Home » Business and Tech » Why Windows 8 is a Better Second Platform for Independent Developers than Android

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I’m thrilled with the response my Monday Mobile Marketing tips received last year, and with over six months of content, there’s quite a bit in there. But given I’ve covered a lot of the basics already, I’d like to branch out when it comes to blog and mobile industry topics. This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and is pretty much guaranteed to raise some strong alternative opinions.

I believe that, for a small, independent developer who wants to launch on a second platform after iOS, developing for Windows (8 or Phone) is a much easier process and better bet for the company in the short term than Android.

Let me break down this potentially heretical statement.

Windows, like iOS, lets you control what your customers see.

The fragmentation in the Android market has grown exponentially – from just under 4,000 different consumer Android devices in 2012 to almost 12,000 in 2013. That’s potentially 12,000 different screen sizes, types of screen hardware (did you know that your app’s colors render differently depending on how the screen is made), or types of skins manufacturers use to distinguish the device? Each variation could lead to a significantly altered appearance of your app. Some teams will test their Android apps on up to 4oo different devices to ensure that the experience is the same for all users.

Windows OS on the other hand, utilizes the structure in their slightly unique design paradigm (with the horizontal scrolling through menus and content types) to ensure the experience is consistent across devices. Added to that, the consistency in manufacturing will mean, for the most part, there will be no distortion of colors and layouts. A Windows 8 laptop and a Surface Pro user are both going to have identical experiences on their Windows 8 app.

So the question for small independent developers becomes: would you like to design once and ensure your users see what you intent, or design once and test on over 400 devices making constant tweaks to your APK for each device supported?

Windows hardware will operate consistently across devices.

Let me reiterate: your users can choose from almost 12,000 different Android devices. If you think visual appearance is your biggest problem, think again.

Each Android device can bring with it slight (or dramatic) variations in how the operating system and the hardware interact. The operating system of the Galaxy S-series, one of the most popular phones on the market, has their own, non-standard methods of interacting with the video recording hardware. This means that you need to modify your APK for Galaxy S-series users otherwise any functionality you have in your Android app that accesses video recording could fail.

Video not a big deal? What about the Nexus 7, the most popular Android tablet, which has custom operating methods to interact with the camera hardware as the tablet has no back-facing camera?

Unlike the cosmetic problems that can be more of an annoyance, these hardware and OS inconsistencies can cause loss of core functionality, or cause your app to fail all together.

Windows, like iOS, is for now an operating system only available through certain manufacturers who keep the OS and hardware interactions consistent. When you develop for Windows, you know that the functionality you provide users will work no matter which Windows Phone or 8 device they are using.

With a need for more developers, Windows can help promote your App.

It’s no secret that Windows has been working hard to get more developers to create content for the Windows App Store (even going so far as to bribe developers with cash). The Google Play store, on the other hand, rivals Apple in terms of sheer volume of Apps available.

This can work in your favor. The Windows team is eager to support its fledgling developer community in a number of ways. We’ve found the team to be highly engaged with our app – to a degree we could never expect from Apple or Google – which has led to numerous opportunities for promotion and growth.

Better to be a first mover and on good terms with the Windows App Store process and team than to miss out on the opportunity to build early support for your Windows app.

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Windows OS on mobile devices is gaining traction in the market.

Depending on what you read, the Windows Phone is on it’s way up… or on it’s way out. Despite the mixed market signals, there are a number of signs mobile developers should take a chance on the Windows operating system.

2012 was Windows Phone’s strongest year yet, and while 2013 didn’t quite live up to expectations overall, their Q3 reports had tech journalists praising the affordable phone as the fastest growing phone operating system in the market (yes, beating iOS and Android).  Also, by the end of 2013, analysts were becoming positively impressed by the Surface and Surface Pro tablets’ market growth.

Regardless of how fast you think the Windows mobile OS market is growing in the future, it’s suggested that there are over 125 million Windows 8 users globally (that’s bigger than Apple’s OS X entire user base by almost 2x by the way) – a market that any independent developer shouldn’t sneeze at, particularly if there is much less competition to access it.

Ok… there are some downsides.

Of course, when it comes to developing for a new platform, whether you’re choosing Android, Windows or web, there are always downsides to each. While I believe that Windows is a much better bet for independent developers that Android, there are some downsides compared to the Google OS.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly to most developers, the design paradigm is radically different. While Android encourages a customized look and feel to sit in line with Android design best practices, in reality many developers simply create a carbon copy of their app’s design when moving from iOS to Android. That won’t cut it with Windows which has a series of very specific design requirements. While some of these can provide interesting new ways to showcase app content, others are simply annoying and require a rethink of many aspects of your app. The danger of ignoring these design paradigms is that you aren’t selected for any of the developer support efforts run by Windows and are shunted to a lesser section of the Windows App store.

Secondly, finding development resources for Windows OS is much harder than it is for Android. There are many fewer Windows 8 developers available for hire, although there are a number of freelance resources.

Thirdly, Windows 8 for Surface and laptops, and Windows Phone 8 do not actually have overlapping app stores, nor are apps developed for one immediately compatible for the other. If you are committed to the Windows 8 platform, you may find you need to develop both versions to be successful in either market.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room – market share and growth. For all of Window’s pretty numbers and improvements in the last two years, Android is still globally the operating system with the most users. If your existing users are clambering for a way to connect with their friends on other systems it’s most likely a request for an Android app. Windows just doesn’t have the reach yet to compete with Android.

Overall, however, for equal time, money and effort, I feel that Windows is a better opportunity for small independent developers looking for their second platform after iOS.

Have you launched an app on iOS first? What are you choosing as a second platform? Why?

Header image credit: Animoca

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