Does Windows Phone Really Have An App Problem Anymore?

Stephen Elop in his Mobile World Congress keynote recently announced that Windows Phone Store had crossed 130,000 apps, an impressive number on its own. But compared to both Android and iOS which are around the 700,000 mark, the number seems low. Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a Windows Phone because it doesn’t have ‘apps’? To see if this was the case, I did an unscientific test. I picked up my iPhone 5 which has tons and tons of apps installed, and started comparing its app selection to the Windows Phone Store . I paid special attention to the ones I have on the homescreen, or outside folders – basically ones which I use on a regular basis.

Below are about 40 apps that I use on a fairly regular basis on the iPhone. So when I switch to the Lumia 920, do I have to forgo anything major? Lets find out.

  • Notes – iCloud sync means that I have access to my notes across my iPad, Mac and iPhone. WP – The Windows Phone equivalent is One Note. The app is available across different platforms and promises a similar ‘everything in sync’ experience. Result – Draw.

Windows Phone 8 Apps

  • Google Maps – Turn by turn navigation, street view, great coverage. WP – Nokia Maps/Drive. Offline capabilities, great coverage, greater number of navigable countries. Result – Advantage Windows Phone.
  • Facebook – iOS integration and a great Facebook app, plus a Messenger app. WP – A Facebook app made by Microsoft, plus deep Facebook integration into the OS. However, the Facebook app has room for improvement. No Messenger app, equivalent but WP has Facebook chat built in. Result – Advantage iOS, but not by far.
  • Twitter – Great official app, plus numerous excellent third party clients. WP – A recently updated Twitter app means that the experience is a par with iOS. Also present are great third party choices like Rowi, Twabbit, Mehdoh. Result – Draw.
  • Foursquare – Represents the direction Foursquare wants to take the app into – beyond the check-in stage. WP – The focus of the official app is still check-ins rather than discovery. However Nokia and Foursquare are working on an all new app thats coming in March. Finally, 4th and Mayor is an excellent free alternative for WP. Result – Draw.
  • Whats App – The defacto messaging client, must have. WP – The app is improving with each release, but is currently a shadow of its iOS and Android versions. Its useable, but could do with a few more updates. Result – Till Whats App finally gets its act together, advantage iOS.
  • Flipboard – Presents Twitter/Facebook/Websites in a nice magazine like layout. WP – No direct equivalent. However, there are a few apps like Weave and Fuse that can make make boring feeds look much more fancy. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Mail – The inbuilt email client. WP – The WP equivalent is at par, features the ability to link multiple inboxes into one. Result – Draw.
  • Camera – The plain jane camera app. Features an inbuilt panorama mode. WP – Comes with a feature called lenes that lets you do more from within the app itself. Includes Smart Shoot, Panorama, Cinemagram, Microsoft’s 360 Panorama app Photosynth. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Instagram – A lot of people have been wanting this app on Windows Phone and the wait is ongoing. WP has a bunch of apps that let you add filters and share the results to Facebook/Twitter, including Nokia’s own Creative Studio, but they lack Instagram’s community. Result – Advantage iOS.

Windows Phone  Apps -2

  • Mailbox – The hot new email app for iPhone. Lets you turn your inbox into a todo list. Only out for iOS, no Android version yet. WP – Don’t expect a WP version anytime soon. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Remote – Lets you control iTunes on the Mac, or the Apple TV. WP – A 1.99$ equivalent called Remote. Result – Advantage iOS, although only useful if you’re firmly inside the Apple ecosystem.
  • Light – A Torch app. WP – Plenty to choose from. – Result – Draw.
  • ESPN Cricinfo – Live scores, fixtures, news etc. WP – Excellent official WP8 app. Result – Draw.
  • Times of India – Not optmised for Windows Phone 8, but does the job. Result – Draw.
  • NDTV – Not optmised for Windows Phone 8, but does the job. Result – Draw.
  • Merriam Webster Dictionary – iOS gets a free ad supported version. The WP version is priced at Rs. 210, no ads. Although, WP has other free dictionaries. Result – Draw.
  • Pocket – No official app for WP, but there are third party alternatives. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • HDFC – No official app for WP, but the m0bile website works well. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Doc Scanner – Useful for archiving paper documents, converting them into a PDF. A paid app on iOS. WP – Handyscan, HD Scanner are a few options, but none of them as as good. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • YouTube – The official WP app is a joke, but thankfully MetroTube more than does the job. Lets you download videos as well. Result – Draw.
  • Book My Show – Excellent fully functional app. Infact, features voice commands as well. Something the iOS version doesn’t. Result – Advantage WP.
  • PVR Cinemas – Performs better than the iOS counterpart, which isn’t optimised for the iPhone 5 yet. Fully functional. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Shazam – WP gets an official client as well. Frequently updated, but doesn’t have offline tagging yet. Result – Draw.
  • Zomato – Recently updated for WP8. Takes great advantage of the Modern UI  and infact looks/feels better on Windows Phone. Result – Draw.
  • Dropbox – No official client for WP8. But there are third party equivalents. Box Files. Result – Draw.
  • File Manager – To copy files to the iPhone from the PC as well as download them from the web. WP – Supports Mass Storage mode on Windows, so copying isn’t a problem. To download files from the Internet, apps like GetThemAll exist. Result – Advantage WP, because of the mass storage mode.
  • Mobi Reader – RSS reader. WP – Number of alternatives like Weave, Fuse. Result – Draw.
  • Skype – Official apps for both platforms. Microsoft owned, so WP support will only become better going forward. Result – Draw.
  • Speed Test – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.

