers may be listening to the messages coming out of Microsoft, but it does not overpower any of their concerns for the platform, or offer them an alternative to iOS. There is a now established route to market for mobile developers and start-ups looking to build a business with 'the next big thing.' Not only does the route not start with Windows Phone, but it bypasses the platform completely.