Mind the App Gap

App Gap

Two words that send fear and loathing through potential platforms and devices everywhere. For Windows enthusiasts and the guys in charge of Apps inside Microsoft it’s the bane of their existence. The app gap refers to missing application a platform has in comparison to another platform. The app gap is a funny concept because it doesn’t describe if or when a platform narrows it. The Gap is also hard to define; the closet most get to is in describing what’s missing. It’s a symptom of the numbers game that comes with having app stores.

An app gap is a persistent problem for any computing platform; it has been an issue for the Mac and Linux. Having one is especially bad in mobile where applications serve to add functionality.

For Microsoft the fact it has an app gap is one of the reasons it faces a difficult time in gaining traction in mobile. Now Microsoft’s deficit is not as big as it once was; it has a number of services and games that match other platforms. But it is true there are gaps in their platform. There are applications from companies like Google and Amazon, services like Lyft, and a multitude of local applications (like news stations and businesses). Some of these apps will come, others likely never, and a few will arrive when there is a chill in the air in hell (Google). The problem for Microsoft is how to effectively close the gap while simultaneously making sure vendors don’t create dead end applications (apps that are written once and never updated again).

Now one solution is to find a way to port Android apps onto the Windows platform; having them run natively. Having Android programs running on Windows tablets and phones would theoretically close the gap. Android is the second platform with the largest installed base. It has no real gap between itself and iOS. Microsoft’s solution would probably work better than similar work done by Amazon and Blackberry (both of them who use Google’s phone OS). The biggest problem with this would be it would kill native application development. There is a way to “solve” the app gap, and it begins with understanding a few things about what having a gap means.

The App Gap is ALWAYS with you

In solving the gap the first thing Microsoft should recognize is that it can’t. There will always be some new or existing app that won’t be in the Windows Store. Many apps also are purely flash in the pan software; one hit wonders that light up AppAnnie but disappear. Others will build themselves into solid services and need space to grow. The thing about talking about the gap is we are actually talking about the health of the ecosystem; can a user be happy with the selection in the store at the moment. The gap is nebulous any number of app could be the one that prevent someone buying a device. The trick in dealing with this situation is knowing its manageable. So then the question becomes one of how.

Use the Gap as an advantage

Analyst Wes Miller had a great post some years ago about Windows’ application holes. He described how types of apps help spur the platform and thus create a cycle in which more apps the showcase the platform are created. Right now Microsoft is not able to do this in any appreciable way. However Redmond can use their distinguished competition as a way to vet applications that could bolster its mobile fortune. View it this way, iOS has the app makers and the services that best represent mobile computing. Microsoft doesn’t need all of them just enough to fill out the portfolio. They could use both Android and iOS to weed out those programs that will be nothing more than one app wonders. From a strategy perspective Microsoft needs to insert itself in between iOS and Android. One thing Microsoft can offer is a level of developer support lacking in their larger counterparts; it would be a hard sell but it’s a in their favor. Now that we know the gap and use it to curate for the platform there is one thing left; tying it to something that makes having the gap a moot point.

Tie apps into Productivity angle

So we have this gap, this hole and you can either spend time constantly fretting over it or do things to make it a non-issue. One thing Microsoft could do, should do is focus on getting apps that tie into new head Satya Nadella’s idea of Windows as a productivity platform. Apps that tie into the things that make users productive and helps them get work done shifts the story. I mean Windows is whether enterprise or personal; about doing. The apps in the store should reflect that.

Now what I’m suggesting won’t overnight reverse its fortunes, but it could move Microsoft closer to being a more solid competitor.

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