Microsoft's Windows Phone ecosystem appears to be at something of a crossroads: While the company is still working to add more apps to the platform, users are asking for improvements to existing apps to place them on a par with the Android and iOS versions.
That, at least, seemed to be the tone of an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit Friday morning. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone Program Management at Microsoft, answered questions from the community for about two hours.
Users offered straightforward criticism and advice, and Belfiore, to his credit, responded thoughtfully and often at length. In terms of news, Belfiore revealed that a Microsoft-developed, native file manager would be released "hopefully by the end of May," and that the company was talking to Facebook and Snapchat about improved or new apps.
More apps, and then better ones
"So — sitting in 3rd place, it's tougher for us to get the apps — but I do think that we've made great progress in the last couple of years," Belfiore wrote. "We're not resting on our laurels. We (and not just we.. I) are visiting ISVs, looking for ideas that can help them grow their volume and user engagement, providing them with funding and development help - and in some cases we are even using our own team/devs to write apps ourselves.
"You're seeing these results through both well-known apps SHOWING UP (instagram last year) as well as higher average user ratings per app on the store - we look at ALL sides of the issue," Belfiore added. "Right now we're MOSTLY focused on continuing to GET the key apps — although lately with more of these present, we've shifted a bit towards improving the current ones."
Facebook is focused on improving its native Windows Phone app, Belfiore wrote, targeting a June update that will bring " improvements to perf[ormance], having full-width photos in the newsfeed, and seeing photos & comments at the same time."
Belfiore also promised to enhance the Skype app with a new build that the company is running internally, that "helps with perf[ormance]," Belfiore wrote. Users had criticized the Windows Phone app for its loading times and laggy performance.
And after Snapchat's update to include instant messaging, users wanted to know if Microsoft was at least talking to the Snapchat team about a version for Windows Phone. "Yep, talking," Belfiore responded.
Users: Updates are slow to arrive
Historically, Microsoft has struggled to attract developers, the same problem that BlackBerry had before its stunning fall from grace. Most developers tend to focus on either iOS, which historically has offered the potential for strong per-app revenue; and now Android, which has steadily increased its market share in the mobile market. Windows Phone has been left looking on, adding apps once developers have made their mark on other platforms. One of the initiatives that Microsoft has pushed has been the notion of common code in so-called "universal apps," sharing over 90 percent of its Windows Phone APIs with Windows 8.
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