Windows Phone  Apps -1

  • WordPress – Official apps for both clients. Although the iOS version is more feature packed. Result – Advantage iOS. The Windows Phone version is frequently updated, so one can hope for feature parity.
  • Sports Tracker – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Paytm – For recharges, bill payment. No Windows Phone version. Users will have to do with a mobile site. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Quickoffice – No need on Windows Phone, as it features MS’s own office suite. Result – Advantage WP.
  • iTunes Store – Tracks priced at Rs. 15 per track. Movies, TV Shows available to buy/rent. WP – Nokia Music – free unlimited downloads, much wider selection of regional music. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Kayak – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Trip Advisor – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Cleartrip – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Trip It – Official apps for both clients. Although the WP version isn’t optimised for WP 8 yet. Result – Draw.
  • IndRail – Useful if you use the Indian railways. WP – Plenty of alternatives, IndianRail stands out. Result – Draw.

RESULTS

  • Advantage iOS: 11
  • Advantage WP: 7
  • Draw: 22

CONCLUSION

Turns out, Windows Phone has done much better than expected. It has equivalents for all but Instagram, Paytm, Flipboard, Mailbox and HDFC Bank app. None of these apps is a deal breaker for me personally. HDFC Bank has a useable mobile website, Mailbox while being the hot app right now is not something that’s indispensable. I have Flipboard installed, but rarely do I end up using its wonderful interface, as on most days I have already gone through my Twitter and Facebook feeds in their respective apps. Moreover, there are some apps that are better on Windows Phone, surprise!

You will notice that games are missing from the list. Truth is that I am not too much of a gamer myself and therefore don’t feel that particular pinch on Windows Phone. But if you kill a lot of time playing games on your phone, this is one area that might be of concern. With Windows Phone 8’s all new kernel and developer tools, high quality games are coming to WP8, but they aren’t quite here yet. Gameloft had promised to bring 12 popular titles to WP8, and delivering on that promise Asphalt 7 Heat just became available this week. But there’s Temple Run. However Angry Birds Space, Seasons and Star Wars are all there.

Releasing an app on a platform is only part of the story, and supporting it with updates is what’s important. The apprehension I had was that Windows Phone might get version 1 because of development dollars from Microsoft and Nokia, but the updates won’t follow. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case and more and more apps are being updated to take advantage of Windows Phone 8.

Does this mean that Windows Phone is on par with iOS and Android when it comes to apps? I won’t say that. But what I will say is that if the only reason you are staying away from Windows Phone is ‘apps’, it may be time to reconsider that decision.

9 thoughts on “Does Windows Phone Really Have An App Problem Anymore?”

  1. I’m sorry, but in the Skype, Dropbox and Youtube chapter, there’s no draw in real life. Skype integration in WP is in early stages and will be competitive in the near future, but not now. As far as Dropbox goes, no third party client is as good as the official app on competing platforms, so no draw there either. I love MetroTube and use it everyday, but there are videos that it will fail to playback and send you to the website instead, because of region limits and all, so there’s no draw there either.

    Look, I’m a WP fan, but let’s not kid ourselves.
    The real results are these:
    Advantage iOS: 14
    Advantage WP: 7
    Draw: 19

  2. I kinda agree (except most of those I don’t know what they’re), especially Skype & Office, it’s done much better on WP8.
    some of the apps I used to on Android, Waze, Fake GPS, Runkeeper to name a few, are not there on WP8.
    I particularly miss many of the good’ol features used to be Symbian advantage, timed profile switching, easy one-click-done gesture, much easier apps auto-updates, sync between phones on all messages/contact/notes/pictures/music/bookmarks, bigscreen, FM transmitter, FM receiver, much friendlier music player that sync well with PC Suite/WMP/iTunes.

  3. The official Trip It app for WP8 is ok, but the third-party My Trips is much, much nicer – in fact I prefer it to the official Trip It app on other phones. Third party apps can sometimes really shine on WP…

  4. I’m sorry, my financial institutions? None have WP apps and they are amongst the largest in the U.S. My primary airline? Nope. Most of the other real-life services I use? Nearly none. Every one of them has an IOS app.

    My Windows Phone is near useless compared to an iPhone. I stick with Windows Phone because I’m in a near perpectual state of willing suspension of disbelief. But I will wake up one day and decide having a device that helps make my life easier beats having one I prefer from a technology standpoint.

  5. Hal, from what I’ve read, a bunch of banks in the US are in the process of making WP apps. But I understand the thrust of what you’re saying. In India for example Nokia is still very popular, and because of that and a lot of developer outreach the local app situation is much better.

    Mary, thanks for the heads up. I’ll give My Trips a try.

  6. You made an excellent comparison. I think one thing everyone has to keep in mind in regards to the number of apps in windows is that Microsoft discourages developers from posting a bunch of junky free apps to the Store. Last I had read, (which has been a while) is that Microsoft charges developers for each free app they submit past the third… This keeps a lot of the junk stuff from getting posted.

    I don’t think that Windows Phone is by any means useless when making comparisons. I use my phone constantly throughout the day, and in fact everyone in my immediate family uses WP.

    Nothing is wrong with having either one, both have pluses and minuses. It just depends on what you want to do as to which will be better.

    Customers ask me quite frequently which smartphone is the best. It’s a relative question. There is no one best phone. It depends on what they want to do with it, not my or anyone else’s opinion.

  7. Appreciate this conversation. I need to get a new phone this week and hear great things about the Windows HTC 8X. I travel a lot and when I checked my 3 most common providers: Southwest, Starwood (SPG) and Amtrak, not one had a Windows app, so I’m leaning towards Hal’s POV about a device that helps make my life easier. Is there a good way to find out if new apps might be around the corner? If I had a reason to believe that at least two of the three are coming out within a few months I’d probably buy the Windows phone on faith.

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