App-athy

Many developers prefer iOS as their app platform, often leaving Android lying in state and Windows Phone in starvation mode

Despite launching over two years ago, developer and consumer interest in Windows Phone can best be described as tepid, with limited success and only a handful of standout devices generating intrigue among potential customers. Microsoft has got its app policy right, though, with set guidelines on development, a strict – and beautiful – design motif, and a carefully curated app store. Developers, though, have been turned off by its paltry market share: Why waste time and money creating a beautiful, sleek app that only a handful of people will use? It’s a Catch 22 – Windows needs apps to pull customers from iOS and Android, but developers are holding off on creating them until it achieves greater success. It’s a vicious cycle of apathy. Several big names are notably absent – Spotify, Instagram, Grand Theft Auto. Even the Facebook app for Windows Phone is developed by Microsoft, not Facebook, and therefore is missing several key features. It’s hard to attract users to an OS that won’t have the apps and games they use most often.

Facebook is no stranger to app controversy – its Android app was notably lambasted for its inferior quality in comparison to iOS. After crafting subpar HTML5 apps that looked identical on both, but were slow, buggy and generally terrible, it developed a native iOS app last August that fixed most major user complaints. Android users? No such luck. They had to wait until December before Facebook issued the same update to them. The delay? Developers couldn’t be bothered to make it. Facebook had to force its employees to give up their iPhones and switch to Android handsets – in a process known as ”dogfooding” – so they could experience the foibles of their app daily, like regular users. That a company as large as Facebook had to cajole its developers into giving a damn is ridiculous.

Android is the world’s largest smartphone OS, commanding some three-quarters of the world’s market share. That developers still aren’t treating it seriously, or issuing updates in a timely fashion, or – in the case of Jawbone – announcing apps that never appear, is an insult to those who chose not to invest in the iOS ecosystem. Google shoulders the blame in part, for allowing Android to fragment so severely, and for only recently issuing stricter app design guidelines to developers, but the apathetic nature of many developers toward both Android and Windows Phone in favor of iOS is something that, while giving Apple plenty to feel smug about, is frankly unfair to users who covet those same apps on their non-Apple handsets.

The solution is unclear, but for developers, taking a more serious approach to Android is definitely needed. Google needs to supplement this by enforcing stricter upgrade times to keep each device up-to-date, and ensuring greater quality control in its apps. The open market is great for choice, but bad for users in the long run. Windows Phone? Its success in securing greater development lies in Windows Phone 8 devices achieving greater market share – and perhaps Microsoft subsidizing development costs to bring more apps to the platform. For now, if you want the greatest selection of high-quality apps and games, iOS is still the top choice for users. One hopes that developers will wise up and level the playing field in future.

Oh, and Jawbone? Release the damn app already.

Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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