Microsoft says Windows Phone has hit 'critical mass' with latest app push

With today’s announcement that Instagram has arrived for Windows Phone along with Waze (Mint and Xbox Video are still “coming soon”), Windows Phone as an operating system has finally reached a significant turning point. At least according to Microsoft.

We recently sat down with Todd Brix (opens in new tab), General Manager, Windows Apps and Store at Microsoft, who walked us through some of the recent accomplishments. Brix and Microsoft are claiming that with the recent spate of app releases, a “critical mass” has finally pushed Windows Phone into the big leagues. Windows Phone now has parity on most of the top download apps found on iOS and Android with an “85% overlap” in top-25 titles, according to the company.

Microsoft always knew that when they launched Windows Phone three years ago that they were behind the competition. However, they sought to compete on quality and not just quantity, knowing that someday, they would reach that goal. That achievement, according to them, has been reached this month, culminating with today’s release of Instagram—the number one searched for app on Windows Phone.  Brix claims not only is Instagram a real achievement, but symbolic one for the platform too. Same goes for Vine, which launched just last week.

Is Instagram the turning point?

Brix and his team were excited to share numerous stats about the Store, including how Windows Phone apps, on average, are rated higher than their iOS top-50 app counterparts. Indeed, the average Windows Phone app rating overall has increased from 3.6 to 3.8 over the last year, signifying the renewed focus on design and quality. Some of that success is due to partners like Nokia, who have been not only aggressive in courting developers, but have lent assistance in terms of design and promotion for those apps with their DVLUP program. While other hit apps and games come from the successful AppCampus, a joint venture between Microsoft, Nokia and Aalto University.

As an ecosystem, Windows Phone has been a sore spot for many, especially critics and would-be customers. The Windows Phone Store though seems to be riding through the storm, accumulating nearly 10 million app downloads a day, with users sporting an average of 65 apps on their phones (up from 42 a year ago). Combined with consistent design principals and exclusive features like Lens support and multiple Live Tiles, Microsoft have made some significant strides for their app offering. In fact, Microsoft claims that if developers add a double-wide Tile to their app, they see an average of 0.7 rating increase from that one, little change. That not may seem like much, but in reality it’s a noteworthy increase for such a simple, minor code change.

The Windows Phone platform does have some significant advantages over its competitors, including overlapping libraries for coding between Windows 8 and Windows Phone, making coding easier for both platforms. That’s becoming more and more common these days, something that will increase as both platforms merge in the future. Likewise, Microsoft has embraced carrier billing, allowing those without credit cards to purchase apps, notching 2x as many carrier billing deals over Android and surpassing Apple. That’s not a big deal for those in the West, but in emerging markets, it’s massive. And it’s in those markets that we see the most growth for Windows Phone these days.

Slide & figures courtesy of Microsoft

Official apps launching on Windows Phone first is also becoming more common, especially in high growth markets like India. Recently, the official Indian Railways company (IRCTC) launched their first ever mobile app on Windows Phone first, beating out iOS and Android. Likewise for the movie-tie in game Dhoom 3. The IRCTC app was the second most popular app for Windows Phone for the second half of 2013—it’s nothing inconsequential for the platform.

Ultimately, Brix sees Windows Phone finally turning the corner with a renewed vigor this holiday season. Microsoft has their new Gift Card program, where they’ve invested $100 million to increase apps sales, new headline grabbing hardware like the Lumia 1520, and nearly all the top apps users demand these days. Will it be enough? Perhaps not, but Microsoft has always said this was a marathon and not a sprint. Today, they inched up just a big closer to the competition. 

