There are ranters—think Tim Sweeney—and then there are the well-meaning developers who have done nothing but champion the platform. And when a member that latter group issues a blistering criticism of everything that Microsoft has—and, more tellingly, hasn’t—done to make Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile a success, it’s time to pay attention.
Alan Mendelevic is such a person. A champion of the Windows platform, Alan is a Windows Platform Development MVP, and the man behind such important efforts as AdDuplex—which I feature every month in my “Windows Device Usage” articles—and AppRaisin, which I’ve featured every week this year on Windows Weekly. Alan isn’t a nut job, like Mr. Sweeney. He’s the real deal. And he has unleashed a must-read indictment of Microsoft’s inability to do anything right.
So please do read The Rise and Not Enough Rise of One of the Most Beloved Windows 10 Apps: AppRaisin Year-1 Postmortem and What’s Next in its entirety. It’s written from the heart, and tells a very real story about his creation of the AppRaisin UWP app and how Microsoft did everything it could to ensure that the app and the platforms on which it runs could never be successful.
First, the most important thing to remember, from Alan’s perspective, is that he did everything right. “AppRaisin has a ~40% Day-28 retention rate, which is literally off-the-charts compared to industry averages for iOS and Android,” he explains. “It is rated 4.8 globally in the Windows Store.”
Alan’s plan was to have over 100,000 active users by the end of 2016. After nine months in the Store, the app has “a little under 25,000 monthly active users and is adding 1–2 thousands every month. There’s no way we are going to get anywhere near our goals any time soon.”
But here’s the kicker: AppRaisin’s lack of growth is … Microsoft’s fault. This is of course the central point of Alan’s post, and is why I’m writing about it. So let’s step through the ways in which Microsoft undermined Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, and, as it turns out, his app specifically as well.
The biggest hit AppRaisin took was due to Microsoft’s lack of strategy for Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft had promised to ship Windows 10 Mobile by November 2015—or December at the latest—and to upgrade all Windows Phone 8.1 handsets to the new OS.
But as I’ve explained in the past, Microsoft didn’t really ship Windows 10 Mobile until March 2016. And when it did so, it only supported a small subset of Windows Phone 8.1 handsets, breaking its earlier promises.
“Not only the most popular Windows Phone at the time (Lumia 520) wasn’t getting it, neither were the flagships of the Windows Phone 8.0 era (with one exception of Lumia 1520),” Alan writes. “Half of the Windows Phones in use can’t get Windows 10!”
Worse, the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade wasn’t offered to existing users through the normal upgrade mechanism. Instead, interested users had to “proactively download a special app to trigger the upgrade. Obviously none of the regular smartphone users have ever heard about it.” As a result, less than 12 percent of Windows phones in used today are running Windows 10 Mobile.
“Windows 10 Mobile could’ve been on almost 7x more (!) devices than it is today (even if we don’t count 8.0 phones that technically can go to 8.1 and then 10),” he explains. “And that without even accounting for pretty much shut down and abandoned Lumia line.”
Not helping matters, the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) has never taken off, a situation I’ve complained about regularly myself.
“Despite UWP being a big improvement to a modern app platform the Windows Store desktop app usage doesn’t look to be there,” Alan says, using data to back up this assertion. “Not yet at least. Despite being a totally universal app and while not marketed specifically to mobile users, 4 out of 5 AppRaisin’s daily active users are on mobile. And that number is only increasing towards mobile.”
This is interesting to me, because Microsoft has been steadily improving the Modern/Universal/Windows Store/UWP app platform since its initial release in Windows 8. But it is very much a mobile app platform. And for desktop PC users, most UWP apps still don’t have that full-featured vibe. They look and act … like mobile apps.
Put this all together—Microsoft’s broken promises to Windows phone users and the failure of UWP—and Alan arrives at the following.
“We have around 20,000 monthly active users on a platform that was underdelivered to its modest potential to the tune of 7:1. Meaning that in the alternative universe where Microsoft kept its promise to upgrade all Windows Phone 8.1 devices to Windows 10, we could have had close to 150,000 [monthly average users] with the same effort.”
We’re not done.
Windows 10 has not sold as well as expected—which explains why Microsoft knew in July that it wouldn’t hit a mid-2018 usage goal—and neither has the Xbox One (which is based on Windows 10. Alan cites a Microsoft employee who was trying to explain why its Lionhead Studios failed:
“Let’s be honest — we make our projections based on a series of assumptions,” he said. “There are supposed to be 2x as many Xboxes out there as there are right now. There are supposed to be 2x as many Windows 10 installs as there currently are. So now, when we look at how much money Legends could make in the free-to-play universe, you have to halve it. Because we can only reach half the audience that was projected.”
This issue plagues any developer who adopts UWP, Alan says. Including him.
But there’s more. Microsoft refused to help Alan market his app too.
“I was in Redmond in early November (few weeks before our launch) and demoed AppRaisin to a bunch of Microsoft employees among others,” he writes. “Everyone seemed to like it, but when I tried to discuss possibilities of being featured, their facial expressions changed. The responses ranged from ‘Hmm. I’m not sure they would want to feature you’ to ‘No chance in hell they would ever feature you’. The reason? As far as I understand, and as insane as it may sound the first time you hear it: Microsoft wants to control Windows Store app merchandising.”
In the 9 months in which it was available in the Store, AppRaisin wasn’t featured even once, not even “in some obscure region or deep in a category tree.”
We’re still not done.
Curious why his app wasn’t showing up in Windows Store’s “New and rising,” “Top free,” and “Top rated” lists, Alan contacted Microsoft. At first, the firm explained that his download numbers just weren’t there. But at Build in April, he learned the truth.
“Microsoft has ‘stop lists’ for apps that are OK to be in the store, but not OK to be on any of the top lists,” he was told. “This list includes, as far as I remember, apps with questionable ‘legality,’ apps that are primarily used to violate copyright (eg. Torrent clients), apps with ‘sexier’ than some vague norm content, and … wait for it … apps that promote other apps as a primary feature.”
AppRaisin was on the “no fly” list because it helps users find good apps. And that’s Windows Store’s job, according to Microsoft.
After complaining and having the issue raised within upper management at Microsoft, AppRaisin made a brief appearance at the bottom of the “Top Rated” list, even though it was more highly-rated than the number one app at the time. And that was that.
Alan is good people, and he—and AppRaisin, which is indeed excellent—deserves better than this. As do any developers who choose to follow Microsoft down whatever rabbit hole is the Big New Thing this year. But as Microsoft’s shifting mobile strategy shows, being a behemoth doesn’t guarantee success. And its often the little guys who get hurt the most when they stumble.