It appears as though developers, especially those of the “big name” apps, are developing apps for Windows Phone 8 rather than Windows Phone 7, but why? This question may or may not come as a surprise, depending on how you look at the scenario. Any apps developed for the Windows Phone 7 platform will automatically, and natively, run on Windows Phone 8 devices; however, the converse is not true. That is, any apps developed for the Windows Phone 8 platform will not run at all on devices running Windows Phone 7.
At the time of this writing, millions of Windows Phone 7 devices has been sold over the last couple of years, but Windows Phone 8 devices are just starting to be sold now. Indeed, Windows Phone 7 has a greater market share, and thus more audience, than does Windows Phone 8. Given that apps developed for Windows Phone 7 can run on both versions of the Windows Phone OS, it only makes sense for developers to code for the lowest common denominator to reach the broadest audience, right? Or does it?
With the launch of Windows Phone 8, many big name developers have committed to developing on the platform, most of which did not appear to have any plans to mingle with Windows Phone 7. We have popular mobile game engine companies, like Havok, Unity, Audiokinetic, Autodesk, etc. developing their engine for Windows Phone 8. We also have big name developers, like Rovio, releasing apps for Windows Phone 8. In fact, Rovio went as far as releasing their latest, and hottest, product, Angry Birds Star Wars, on Windows Phone 8 at the same time as on iOS and Android. How does this make sense? Windows Phone 8 wasn’t even generally available when Rovio was developing the game. Why didn’t they make this game for Windows Phone 7? That would allow the game run just as well on Windows Phone 8 and broaden the audience. This is where it gets interesting; so, bear with me.
Windows Phone 8 has a big advantage over Windows Phone 7. While won’t directly affect consumers, the advantage means a lot for developers, which, in turn, does affect consumers in the long run. The advantage I’m referring to is native code. Native code not only allows big game engine developer, like Unity, build a platform on top of Windows Phone 8, but also gives advanced developers a way to optimize their apps for best performance and freedom. More importantly, however, the native code allows developers to port their existing Android or iOS applications with ease by reusing a lot of their code. This was simply not possible to do easily with Windows Phone 7. This meant that for developers that already had applications on iOS and/or Android, they had to put a lot of investment in rewriting code in Silverlight and make it work on Windows Phone 7. This is no longer the case. Do you see where I am going here?
The limitations of Windows Phone 7 was especially a big deal for developers who had complex apps, like Games. Rewriting code for a complex application is no easy task. Given the relatively low market share of Windows Phone 7, why would any developer go through the hassle of doing this? For developers bold enough to go this far and actually make an app for Windows Phone 7, the annoyance was not over. Any time a major update was released for iOS and Android versions, the updates would have to be redone on the Windows Phone 7 platform. Sticking with our Angry Birds example, while Rovio did release the original Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7, it wasn’t updated to be on par with the iOS and Android version. Furthermore, last spring, we had rumors of that Rovio would not be making Angry Birds Space for Windows Phone 7. At the time, people attributed this to the fact that Windows Phone 7 had too little market share. However, at the time, Rovio was developing it for Windows Phone 8, which had no market share. So it wasn’t market share, but, rather, the ease of reusing code on the new platform.
We tend to point at one cause of a particular problem. I mean why not; we like things to be simple and straightforward. However, there are usually more than one identifiable reason for something. And in the case of apps on Windows Phone 7, the lack of native code was as important, if not more, than the market share itself. With Windows Phone 8, however, even though we are still uncertain how it will do compared to Windows Phone 7, I can tell you this: we are going to have a lot more of the big names iOS and Android apps coming to the platform really quickly.
What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below or you can let me know by twitter. I am @NazmusLabs on twitter.