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • When Xbox video comes, then I'll say yes, its at critical mass. It just seems so basic to an ecosystem.
  • XBox Video will be huge for me.  Still can't believe it wasn't included when WP8 was first released. 
  • What's even crazier is that its been over a year since WP 8 release and it's still not available. They could have left it out in the beginning and released it a few weeks after, but a year already and nothing! That's crazy.
  • It's typical Microsoft. Non-US users had to wait a year after WP7 released just to buy music, videos, and passes on Zune.
  • So you will be happy very very very soon!! :)
  • Xbox video will be awesome. I actually have a decent amount invested in the platform, and this app will finally link one of the main things I use my Xbox for to my phone
  • Very nice, the only problem for Windows Phone now is the Moto G, the weapon that Google designed to kill It.
  • Huh? Its $70 more than the 520 which will soon to be upgraded to the 525 which runs smoother than most android phones including the Moto g.
  • sorry. but the 520 is no comparison to the moto g.  the only thing budget about the moto g is the price.
  • But the 1320 is
  • The Moto G has comparable specs to the Lumia 925 or the Galaxy S4 mini at a fraction of the price. I don't understand how google could reach that price point.
  • Maybe they are selling at cost.
  • Maybe they are selling below cost.
  • According to some people, selling something really cheap is a sign of desperation. Does that apply to Google?
  • Yeah man, I too was curious about the story behind the Moto G. It is a great phone on paper and I am sure Jellybean runs pretty smooth on it. I can only imagine Nokias' next 620 gen will be directly aiming at this device, and Nokia too will have to take a lost for each sold. It is the only way I see that device so low lol I was like damnnn they got almost everything, they left out the SD Card support and I don't think Nokia will follow they know SD card is a must with 8GB storage
  • By not having comparable specs perhaps? Seriosly, it does not have comparable specs because it will have a worse camera and you don't know about the actual quality of the screen. Resolution is not the same thing as quality, it's good with resolution but there can then be signficant differences even the resolution is the same. The GPU in the Moto G is the exact same one that is used in the current Lumia 520 and is in all likelyhood slower than the one in the Lumia 925. The CPU is equivalent to the low power part of Samsungs octa chip, as it uses 4 low power A7 cores which are very likely to be slower in reality than the higher clocked dual core in the 920 series. The iPhone CPU clearly shows that a good dual core is competetive and the higher end Moto X also uses a higher clocked dual core CPU. This is at best a mid range device from last generation and not at all comparable to last years flagships.   That's how they reach the price together with Google likely accepting a very slim profit marigin.
  • It could never kill WP unless it was running something other than Android. A LOT of people are scarred from using the OS and vow never to use another Android mobile or tablet again, no matter how cheap it is.
  • Anyone who is talking about Google devices and trying to compare prices to others is sooo wrong.   Google is making its money with ads, while others are making its money with devices.   Buying Google device, means you will continue paying it with your tracked life, that will be sold to ad companies.   Buying non-Google device will mean, that you payd your device already. Thats why prices are different.
  • So true ! Thanks for This comment
  • Stuff Xbox video, they need to fix this filthy music player first
  • Follow me on instagram! @kaaspparas :D
  • No
  • So don't then! ;)
  • I did. :) . @specospec
  • I've never tried Xbox video. How would you guys rate it? Is there a monthly subscription, or pay per film? Thanks for the feedback.
  • Yeah... Moto G outspecs anything WP at the price point. It is a nice phone, but it is being sold at cost. Its possible a Lumia 630 could address it though.
  • Well, I've never used it on a phone, obviously. But I've used it on my Windows 8/8.1 laptop and my XBOX 360. Here's how I break it down...
    No subscription (kinda wish they would, though, as an option) You can purchase or rent TV shows and movies Purchases and rentals can be streamed or downloaded for offline viewing (rentals expire) Streaming is phenominal on lower bandwidth connections; I can stream video on less than 500kbps (this is better than Netflix, which is saying something because Netflix does good at streaming connectivity)
