I think we can safely say that Windows Phone 7’s success will rely heavily on the applications that will be developed for it.  Apps are the corner stone of every operating system, mobile or otherwise.  A mobileOS is like a blank canvas and apps are like the different types and colors of paints available out there.  But until you throw some paint on a canvas, it’s just a canvas.  You can have low grade and high grade canvases but a crappy canvas with a some decent brushwork trumps a laminated blank canvas pretty much any day of the week.  My iPhone is a decent phone and I like it just fine, but could you imagine using it, or any other phone for that matter, without any apps?  Think about how limited it would become.  There’s a reason why Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all flaunted the number of apps their OSes possess at one point or another.  Apps are clearly essential to the mobile experience, and so is having a fast, efficient way for people to browse through them all.

So assuming Windows Phone 7 does succeed, we’re going to have a lot of apps populating the Marketplace.  Having lots of apps to choose from is great.  More diversity means, more competition, and better quality stuff.  That capitalism right?  This all sounds great in theory, but in practice it’s not so nice. 

Let’s take a look at Apple’s Appstore.  I like the paint analogy, so we’re going to stick with it.  Think of an AppStore like the paint section at your local home improvement superstore.  How do they usually set it up?  They line the walls with different colored paints from different brands.  Do you think you can find a paint similar to something you want alone? Sure!  But it’s much harder to find the exact color you want without some help.  Likewise, I have a very hard time sorting through all the different types of applications that are out there.  This isn’t the case if I am looking for a particular application, since I can search for it by name.  However, let’s say I want a new game, but I’m not sure which one to get.  I can type in “game” and see what comes up, or I can go to the game section.  If we choose the latter, we are greeted by a splattering of sub-categories like “New and Noteworthy”, “What’s Hot” and “Gripping Stories”.  You can also choose to just look at paid or free apps.  This is all simple enough and makes logical sense from a layout perspective.  But from a user perspective, it’s a complete nightmare!  What the hell does “What’s Hot” mean? Does that mean popular? Does popular mean the most downloaded or most played?  Or what if I’m stuck between 2 recipe apps and they both look nice.  One costs $1.99 and the other $5.99.  How will I choose?  Does more expensive equal better quality?  Not always, and even if it did, is quality boast worth the additional $4?

My choices are limited with Apple.  I can try and find a free version of the app(which isn’t always the case) and see if I like it, read the ratings, or search online for more reviews.  All helpful, but not absolute.  What one person loves another hates.  So how can we deal with all this? Well Microsoft’s trial solution was quite elegant and effective.  I simply love it.  The ability to try the full app, no strings attached, lets me know for sure if I like it, and more importantly, if I like it enough to pay for it.  Such a simple solution to a big problem.  Apple has seen the wisdom of this idea and has added a “Try before you Buy” section to their Appstore.  Although from what I can gather, it’s just a collection of free apps that also have paid versions.  It’s not nearly as comprehensive as Microsoft’s solution but more like a stop-gap measure until Apple can figure out their own solution.

The trial option was a great idea, but Microsoft can’t stop there.  Do they expect customers to try every app before buying one?  I guess they could, but who has the time nowadays?  My amazing solution is so simple it will blow your minds, and quite frankly I’m bewildered, as to why no one has thought of it before.  Microsoft should add a sorting filter for try/buy ratio.  Yes, I know I’m a geek and some people don’t get ratios or whatever, but can you imagine how useful that would be?  User reviews and ratings are bias and don’t really tell you much unless you read each review and that’s time consuming.  Having someone rate a product is meaningless since each person rates differently.  But having a try/buy ratio at our disposal, we can immediately see how many people preferred to buy a product and how many decided to pass it up.  In addition I think they should add a filter to weed out apps with fewer than “x” number of buyers so you can limit your search to less risky options.

So what do you guys think?  Genius idea or complete and total fail?  Tell me in the comments, I’m eager to hear everyone’s opinion!

