Why Windows Phone is a huge opportunity for indie developers

Windows Phone Indie Opportunity

There are 800,000 apps on the Google Play, 900,000 apps on the App Store, and 160,000 apps on Windows Phone Store. With 2.5 billion downloads per month on Play, 2 billion downloads per month on iOS, and 200 million downloads per month on Windows Phone, it seems clear that Android and iOS are winning the platform wars. However, as an independent developer with apps on all of the major stores, the raw numbers and the reality of creating success on any given platform diverge greatly.

If you want your app to be noticed, there are basically three options at your disposal for organic downloads. The first is that your app is inherently viral in nature – this will depend on rigorous testing of invitation flows before launching, and having a strategy to overcome the initial chicken-and-egg problem. There are maybe 5 or 10 apps a year that figure this out and you can see them dominating the top 25 overall paid and free charts on all platforms.

The second is that you form a strategy for boosting your app into the top 25 in a particular category of the App Store and hope that it has staying power. There are about 25 categories on each store, so there are about 600 slots available for developers to fill. According to mobile app marketing company TradeMob, you can pay your way into one of the App Store’s more competitive top 25 charts for $96,000.

The third is getting featured. This largely depends on your relationship with app store editorial teams, and there are roughly 500 apps featured a year.

Discounting overlap between the category killers, featured apps, and viral apps, you’re really talking about 1000 apps each year that are generating significant organic downloads on each platform, and most developers don’t have the resources or the insider relationships to be one of them. We don’t have access to the full data, but you can make a very educated guess and see that on each app store, the vast majority of the apps are part of a long tail of apps that receive very few downloads and probably don’t even generate enough revenue to sustain themselves.

Seen this way, the volume of users downloading apps should be less of a factor in your decision to start developing on a new platform, as it’s nobody’s goal to be one of these long tail apps. Instead, you should look at how easily you can make it into the top 1000 apps each year that are creating real financial opportunities. And I think in this area, Windows Phone provides a significant advantage over iOS and Android.

First, there are less total apps to compete with to get into the top 1000. Second, the actually good app developers have relationships with Apple and Google and often have money to spend on getting into the top categories. In contrast, most Windows Phone apps are created by independent shops and non-professionals – basically the quality threshold for the top 1000 is much lower. Users take notice of good apps on the platform. Third, Microsoft doesn’t require an existing relationship to be featured – they have an entire team of evangelists that are quite public and are there to assist you with getting distribution. They are a market laggard that has money to spend and are highly motivated to help good Windows Phone apps succeed.

This isn’t just a theory either – I’ve spoken with many other Windows Phone developers and the story is virtually the same for all of us that took a risk developing on the platform. Our app is ranked 20th in the social networking category on Windows Phone and it made $250,000 in revenue last year on the platform. On iOS, our equivalent app has made almost nothing. Taptitude, an app developed by four brothers as a side project, is generating $500,000 in annual revenue from Windows Phone. The equivalent app on Android has less than 10,000 installations. Elbert Perez makes a collection of simple 8-bit Windows Phone games and has brought in 2,000,000 downloads and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, the average Windows Phone app brings in almost $20,000 annually.

Big companies are starting to take notice of the favorable economics as well – Path, Vine, Flipboard, and many of the other large app developers have announced their plans to come to Windows Phone. More of the big mobile players will be arriving shortly. Now more than ever is the time to cement your place in the Windows Phone platform and at the top of their charts. Don’t miss out on this potentially final mobile gold rush, because it won’t last long.

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