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Sep 2011 28
Tech tipsComputer Tricks

Right Windows Mobile 7, let’s have you! Pull your socks up soldier! Is that booze stains I can see on your shirt? Are you chewing? Stop gazing at your shoes FFS!!!

Like a loveable, underachieving younger sibling, Windows Phone 7 is continuing to be maddeningly close to great, but just can’t quite seem to get its act together. It has all the makings of a hugely successful smartphone line. The hardware is robust, full-featured and easy on the eye. The OS too is a dream – with Mango easily matching iOS for functionality and ease of use while arguably reducing any Android that dares to even look at it to a quivering sack of bolts and rusty springs.

Many of Windows Phone 7’s problems are circumstantial and unfortunate (and will no doubt be rectified with a bit of time and a few tanker-loads of cash) but there’s just no excuse for the sorry state of the Windows Phone Marketplace, which was updated with a web-based version this week,  a full 11 months after the release of the first Windows Phone 7 hardware. Much like the on-device version, it’s pretty, uncluttered and stylishly arranged with lots of big bold colours and simple to navigate menus. In fact, it’s much more attractive to look at than the competing offer from its normally deplorably haughty aesthete cousin, Apple.

The cost of this however, is functionality and if publishers want to be able to track exactly where their PR dollars are going and leverage the marketplace for sustained visibility and sales, they won’t be able to do so easily. It is possible to look at chart information (there is a ‘Top’ sub-category, which sits inside all other categories), but what it is really missing is front page, at-a-glance chart information and opportunities to gain featured placement.

Front Page Visibility…

Both The Apple App Store (which annoyingly, doesn’t yet have a full web-based version) and the Android Marketplace have several front page chart boxes, which have been very useful to publishers, as remaining in the top 10 of any of those boxes effectively gives you front page featured placement. Additionally, Apple’s ‘New and Noteworthy’ and ‘What’s Hot’ sections, as well as Android’s analogous ‘Top New Free’ and ‘Trending’ sections add even more possibilities for publishers to get their apps seen on the front page. These sections are cleverly aimed at making it possible to bunny hop the goliaths that camp at the top of the charts for weeks, and gain significant visibility with short-term sales spikes. This in turn can lead to an app or game graduating up the charts, gaining even more visibility and ending up in one of those positive feedback loops of on-portal discovery that every publisher lusts after.

All of this gives Apple and Android publishers significantly more opportunities to gain front page visibility than Windows Phone Marketplace does. But don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the numbers. Here’s a breakdown of the available slots on the front page of each of the big three app stores.

*Scrolling refers to slider scrolling, NOT page scrolling

So, as it stands currently there are just over seven times as many opportunities to gain featured placement on the Android Marketplace vs. the Windows Phone Marketplace and nearly ten times as many on the Apple App Store.

Obviously, the Windows Phone Marketplace doesn’t have nearly as many apps as the Android or Apple app stores, so it doesn’t need to offer as many slots for featured placement, right? Wrong! There are currently more than 30,000 apps available on the platform, so even if the Windows Mobile Marketplace had as many front page storefront slots as the Apple App Store, Microsoft would have no trouble finding great apps and games to populate it with.

On-portal Marketing is Key…

One of the great enigmatic qualities of the modern mobile gaming market is that on-portal is absolutely key – traditional PR strategies just don’t work in the same way they have done historically on other platforms. Publishers need to have a good icon, positive user reviews and featured placement if they want to see decent sales numbers and while targeted advertising spend can help kick that process off, the on-portal presence is the most important part of the equation.

By maintaining a more elegant looking design with drastically smaller front page shelf space, Microsoft is making it harder for publishers to get noticed via its portal, than they can on other, competing application storefronts.

It’s disappointing to see such a promising platform being hamstrung by such a fundamental and easily rectifiable flaw in its discovery and delivery system. Yes the rise in the number of Windows Phone 7 apps has been promisingly nippy, but there hasn’t been the installed-base critical-mass to really get a handle on how big-budget or high mindshare titles fare under pressure from publisher bottom lines. Indeed, though I’m plucking this from thin air, I’d wager that many of the WP7 adoptees are reasonably tech-savvy shoppers when it comes to apps, who know what they are looking for much of the time, which is another reason that the shoddy discovery and delivery system has remained largely untested, at least in a competitive marketplace.

Without fixing the storefront, I foresee a significant dropping off point in the future number of apps released on Windows Phone Marketplace, which would be a shame, as from a user experience point of view for the OS and the hardware, it’s a platform that deserves to succeed.

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