Remember when Microsoft made a mobile OS? The official name escapes me now — Windows 8 Metro Live.NET RT for Workgroups, I think — but they definitely tried. They even gobbled up Nokia and then unceremoniously digested it on their warpath to an alternative mobile platform. That mostly didn’t work (yet).
But while they were bootstrapping the next big mobile ecosystem, they created something that became a monster: the Microsoft Store.
Through several detours and false starts, Microsoft has finally settled on UWP — the Universal Windows Platform — as their vehicle for delivering apps without using adware-laden Win32 EXE installers. And today, UWP apps can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store on hundreds of millions of devices.
It turns out that while everyone was writing opinion pieces pooh-poohing Windows 8, Microsoft was learning. Now, Windows 10 is spreading, stabilizing, and growing. And the Microsoft Store has become the best vendor-owned store experience today, bar none.
If you had told me this 4 years ago when I was developing macOS apps and tearing my hair out trying to get them published in the Mac App Store, I would have chuckled. But now, the macOS store is seriously stunted by comparison. It can’t even keep up with its older brother, the iOS App Store.
Mac app developers are barred from iTunes Connect features that have been available to iOS devs for years. There’s no built-in analytics, crash reporting, or audience building. And the App Store application itself on macOS is a slow, tedious little wart on the operating system, isolating apps from the rest of the content that your users want to buy from Apple.
While Mac devs beg for crumbs from Apple, Microsoft is serving up an all-you-can-eat app publishing buffet. Everyone’s invited. You don’t even need a Store app to publish to the Store!
Imagine building an app for a company that actually wants you to build apps. Apple makes their money on hardware. Microsoft’s strategy depends on services. They want their Store to deliver everything from music to apps. They need developers to build great software for their Store, and so they treat developers accordingly.
Thanks to Microsoft’s “aggressive” Windows 10 upgrade program, more than 400 million devices have the Microsoft Store and can run UWP apps. But it’s not the size of Microsoft’s audience that matters — it’s what they’re doing with it.
For starters: the developer dashboard offers built-in campaign, session, and crash analytics, all available via a decent web interface and a tidy RESTful API. And campaign tracking works for all campaigns, not just those that have an arbitrary number of conversions. You can even respond to reviews (and have been able to for ages!), both in the dashboard, and via API. Have a huge app? Integrate the Microsoft Store in to your CRM and your customer support agents won’t even have to ⌘-tab, I mean alt-tab.
Basically, every time you log in to the Microsoft developer dashboard, you get an announcement about a new feature, and every time you log in to the Apple developer dashboard, you get this:
Not only does Microsoft want you to make a Store app, they want it to succeed. Everything that you need from a third party in Apple-land is available from Microsoft as a tab in their developer dashboard, for free.
It’s like Microsoft knew they couldn’t count on all the app service providers who got fat off Apple (and Google) to add support for their Store, so they just duplicated the functionality and gave it away themselves.
Push: Hilariously easy.
If you have any experience developing for Apple devices, you probably loathe integrating push notifications in to your app: you have to deal with certificate problems, incomprehensible and outdated documentation, and screenshots from a version of iTunes Connect last seen 3 years ago.
Here’s how you do it for Windows:
- Add the Store Services SDK
- That’s all.
You can send segmented, timed, and conditional pushes directly from the Microsoft developer dashboard. They can be rich or plaintext. They can deep link to the host app or cross-promote another one. You can even preview your pushes with the handy Notifications Visualizer Store app. (Yes, Microsoft made an app solely to help you send better-looking push notifications.)
Monetization: Built in.
And how about ads? You can start making money from ads right in the Microsoft dashboard, either from third-party advertisers or Microsoft’s own affiliate network.
Want to promote your app? Use their built-in ad exchange for free — you show ads for someone else’s app, and they show ads for you. Can’t decide? No problem, they offer free built-in mediation!
Here’s what Apple has to say about that:
Store employees: Real, live people.
If your app gets rejected during the approval process, you get an actual test log that includes the device and OS the tester used, and the steps to reproduce the problem. You’ll find that many rejections contain two separate logs, since the tester went to the trouble of reproducing the bug on two devices for you. You can easily escalate the issue if you think it’s a problem on Microsoft’s end, and they’ll actually listen to you.
If you find a bug in the Store, you can report it right from within your dashboard to a live employee, via phone or live chat. These employees mean business — they’re not there just to placate you. They’ll escalate your bug all the way to engineering, proactively pinging you every two days to let you know they’re still on it.
It’s the little things.
It feels like whenever Microsoft had to choose between benefitting themselves or their developers, they chose their developers.
Take their affiliate program, for instance: if one of your users buys a new Surface Pro a day after clicking your Microsoft affiliate link, you get a fat spiff from the hardware sale. No one would have judged them if they didn’t do that, but they do.
Or their submission process: there’s a CSV importer so you can submit a dozen languages in the time it takes to submit one. They respect your time.
Or how about the fact that the Store doesn’t count reviews from users who don’t meet your hardware requirements, saving you from 1-star reviews from people who have 1-star devices. They want your app to get a fair shake.
Coming from Apple, it’s nice to feel wanted. Microsoft deals with its developers with trust and respect. And with more macOS developers abandoning the App Store to sell independently, the future is clear: the only stores that will survive in the long run are the ones that treat their developers fairly.