6 COMMENTS

  1. This is really a simple and great idea. Hope someone from Microsoft mobile division read this post..

  2. Some good ideas, Danny, and OS makers should try and replicate it according to what suits their platform. However, I’m not convinced by the very basic argument of your article that apps are the cornerstone of every OS. Thats just the impression being created by techies writing in the blogosphere, because the only things they can write about are apps, which are developed, released and tweaked at regular intervals. The OS themselves are modified, like once or twice a year, and if the tech ‘critic’ only covers these developments, he’s more or less out of a job.
    Secondly, since more than three fourths of the ‘apps’ are games, they are not needed to make a phone look good or work well. They are just for your free time and add absolutely nothing to the functionality of the phone. In fact, when a user is playing games on his mobile, for example, his device is nothing but a Gameboy or PSP with a different name and form factor. You can also say the same for most apps related to music/media playback etc.
    Its not that the tech writers are solely responsible for the wrong impression about apps being essential for any OS. Microsoft, Apple and Google are culprits too. They have made and released OS which are bare to bones and are only useful in the UI department, i.e., helping the user navigate around in the device. Apple at least makes good quality hardware, but Google absolves itself from even that responsibilty. I am totally astounded as to why one should have to install and launch an “app” (native or 3rd party) to manage the 3G/WiFi connection of his device, to use the dialer and camera or to view text messages/email. Its akin to buying a house without cupboards, shelves, lights and bathroom fittings…. not to forget, without paint!!
    Hopefully, things are going to change for the better with Windows Phone 7 wherein you can move into a ready to use apartment complete with all required furniture, a decent paint job, tapestry, essential fixtures and even a home theatre system thrown in for good measure. You should be able to “live” in that apartment right out of the gate (or right inside the door, if you prefer). Apps should come into play when you want to have fancy chandeliers or corner displays, your favourite baroque or impressionist painting or when you want to design your ‘study’ as a personal sanctum sanctorum. I am not against having options for changing the wall colours, but unpainted walls with all pervading smell of primer? Ugh…. spare me the thought please.
    My comment is not against Danny’s idea, which is a nice and original way of managing the current state of affairs. My post should be seen more as a lament against the app-centric manner in which personal communication/entertainment devices are being managed now.

    • @ Salil, wow! thanks for the amazing comment. It’s so refreshing to see well thought out and concise responses (not that I don’t love all the responses I get, but this one definitely stands out from the rest). I see your point about the apps, and I am in total agreement with you, that OSes, shouldn’t be app dependent. But, they are all about apps. Just look at desktop operating systems. Why has Windows remained the leader in this sector? Is it the best OS? Personally I prefer Linux over Windows or OSX, but even someone as geeky as me can’t make the switch completely over to Linux. Linux just doesn’t support all the things I want to do, in particular games(I also tried OSX with the same problem). Games are important even though they aren’t essential. I don’t want to carry around a DS or a PSP everywhere I go, it’s just not convenient. Mobile devices are so much more than just phones these days. If you told me all I could do on my phone is make calls I would lose my mind. I don’t think I would be able to survive. Oh yea, and I LOVED that you kept my paint analogy going!!! AWESOMENESS!!!

  3. Good idea, but I would nix that last filter. Just because an app only has x buyers, does not make it bad. It could be new or yet undiscovered. X buys combined with length of posting might work though.

    And, with the exception of games, our need for apps is direcftly related to the OS developers unwillingness or inability to provide “world class” apps to go along with their “so called world class OS”. Every OS should include ‘best of class”; web browser, music player, PIM, video player, voice recorder, calculator, news reader, weather, stocks, etc. Not some feature poor throwin, but something that will not make it necessary for me to find a replacement app the day I get my phone. That would really enhance the “out of box” user experience. Let’s see how well WM7 does.

    • @ jimski I agree that few buyers doesn’t mean that it’s bad, but it would make the ratio meter unreliable. Think about it, if the 1st person who tries the app buys it they will have a 1:1 ratio which will put it at that top of the list. This is disproportionate to the a really good app that might get 99:100. And I think the last filter should be optional, so that users can sift through options that others have already evaluated. And if they want to include brand new apps they should be able to do that as well. Perhaps a good compromise would be to sort the apps by ration and then by the number of total trials. That way, the ones that have withstood the test of time can shine more so than new apps that have yet to get a fair assessment. And if you want something to entice developers to make new apps, then they could add a section for “best new apps” that cycles through only the past 6 months before removing apps from the new list. How’s that? Came up with that as I was typing this response.

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