    Every once in a while, I've had issues with downloading a file. I typically credit that to a low bandwidth connection, but their support is great if you connect with them through the chat. Got refunded so much once, that I went and purchased an album on XBOX Music with the amount of points they had refunded me. They're using a pretty solid model, and I've been satisfied or dealt with nicely when I was disappointed. Since it's a pay-for-view style model, you may as well give it a shot and decide for yourself. If I've mislead with anything here, somebody feel free to chime in.
  • Thanks for the detailed information. I'll give them a try.
  • Ya that but wait a min, critical mass and they only have a pathetic 3.6% marketshare - is the dude high?
  • critical mass from the perspective of apps and app parity on other platform he didnt mention marketshare at all..
  • Exactly, without a video service or working youtube app then its still behind.
  • For me it still needs an official release of Starbucks (outside of Mexico, preferably a UK app)
  • There will also be *that* app that is missing, but the app-gap is rapidly closing. To the point that most of those apps that you really want *are* in the works right now.
  • Grindr is still missing, (and not even in the works) there are alternatives, but with tiny amounts of users in comparison. There is actually an unofficial app at the moment, but dont tell them that as theyll block it like they did the last one. Its no secret that the pink pound is a powerful currency, but theyll be a hard sell to leave their iphones without Grindr... Perhaps a twitter campain could help? ;)
  • You speak the truth. Funnily enough, the majority of the folks that I know who use WP are gay. Sure there's Scruff and the like, but if you think instagram is a killer app, wait until Grindr comes out. The gays can make a platform and as we're already seeing iPhone weho boys migrated to Galaxy S4s, I could see the same for WP.   Also, an aside: on Fire Island I spoke with some guys about the Lumia 1020 and they all liked it (especially the camera) but the app selection, like Grindr and Instagram did actually come up, partially in drunken jest but still it's noticable. 
  • So start a Twitter campaign then! We've already started one to prod Microsoft executives to dedicate more effort to Xbox gaming on Windows Phone (#SaveXboxWP). Start a hashtag for getting Grindr, let us know on WPcentral, and we'll help you nag them on Twitter. The social movement is in your hands! Lead us.
  • I would... but if I'm honest I don't really know a lot about twitter, I only follow Jeremy Clarkson and Lisa Vanderpump, and don't have any followers myself :-) But if someone else wants to do whatever it is that needs to be done, I'll be happy to copy whatever it is to my thing :-) He he
  • Okay, I'll help you get started. I created a new hashtag movement called #MobileEquality. Twitter users can use it to petition any company that has an app on iOS and Android but not Windows Phone. I created the first tweet lobbying Grindr to support Windows Phone. You should retweet it, have your friends retweet it, and write your own tweets to @Grindr with the #MobileEquality hashtag:
  • I'm not holding out for Grindr or Manhunt for WP8. :( Both seem perfectly content in ignoring us.
  • Grindr even supports Blackberry... BLACKBERRY!!! That really is a kick in the face for the WP platform!
  • We do have Scruff. :)
  • What pisses me off is that they blocked a Grindr app with the promise we would be getting an official client. That was over a year ago. And yes, at least there's Scruff. The new version is in beta right now.
  • There is another third party app called Meet'm, which works better than normal grindr. Although it did have some quirks at first, it used to send you a message to say if someone blocked you, but if you replied to it, you were unblocked... Which was quite funny. Doesn't do that now, i guess some people were getting blocked a lot and didn't like it.
  • Lisa & Clarkson?  That's an interesting choice for 2 people to follow! I really only need an Amazon MP3 app and I'll be pretty content.
  • lol Grindr
  • The problem will not be the big apps that are missing but the apps that complete the experience. (mint, DirecTV, HBO, dish, Comcast, plants vs. Zombies 2, ShowTime) These apps are not the ones people are screaming about like Instagram, but they really do help personalize the phone. I'm sure there's other apps people miss when they pick up a Windows Phone.
  • Yeah hbogo and DirecTV would pretty much wrap up my phone as an all in one entertainment device hopefully soon. Outside that I still have zero interest leaving WP anytime soon.
  • All the little apps for banks, stores, etc. That's when we've got critical mass. Target's apps, for example, only iOS or Android. Seeing WP as an equal third option there would give legitimacy to the OS. It's not a flashy app, and most people wouldn't even use it, but it's that little unquantifiable extra.
  • I was wondering for a long time why US banks (except Bank of America and Chase) are under-represented in Windows Phone Store. It's because companies like MitekSystems, that handle the backend support for bank websites, and hence their bank apps, don't support Windows Phone.
