It just doesn’t pay to play
So where do the more talkative developers stand? While most agreed that Windows 8 development is surprisingly easy, some are holding back because other platforms have much more momentum—and much more consumer support—and are therefore simply more lucrative.
Indeed, it really comes down to chasing the money. Why develop for the promise of Windows 8 riches tomorrow, when you can make real money today via iOS and Android sales? To this extent, Windows 8 must fall in line at the back of the development queue. Having an abundance of apps available on October 26th is a major focus for Microsoft, but that doesn't mean it's a priority for app developers.
"We do have plans to make the Pinball Arcade available for the Windows Store, but we’re not in a big hurry," said Jay Obernolte of FarSight Studios. "In our opinion, the base of users purchasing apps on the Windows Store is likely to ramp up slowly, so we don’t see a benefit to rushing out with an implementation."
TripAdvisor also has no plans to release a Windows 8 app anytime soon, but for a different reason.
"In general, TripAdvisor builds the best experience based on the device type rather than the operating system," says Sanjay Vakil, TripAdvisor's Director of Mobile Product. "Windows 8 provides a challenge in that the user experience needs to conform to different devices: tablets, desktops and laptops."
Rob Enderle predicts that the inclusion of Office in Windows RT tablets could scare off developers who make productivity apps for competing platforms. Jeff Fetchick, the COO of DataViz, confirmed that theory. DataViz produces the well-regarded Documents to Go app for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Palm devices. Fetchick says Microsoft approached Dataviz about porting Documents to Go to Windows 8, but the company declined.
"In the past, we've always chosen to bring our technology to platforms that Microsoft chooses not to. The people who use our software are people who have already bought into Microsoft's Office technology, and they just want to bring it to places that Microsoft won't allow at the time," Fetchick says. "It's our understanding that Office will be found on many Windows machines anyway."
Angry tweets and comments shared across the Web offer more insight into why the Windows Store is currently so barren. Microsoft has moved away from a hands-off tradition to adopt, instead, a "walled garden"—complete with a 30 percent cut of app sales, which is the norm for Apple and the iOS ecosystem. This doesn't sit well with many PC enthusiasts and enthusiast-leaning developers.
Valve's Gabe Newell told AllThingsD that "Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space" for just that reason. And Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft, didn't respond to our queries, but he was even blunter than Newell in a recent Tweet: "Got an email from Microsoft, wanting to help "certify" Minecraft for Win 8. I told them to stop trying to ruin the PC as an open platform."
Finally, even if a developer doesn't have any philosophical problems with Microsoft’s new approach to certification and revenue sharing, it still may lack the technical chops to quickly translate an existing app to Windows 8.
"In my opinion, Windows 8 has a much more sophisticated framework for building user interfaces than iOS or Android," says Jonathan Peppers, a senior application developer for Hitcents.com, which will have its "Draw a Stickman Epic" game available when the Windows Store launches. "However, a slightly steeper learning curve can go along with that. If we were not already Windows developers familiar with C# and Xaml, it could take some time to port a native iOS or Android application to Windows 8."
The march to 5000
So, what can we realistically expect from the Windows Store when it officially launches on October 26th? We reached out to Microsoft for an answer, but the company declined to comment.
Patrick Moorhead doesn't think the Windows Store will hit the magic 5000 apps mark. "From what Microsoft and its ISV partners have shown so far in the Store, it doesn’t appear that they will reach that goal by launch," he says. "I’m not ruling it out, as I hear rumblings from the ecosystem that they will, but I think it is low probability."
The number of available apps is actually growing at a decent clip, but when you’re dealing with such a low baseline number of apps, you don’t need linear growth, you need exponential growth.
According to Wes Miller's WinAppUpdate.com, the Windows Store had 530 apps on August 16. On Sept. 12—the day the Windows Store began accepting submissions from independent developers and developers in 82 other countries—the total sat at right around 1000 apps. As of Sept. 21, less than ten days later, 2079 apps were available internationally.
"After Microsoft opened up the floodgates, we've seen a rush of mainstream apps and names we could recognize," Miller says. What remains missing, however, are killer apps. "The Windows Store needs to convince people to say 'I need a Windows RT device,' and it's not there yet."
Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst, agrees, saying that the arrival of key apps will be "the main factor" for launch as well as the key to whether Windows RT tablets become studs or duds in the marketplace. Will we see the key apps on October 26? That's the critical question.
Rob Enderle expects Microsoft to have a few blockbuster apps hidden up its sleeve, given its background as a software company. He also expects Microsoft to focus on app quality going forward, rather than sheer app quantity. That said, Enderle isn't optimistic about the quality level of the third-party apps that will be in the Windows Store on launch day.
"Remember that final touches on the apps don't start until code [is released to manufacturers]. A lot of folks won't even start developing much until the code goes RTM in case Microsoft breaks something that you might depend on," he says. (Windows 8's RTM build wasn't released until August 1.) "So there's a lot of people scrambling just to get apps done,” Enderle says. “There's a good chance some of these apps are going to be pretty raw on launch day, but like on other platforms, you'll receive automatic app updates, so I would expect things to shake out by 30 days after launch."
And so we wait…
There's little doubt that Windows 8 will be successful in the long run, if only because the vast majority of PCs puchased after October 26 will include the operating system, and in may ways, the Windows platform is currently too big to fail. Nonetheless, Microsoft's touch-focused inspiration—its entire reason for relegating the desktop to second-class status and moving to live tiles and Windows 8 apps—lies in the booming tablet marketplace. As PC sales flatten, transitioning to mobile is the only way for Microsoft to keep foward momentum.
Will the Windows Store be presentable at launch? Or will it, like the Windows Phone Store, suffer from a scarce app selection and multitudinous missing must-have downloads? Windows RT's near-term success and Microsoft's long-term hopes ride on the answer.
The Windows Store has only one chance to make a first impression. And now the world waits for October 26, when multiple thousands of customers enter Microsoft’s new marketplace for the very first time.