Windows Phone Developers: Just Let It Go

After four months of writing this blog, I’ve met a lot of Windows Store developers — online, at Build, even locally. I like to give my big pitch about how excited I am about our Store apps, since I imagine this is the thing we have in common.

When I finish my spiel, I look at their faces, expecting to see excited agreement — but too often instead, I see confusion and disbelief. Sometimes, a tinge of primal rage. That’s when I realize: we have very, very different ideas about the future potential of the Store.

Why are other Store developers not as excited as we are?

So I probe, and I always get the same answer: they started developing for Windows in the heady days of Windows Phone 7 and 8, and their apps and games are mobile-only, or at least mobile-focused. They published in the Store to stake their claim on the next mobile gold rush, not to deliver stodgy line-of-business apps to boring desktop users.

While our own (mainly stodgy) apps grow every month thanks to increasing Windows 10 adoption in the PC market, these devs’ apps are slowly dying in Microsoft’s semi-abandoned mobile ecosystem. To say that these developers are getting frustrated would be a massive understatement. I think some of them attended Build just so they could complain to Microsoft in person (that’s $2,100 worth of salt).

Allow me to deliver a coup de grâce to my long-suffering brethren awaiting news on the future of the Windows Phone: you don’t have to wait any more, because it’s time to move on.

The good news is, it’s never been a better time to be a developer for the Windows Store, as long as you use UWP and target desktops, too. While Windows Phone shrivels, the Store is booming on the desktop, whether users like it or not.

The half-billion desktop Windows 10 users are eventually going to turn in to a half-billion desktop Store users, and it’s going to happen faster than anyone thinks, once more mainstream titles like Spotify and iTunes take position in the Store.

And then there’s the pending influx of lower-end Windows 10 S devices that will use the Store as their exclusive source of third-party software. Windows 10 S makes the Store important for desktop — actually, it makes it mandatory. This will bring more apps to the Store, which in turn will get more users into the Store, Windows 10 S or not.

So what about indies? What we know from our previous research is that many developers chose to make Windows Store apps because of the app gap. They saw a lack of competition for their chosen niche, and knew they could pick up users by filling the gap themselves.

The same gap that caused you to develop your app for Windows Phone in the first place is present to the same degree on the desktop, if not more so. You can reach the same passionate, engaged users who are grateful to have a developer taking their needs seriously.

As an established Windows Phone developer, you have a massive leg-up on other devs targeting desktop users in the Store. When you switch to UWP, your users who can run UWP apps will update to the new version, legacy users will still be able to download your old Windows 8.1 packages, and all of your users — past and future — can reap the benefits of your continued development. All this in one app listing, with your reviews and history carrying forward.

All the other good stuff, like the Windows Dev Center, the Store’s ecommerce, Feedback Hub, Windows push notifications, etc., are there for you too. And most of the same strategies for Windows user acquisition work as just well.

Stay in the game

If your app succeeded on Windows Phone, don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for it to start growing again. The Windows Phone platform is done and dusted.

You’re right next door to a platform that Microsoft is pushing hard, that users actually like, and is a huge blue ocean of opportunity for indie developers — for now. There’s a window here for you to parlay your early adopter advantage in to a new and growing Store. But if you’re wasting it waiting for Saint Panos to do a Lazarus on the Windows Phone, someone else is going to get there first.


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