  • Look what iTheVerge posted about WP
  • Makes sense because the app they quoted on REPEAT was Instagram, Instagram, Instagram.  I don't know what little snipe they'll add to EVERY review now.  
  • Daniel, Would you put an official fitbit app that syncs in the category of "are" in the works?  Even a wink, nudge response would be appreciated if you're bound by some type of NDA.
  • Danny..When will be VLC coming to windows that the kickstarters still kicking on it
  • I use Starbux to manage my Starbucks cards... If this is what you want to do, you're covered
  • I would love an official version, I won't deny that.
  • Where is the Sirius-XM app? a working WWE app?
  • People still watch WWE? Interesting....
  • Most popular longest running show on tv
  • Simpsons?
  • The thing about the Starbucks app isn't a big deal for me. I just wanted to pay by phone like those other guys, so I didn't need to carry that card around. That was an easy fix for me: Use an iOS/Android device to bring up the QR Code, then take a screenshot. I send it over to my L920, and set it as a favorite image for easy access. Done. Sure, I don't get to see my points balance, but I would only do that occasionally.
  • I love my windows phone more and more as time goes. I'm so glad I chose ATIV S instead of Android phone. :)
  • ATIV S is a great phone. I got to use one in store and really liked it. I have a Lumia 1020 which I think is absolutely amazing but I think more people should buy Samsungs ATIV line as well as HTC's 8 series. If only to encourage those companies to continue building Windows Phones.
  • Yes, I couldn't agree more. I have the Samsung Ativ S and it really is a beautiful phone. And the recent app push has been great, loving it! Now I'm just waiting for Temple Run 2 and Fifa 14, and my app-wish list should just about be complete.
  • I would've bought the 8X but HTC dropped the ball on the specs, and haven't bothered to release anything else. As much as I like HTC for their years of supporting WM, their WP efforts need drastic improvement.
  • Not to be greedy, but if we had HBOGo and Flipboard (I know it's on its way), my experience will be pretty much complete. Oh yeah, and a Sonos app.
  • Would be nice with official Sonos app, but for me, phonos does the job just fine. Even the wife knows how to use it!
  • What's funny is there's an HBOgo app in Romania that's been available for over a year lol. And fuck yeah, Sonos is soooo needed.
  • I've played with the HBO GO app. Its actually well done. Is there anyway we can convince HBO to expand support?
  • HBOGO will never be mission critical for the same reason Pandora wasn't (and was oversold as such) because it's US ONLY. No app limited to the US will every be of the same stature as something like Instagram.
  • This is true. Instagram was literally the top-searched app in the Store. Not saying HBOGo isn't important, but it will come in due time. The point is, with today's announcements (and others coming), WP is finally at a turning point. It doesn't mean we're 1:1 with Android or iOS, but rather it's now the definitive "third way".
  • Daniel, do you know of anyway we can directly request for HBO to expand that app to us?
  • I'm not Daniel but you can use Twitter to let them know you want it, if people ask for it they will know there is a userbase that want's it. The same goes for all apps contact them and let them know you need/want it.
  • I'd like to have HBOGO, and ESPNGO (or whatever it's called).
  • Flipboard would/will be stellar!
  • Xbox music needs an update. I really want to be able to manage my cloud collection from my phone and not just the desktop app or the web.
    I can't wait for Xbox video and I might get back into mint too.
  • I don't know about critical mass, but it's getting very very close. Now sales associates can't say "It doesn't have Instagram" and whether we want to believe it or not, that's huge.
  • They'll still probably say it for a couple of months, just because they don't check.
  • Probably gonna take a full year for them to find out "oh, WP got instagram" ;)
  • So true as much as us fans of WP may not want to acknowledge but that was a barrier for the younger buyers who spends the majority of time on Instagram. I have a teenage daughter and her friends live on Instagram with their Android and iPhones.  So I'm glad that WP now has Instagram; as you said hopefully sales associates will be knowledgeable and state it to potential buyers. Way to go Nokia and Microsoft for getting this done!! Pround owner of HTC 8XT on Sprint.Now if only Sprint can get Lumias but that's another topic for another day.
  • They will probably still say WP doesn't have Instagram...and maybe even some will say " WP can't post to Facebook"
  • Not for WP7...
  • I hope that doesn't impact sales of WP7 devices going forward...oh wait.
  • + 4 score & 7 years ago.
