It is hard to ascertain what percentage of the 27 million Indian urban smartphone users would opt for Microsoft's new Windows platform on mobiles and tablet PCs, but the operating system (OS) has already started creating ripples in the market for app developers.
Windows 8 marks the beginning of the new WinRT (Windows Runtime) computing era. It also marks the beginning of the end of the WinNT era, according to Gartner. "WinRT is a new platform designed to keep Microsoft relevant in a future that would be dominated by mobile devices," say Gartner analysts. According to Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights, smartphone users account for about nine per cent of mobile users in urban India.
Though crucial to the computing landscape, PCs are no longer the only devices for delivering services and applications to users. Smartphones and tablets are fulfiling the role of the primary device for an increasing group of users. And, most of these devices are from vendors other than Microsoft. "In this environment, Microsoft needs to move to a platform that enables a new type of application and embraces new types of user experiences. Microsoft is responding to competitive pressures that have made it rethink not only how its products should look, but also how they should be designed for security and manageability," says Steve Kleynhans, vice-president (client and mobile computing), Gartner.
Though pre-release builds of Windows 8 were well-received by consumers, these haven't quite captured the attention of developers yet. Ashish Kumar, chief executive, Tekriti Software, predicts, "Win8 will struggle for applications in the short term. It would have to do so much more on its development platform to entice developers to create applications for Win8." However, he quickly adds, "Win8 devices may also be a game-changer in many ways and I back Microsoft to do a good job in the long term (in about three years), particularly if it launches reasonably-priced phones."
According to Appcelerator and IDC's Q1 2012 Mobile Developer Report, Apple's iOS remains the platform that interests developers the most, with 89 per cent of developers saying they were very interested in building applications for the iPhone, while 88 per cent favoured building applications for the iPad. In the past year, developers' interest in Android platforms has begun to wane, adds the report. "We believe this is mostly due to the fragmentation Android continues to experience, which Google seems unable to curtail. This fragmentation, coupled with iPads continuing to outsell all Android tablets combined, has swayed developers increasingly towards the iOS and away from the Android," the report states.
In India, Android doesn't face an imminent crisis among developers. In fact, CMR data indicates otherwise. The share of Android OS in the smartphones category saw growth of about 600 per cent in 2011 (34 per cent share), compared to 2010 (nine per cent share). The success is emphasised by Alok Kejriwal, chief executive and co-founder, Games2win.com. "Our game Parking Frenzy on the Android has been downloaded 5.2 million times in India in just five months. It has in-app advertising and earns us Rs 10,000 per day," he says. His take on Win8? "Windows 8 is some ghost that keeps threatening to arrive. Let's get scared when it shows itself."
According to data from Convergence Catalyst, Windows phones would account for a share of just about 3.6 per cent of operating systems in India, way behind Android, which is expected to capture over half the Indian smartphone market by the end of this year. While developers say iOS and Android are more appealing now, they agree Microsoft is far from being out. Windows 8 could well be the middle ground between the busy and closed, yet successful, App Store and the open, but fragmented, Android Market.
Preetham Venky, business head of KRDS India, says "Large enterprises are considering applications that can be built for multi-platforms, including the Windows mobile OS."
With the Windows Store bundled with Windows 8, Microsoft has moved into an app store market already crowded by competitors. Today, Apple's App Store has about 5,50,000 apps, Google's Android Market has about 4,50,000 apps and Amazon's Appstore for Android has about 31,000. These app stores are already connected to millions of users and Microsoft has to convince these consumers to switch and leave behind apps they have already purchased.
Taking a step in the right direction, Microsoft has upped its ante on app development support. A few weeks ago, about 200 developers from across India had participated in a two-day Win8 'hackathon' at a south Mumbai hotel. This was the first time the Indian developer community was involved in a 'hacking' exercise for Microsoft Windows. "For Microsoft, getting developer' support from India and the Asia-Pacific would be significant, as the region has hundreds of companies creating applications for the Android, Apple and RIM platforms. This is crucial, as it needs to create a market. There is no disputing the fact that Windows has a huge base in the enterprise segment, but that's not the case in the handset and tablet segments," says Venky of KRDS.
A major hurdle Microsoft would face with the Windows 8 platforms is the fact that effectively, it is starting from zero apps. An even bigger task would be convincing the big shots of the app development sphere to write or port their applications for Windows 8. But that's not keeping Vishal Gondal, chief executive, IndiaGames, from predicting Win8 would claim the top mobile OS position in India in three years. "The clear advantage Microsoft holds, as of now, is Win8 applications would also be readily available to its PC user base. That's a big volume for any developer to ignore," he says. According to him, Microsoft's 'Windows everywhere' strategy is already visible in Windows 7 devices like Nokia Lumia.
“The integration of Microsoft Office and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is simply terrific on my Windows phone. The functionality of 'Office' documents and enterprise mail on Windows phone is unmatched," he says. Draft a presentation on your Windows 8 desktop at work, make collaborative notes on it with your Windows Phone, use your Windows 8 tablet to juggle pages around on your couch, and finish it all at your home computer — that's how Microsoft probably envisions Win8 in action.