October 26 marks the official release of Windows 8, the hotly anticipated Microsoft operating system that (just like every other Microsoft OS release) is getting either rave reviews or a big thumbs down, depending on who you’re listening to. However, the developer community should be looking at this new release with anticipation, as the opportunities for app development are very exciting. In this article, we’re going to take a look at why developers can be excited about Windows app development right now, and opportunities for app development as this first rollout of Windows 8 gets going.
Huge market potential
You might not be excited about Windows 8, and you might have even decided as a developer that you’re going to take a “wait and see” approach to developing apps for this new platform to see if it takes off. That’s fine, and you’re totally entitled to your opinion. However, you might want to reconsider that particular stance especially as Windows 8 is scheduled to launch on literally millions of PCs, tablets, and phones in the next couple of years, and that’s a developer opportunity too huge to ignore.
Windows is the standard on PCs all over the world, hands down. It already boasts millions of programs and hundreds of millions of satisfied (most of the time) users. And this new operating system can be upgraded to for a measly $40 on several billion PCs that people already own:
“There will be customers coming and looking for apps. That I can assure you,” he said. “If 400 million PCs get sold in a year, at least two-thirds get sold in the Windows market. That’s 250 odd million, plus whatever we get in the consumer upgrades.” - Source
The opportunity for app development seems quite obvious when you look at these numbers; it’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel when you think about it. The ability to create one app and port it across different devices (PC, tablets, Ultrabooks™, mobile) is something that many developers have been waiting years to take advantage of:
"Microsoft has a huge install base. As a developer, you can't ignore that," said Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research. "The question is how fast the install base will convert [to Windows 8] and how fast [developers can] monetize that." - Source
Big fish in a small pond
The new Windows store is also set to open and is estimated to have around 10,000 apps available. Now, if you look at competing app stores such as Apple and Google, that’s not a lot (especially when you consider that both of these stores contain apps in the hundreds of thousands). However, is this small number really such a bad thing? I mean, seriously – how many South Park soundboards or Justin Bieber fan apps does an app store need before it becomes just a spam farm? The Windows Store is aiming to solve this problem by making it a hub of extremely high-quality apps, as evidenced in this statement from Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Web Services Antoine Leblond:
“Microsoft’s focus, he said, is not on “filling the store” but on getting quality apps into the store. The company is not interested in, for example, having a developer write 50 different celebrity apps that are essentially the same. Instead, Leblond told me, Microsoft would likely go back to the developer of these apps and ask him to combine all of these apps into one.” - Source
Competition is low…for now
We’ve all heard that there aren’t that many apps in the Windows Store as yet – around 5000 at the time of this writing. That could be seen as a detrimental factor, but if you look at it from the point of view of app store optimization – getting your app seen and downloaded – then it’s actually a very positive situation. The overall quality of an app is definitely not the only thing that determines its popularity. With thousands of apps to compete with, producing a cool app does not by itself mean that it will be successful. You can build it, but if people can’t find it in the stores where they’re looking for it, it just won’t get downloaded. It’s important to focus on optimizing the potential results when your targeted consumers search different digital storefronts, using search engine optimization techniques and thoughtful, well-researched copy in the (alas, so brief) text field apportioned to each app.
One of the most attractive things about the Windows Store is that it’s meant to be a “hub” for Windows apps (obviously). People with their brand new Windows 8 machines in hand are going to be seeking out great new apps, and this storefront is poised to be the ultimate marketplace for this. While we’re still in very early days still, the opportunities are rampant for some serious app monetization. The potential to monetize apps streaming out of this hub is huge, especially since the developer ecosystem enjoys such a broad range of support: ever-widening OS options, broadening developer environments, and of course, the steadily increasing sales of Windows 8 with a dedicated consumer fan base. Just because the Windows Store is a bit sparse on apps right now does not mean that this situation will continue. Now is a good time to jump on board and optimize your apps for discoverability. You can read more about this process here and here.
“Content before chrome”
In several Windows design guides, the phrase “content before chrome” comes up:
“With Windows 8, your content is king as the operating system fades to the background. Readers will be more engaged and less distracted than before.” -Source
One of the most time-consuming processes in app development is figuring out where the input controls are going to be, what they are going to do, and where they’re going to be placed on the screen. Sometimes, the input controls can take away from the primary focus of the application. Windows 8 aims to turn that around with the concept of “content before chrome”, basically using the entire screen to present the app instead of using part of that for common input and interactions. The result is an interactive interface that brings your app more directly to consumers and gives your app more chances to “wow” them.
Design for touch
Windows 8 is optimized for touch, and will run on tablets and Ultrabooks that are touchscreen-enabled. Developers have a fantastic opportunity here to design apps for touch that consumers will be flocking to download, simply because so many of them will have devices with a touch-enabled OS. This is a whole new experience for many people and apps that take advantage of this intuitively will be ahead of the pack. I’ve written quite a bit about touch design; you can read more here: Design Principles to Remember, Postures and Touch Targets, and Gestures and Discoverability.
Excited yet? You should be. Here are some handy-dandy guides to help you get going on those Windows 8 apps:
- Windows 8 Product Guide
- Windows 8 App Developer Blog (Official)
- Getting started with Windows Store apps
- Developing Windows Store apps
- Planning Windows Store apps
- Windows 8 app certification requirements
- Avoiding common certification failures
- Resolving certification errors
- Index of UX guidelines for Windows Store apps
- Opening a developer account
- Helping keep your Microsoft account secure
- Publishing your app to the Store
- Submitting your app
- Windows 8 apps SDK and other tools
If you’re a developer, share with us your plans for developing for Windows 8. Have you started yet? Or are you planning to wait for a while and see which way the wind blows? Either way, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave your opinion in the comments section below.