11/28/2012 04:55 pm ET

Windows 8 Sales Hit 40 Million; Will App Developers Follow The Money?

This week, Microsoft announced that it sold a truly bananas 40 million licenses of Windows 8 in the new operating system's first month of availability.

Even though some unknown portion of those sales are to manufacturers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard -- who then have to convince consumers to purchase their laptops, desktops, hybrids and whatnots -- and even though certain analysts insist that this marks a "disappointing" debut for the new Windows, 40 million licenses in one month is still an incredible number.

To put it in context, the most iPhones Apple has ever sold in three months is 37 million, upon the release of the iPhone 4S in late 2011. Microsoft just topped that, by one measure, in slightly more than 30 days.

The eternal battle between Apple and Microsoft notwithstanding, this means in a practical sense that there are already a whole bunch of PC users on Windows 8, with many more coming once Christmas shopping ramps up this December. It raises a key question: Will the existence of all these users convince developers to actually start writing apps for Windows 8?

Here's why I ask: I've been using Windows 8 computers as both primary and secondary devices for more than a month now. I've got a Microsoft Surface (with five different keyboards of many different colors, for some reason), as well as two touchscreen Windows 8 laptops, from Toshiba and Asus. I've found the experience on all three machines to be satisfactory and smooth overall. But if I had to pinpoint the most glaring problem with the operating system currently, it would be the relatively barren Windows app store, which sorely lacks apps built specifically for the new Windows.

The barren cupboard that is the Windows Store is especially troublesome on the Surface, which runs a tablet-optimized version of Windows 8 called Windows RT and which cannot run apps developed for older versions of Windows.

And that's trouble, my friends: For the Microsoft Surface, and other Windows 8 tablets, there's no Facebook, and no Twitter apps; no Spotify or Rdio or Rhapsody; no decent support for Gchat, or Google Reader, or Gmail; no Temple Run or Words with Friends or Draw Something. And not only are some of those mammoth, must-have apps still missing, but there's also no high-quality alternatives (think TweetDeck, or Sparrow, or HootSuite) to fill the voids left by those glaring absences.

All you have are the Microsoft-built alternatives, like Xbox Music and the People app, which just cannot deliver the same comprehensive experience as more focused applications.

Will this change soon? With 40 million licenses accounted for, Microsoft has a strong case with developers to get crack-a-lacking on Windows 8 apps. And yet as clear as that argument seems, whether developers will actually respond with well-written, robust programs remains murky.

The hesitance of developers to commit resources to Windows Phone seems relevant here. Talking to Microsoft executives about the infamous lack of quality apps for Windows Phone over the past couple years, they always remained privately confident that once Windows Phone picked up meaningful market share, the great apps would follow. Windows Phone has still yet to gain a foothold (in America, at least), and the app situation on Windows Phone, though improving, still lags far behind that of iOS and Android.

Now, on Windows 8, we have exactly what those executives had hoped for: a glut of new users on the operating system just waiting for apps to become available in the Windows Store. Even StatCounter's conservative estimate of 15 million users on Windows 8 represents a consequential base of credit card-carrying computer owners.

"Developers are generally rational folks," Ina Fried of AllThingsD wrote recently. "They have limited time, and tend to focus their energy where the eyeballs and dollars are."

Now that there are tens of millions of eyeballs on Windows 8 -- and potentially an equal number of dollars -- will the Windows Store overflow with new apps, as "rational" developers flock to an underserved, uncompetitive land of opportunity? Or will the Windows 8 app store remain, as it does on Windows Phone, the Achilles' heel of Microsoft's huge new venture, that one overwhelming drawback which prevents the next 40 million PC owners from hopping on the 8 train?

Are you an app developer? Has Microsoft's announcement of 40 million Windows 8 sales convinced you to start writing a program for the operating system, or are you waiting for something else? Send me an email at and let me know.



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