Tuesday 21 October 2014

Why Windows Phone apps are still playing catch-up with rivals

Published 27/03/2014 | 02:30

The Nokia Lumia 1020, a Windows Phone with a 41-megapixel camera.
The Nokia Lumia 1020, a Windows Phone with a 41-megapixel camera.

Are you considering a Windows Phone? A Nokia Lumia? A HTC? A Samsung? If so, take a moment to consider how important apps might be to you. Because while devices such as Nokia Lumia smartphones are nicely made and often include advanced features (such as excellent cameras), the Windows Phone app ecosystem is still playing significant catch-up with its iPhone and Android rivals.

Take Sky Go, a popular, useful app for any of the hundreds of thousands here who have a premium Sky subscription. It's available for iPhone, iPad and Android (albeit not perfectly). But it's not available on Windows Phone. Last week, Sky's managing director of product design and development, Alun Webber, told me why.

"There just isn't a big enough volume share (for Windows Phones) right now," he said. "A lot of the devices are low-end phones, too. We hope we will eventually launch a Windows Phone app and we had a good conversation with Microsoft about this recently. But while we're on Xbox, we're going to wait and see with regard to Windows Phone."

This sums up the attitude of many big apps developers. They don't have anything against Windows Phone, but it's just not big enough to devote precious resources to, in comparison to the proven markets of Apple iOS and Google Android.

In practical terms, this means no Dropbox, no Hailo, no Airbnb. It means no Runkeeper, no Google Drive, no RTE Player and no Real Time Ireland (which gives Luas, Dart and bus times).

True, you will get substitutes of varying degrees of quality for these services. For example, CloudSix is a good attempt at connecting your Windows Phone to Dropbox.

And locally, apps such as Bus Nearby perform some of the functions (albeit not as smoothly) of the original iPhone or Android apps.

But many of these 'clone' apps are cheap, nasty knockoffs that provide a very disappointing user experience. They do more to put one off using Microsoft's app store than anything else.

To be fair, the Windows Phone ecosystem does have a decent number of mainstream apps available. So you will find the likes of Instagram, Twitter, TuneIn Radio, Evernote and LinkedIn there.

But sometimes, the big app developers just dump a less developed version of their app on Windows Phones.

Take Spotify. It has had a presence on Windows Phone for a while. But features such as playlist browsing, radio and some forms of discovery haven't been included. Despite ongoing promises of improvement, they just haven't bothered making it as good as the iPhone or Android version because, like Sky's Alun Webber says, it's not really worth their while.

Even Facebook wouldn't make an app for Windows Phone. Instead, Microsoft had to go and make one themselves. This means that Facebook users on Windows Phone generally don't get the latest features as soon as their iPhone or Android-owning peers do.

So exactly which apps might you be missing if you get a Windows Phone? Here's a look at 10 apps you'll have to do without and 10 you'll definitely get.

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