Is Windows 8 development worth the trouble?

Microsoft pays some companies to produce Windows 8 versions of their products. Without this type of financial assistance, or various other incentives, is Windows 8 and especially Windows Phone development worth the effort?

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Microsoft pays some companies to produce Windows 8 versions of their products. Without this type of financial assistance, or various other incentives, is Windows 8 and especially Windows Phone development worth the effort?

Windows 8 has been around for a year-and-a-half, but many developers choose to ignore it. The simple truth is that both Windows 8 desktop applications and Windows Store (Metro) apps for PCs and tablets are few and far between.

To get an idea of the level of developer indifference to Windows 8, consider this: according to Microsoft, just 150,000 Windows Store applications for Windows 8 have been developed and are ready to download. That may seem a large number, but it's dwarfed by the more than 1 million tablet and smartphone apps in the Apple and Google stores.

Ominously for Microsoft, the number of new applications being posted on the Windows Store appears to be declining rapidly. Nearly 20,000 new apps were submitted in June 2013, but this number crashed to less than 4,000 by the end of the year, according to the MetroStore Scanner website.

The problem, according to Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, is simply that developing for Windows 8 represents too much effort for very little possible return.

"It's amazing that developers build (Windows Store) apps given there's only a small customer base," Miller says. "If you are thinking about building an app, especially if you are a start-up, then iOS and Android is where the volume is - and then the labor you have put in to building the app is not transferable to building a Windows Store app."

Consider Multi-platform Development, Microsoft Says

Tim O'Brien, general manager for platform and applications at Microsoft, argues that that's not strictly the case. "There's an ecosystem of middleware vendors that gives developers the ability to write once and develop to many platforms," he points out.

Many cater only to Android and iOS, ignoring Windows Store (and Windows Phone) completely, but some multi-platform development tools such as Xamarin and Apache Cordova (PhoneGap) let you output native apps for Windows platforms as well as iOS and Android. The Unity games development platform can also output Windows Store and Windows phone apps.

One company that has developed Windows 8 apps is AirStrip, a software developer that makes medical monitoring applications. In the past, AirStrip offered iOS, Android and Blackberry apps to its physician customers; recently the company decided to offer a desktop version of its application to make it easier for medical staff in hospitals to enter information.

AirStrip CEO Alan Portela decided to develop a Windows 8 application for touch-enabled PCs, which would work in the same ways as the existing touch-based iOS, Android and Blackberry mobile applications. He also decided to produce applications for Windows 8 tablets and Windows phones to go with it.

This may seem to make little commercial sense given the tiny numbers of Windows tablet and phone users, until you understand the economics behind the decision. "Microsoft said, 'We will fund the effort,' and paid us a significant amount to do the port," Portela explains.

The end result: Hospitals that want to use the system have to upgrade to Windows 8 computers with touchscreens, while physicians can still use their choice of iOS, Android and Blackberry devices - and, now, Windows mobile devices, should they wish to.

Next: Paying Windows 8 Developers Potential 'Bottomless Pit' for Microsoft

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