A few years ago, it was Angry Birds – that definitive mobile app that proved, or disproved, the worth of Microsoft’s mobile app selection. Everyone just had to have Angry Birds, and it wasn’t available for Windows Phone. Microsoft pleaded and plotted and the game finally did arrive, but by then interest had waned and users had moved on to the next big thing, in this case Instagram.
For whatever reason, Microsoft hasn’t been able to convince Instagram (now owned by Facebook) to create a Windows Phone app. There are alternatives, of course, the latest being a new to Windows Phone Hipstamatic app, Oggl that posts filtered photos not only to Instagram, but also to Facebook and Twitter, but it leaves a lot to be desired (especially on this Windows Phone version), and well, it’s just not the same thing.
It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t been trying. In fact, just the other day Steve Ballmer, in a widely leaked internal “town meeting”, discussed Microsoft’s attempts to secure Instagram for Windows Phone, but it hasn’t happened yet. From a report on Neowin:
Microsoft also reiterated that getting Instagram is more important than landing 900,000 apps; it’s clear they know that quality is better than quantity. Considering that the highest level of the food chain wants the app on Windows Phone, you do have to wonder why Facebook/Instagram is holding back.
Microsoft’s partners, especially Nokia, are seemingly intent on the same thing, and Nokia has been mounting a “get Instagram” campaign, and are bringing Hipstamatic Oggl Pro exclusively to Nokia phones, along with Flipboard and Path, but neither Microsoft or Nokia have managed to land Instagram, yet.
(update) According to a new post on the International Business Times, Nokia is well aware of the limitations of a phone ecosystem without the apps you want. According to Nokia Vice President Bryan Biniak, “You can’t sell a phone without the apps, you just can’t”. Biniak remains positive, however, promising that app limitations soon may not be a problem:
He says that by the end of 2013, Windows Phone will be at a point where “people will be hard-pressed to say ‘[Windows Phone] doesn’t have this app’ and it makes a material difference. I don’t think there will be any [app developers] we don’t have commercial agreements with, and so maybe it’s not published by the end of the year but it will be published before the end of [March]. “
Not that Microsoft isn’t concerned with app quantity, and by whatever means necessary, too. A post the other day by Windows Phone developer and blogger Scott Sheedy, who goes by Sheeds, on his WPDownUnder blog, calls into question some shenanigans he noticed while counting up apps on the Windows 8 Store in Australia. An app in the store, the FANfinity Tori Amos App, caught his eye, and so did a bit more digging on FANfinity:
Thinking that A) the App wasn’t to bad, and worked well with the Surface RT in it’s “content consumption” mode and B) that a less mainstream artist like Tori Amos was in the marketplace, we went looking for some other titles by this Dev: FANfinity.
WOW. OK. So then we discovered that…..they had a few more. When we say few, let’s be more specific. They had 4,597 more apps in the store under their “FANfinity” store search results.
Sheeds went on to discover that the developers behind FANfinity, working for a company called Attack Pattern, have quite close ties to Microsoft, including a number of ex Microsoft engineers in key positions. The apps also include ads for built-in Microsoft apps, or the Microsoft Advertising SDK for developers, indicating further close ties. What also caught Sheeds by surprise was not only the sheer number of apps in the store, but the rate that they were increasing:
So we have the number of FANfinity Apps in this 5 day period growing at an incredible rate of ~25% - compared to overall store totals increasing by 4%. And from the 8.5% of all available Apps being in this template from this Dev, we now have greater than 1 in 10 of all Apps in the Australian Windows RT store being one of theirs.
Microsoft, at Build and elsewhere, has been quick to promote the rate and volume of apps in its stores, and while it’s no secret that all app stores are filled with somewhat questionable app “families” like FANfinity, the close relationship between Microsoft and Attack Pattern does leave us wondering just what’s going on.
Of course, the bottom line for getting the best and the most apps on any platform is to go out and sell some devices, something Microsoft hasn’t, so far, been able to accomplish. Is Instagram, or the lack of it on Windows Phone, holding back Windows Phone sales, or are poor Windows Phone sales holding back Instagram? A modern chicken or egg question, and one we’ll keep hearing until Windows Phone and Windows 8 begins to make some progress in the marketplace.