  • Might not impact sales of WP7 devices going forward, but it may prevent some of us current WP7 users from moving to WP8 when we need new devices.  My wife & I have been on WP7 for 2+ years, but I'm not sure I want to hitch my wagon to WP going forward because of the app situation.  Apps not available, or becoming available WAY after Apple / Android doesn't help.  The situation may be better for those with WP8 right now, but it doesn't feel any better for those of us who have been left behind with WP7 and haven't had access to those updates.
  • If you understand the technical limitations here then this becomes a non-issue. The apps simply aren't compatible, and a lot of extra work is required to support WP7. There is no need for that kind of hard break to happen again.
  • Wait.. what? I don't get this. Why would Instagram on WP8 prevent you from moving to WP8 when you need a new device? Wouldn't that be a motivation to upgrade? Unless you're just doing it out of spite for reasons like "damn, they didn't put it on WP7 (which is an almost 4 year OS and ending support in 2014) so I'm out of here and switching to android!"  Honestly, you rarely see apps even on other platforms being made that far backwards compatible. 2 years is a stretch, let alone 4.    I'd say stick with it. This is a good sign, and meant to show that the app ecosystem is growing. It's not a reason to be a stick in the mud and leave just as soon as the system hit's a good pace (or as this article calls it, a "critical mass") Apps coming out for a newer platform in no way impedes your ability to upgrade and get those apps. It's like complaining that no one makes applications for Windows XP these days, and then saying "well screw it, I'm switching to MacOS"
  • And what about my wm 6.5
    Think they completely forgotten about it :(
  • You need to upgrade to wm6.7
  • 6.8 is the shit..
  • WP7 isn't supported because while they look the same, the underlying architecture is COMPLETELY different. This won't and can't happen again because windows phone is on the same architecture as windows 8 now.
  • Sure, but let's be honest, MSFT technically could've supported upgrades from WP7 devices to WP8 (minus NFC).  If the HD2 was hacked to run WP8 (which it was), then it is/was technically possible, however, they chose not to do it for reasons other than those publicly stated.  Was such a small installed user base at the time that, presumably, they thought the risk was warranted.
  • Is it out yet❔ shit, I've missed it...
  • They need to aim for the top 50 titles on Android and iOS now that they've accomplished the top 25, and work at speeding up development and distribution of their own products (xbox video, updated office, etc.)
  • +1
  • You mean marathon, sprint is a type of race too! :D
  • I thought a marathon is a race as well? lol I mean there's a winner, no? Still, marathon does sound better, duly noted.
  • Hey, you guys are doing an awesome job. So awesome that I'm addicted to reading your articles, first thing I do every morning! ;)
  • And the last thing I do before I get to sleep. Reading article through WPCentral app on my sweet Lumia 720 :)
  • I so love that phone.
  • I would so be over 720 was it not for that stupid Drive without plus limitation. So now I have the 620 and I actually bought a second shell and am enjoying it.
  • Me too.
  • I'm pretty sure marathons are called snickers these days.
  • I laughed harder than I should have at this.
  • We have at last reach The Tipping Point!  (Malcolm Gladwell would be so proud...)  Now watch its marketshare double in the next 18 months.
  • Outstanding read! I recommend highly!
  • Love my Lumia 925. Such a great experience. Can't wait for Mint, and hopefully my bank app (PSECU). Only two apps I miss. I'm excited for the future. Plus, I love being that "cool" guy because no one else has wp8 phones.
  • I have to agree with you there. I feel unique riding on the NYC train with my Lumia 928. It's an iPhone world down there. At least 70% of the riders use the fruit phone. The rest are at the mercy of Android. Passengers sitting next to me are always captured by the difference they see on my WP. Many have made inquiries about the platform.
  • I only want a bullshit free official youtube app and flipboard then am happy
  • Well, Google's jerkishness level may be softening a bit as they just updated their app and don't they own Waze?
  • I don't think they control Waze enough yet to stop the launch of the WP app. And they update Search because they know it's an easy switch for users to Bing on their Windows Phones, and not something that would make someone leave the platform. They also know that YouTube is not something most people can give up, so having no official app on WP is a way encourage potential customers to steer clear.
  • Have you seen this? Do you think google is feeling the MS love now? I am sure google is not even bothered to make any apps for WP. Why should they?