Why Microsoft will never catch Google or Apple

It's all about the apps and delivery.

Happy New Year to all of my readers here on Network World. I haven't posted since before Christmas, as I was on an extended holiday with my family. Actually, we loaded the kids in the car and took a long drive up the east coast from Florida to New York, driving all that way with kids' demands that you have lots of content on their screens. So we loaded up every device with a screen we owned to keep them busy.

As a result of loading all of this content I had a chance first hand to experience how well the delivery and selection was for devices using iOS, Android and Windows 8.1. In terms of video content, all three ecosystems had similar selections. In terms of apps, though, it wasn't even close. Apple and Google's app stores dwarf the rather meager offerings of the Microsoft store. If you just cruise the Microsoft store, you may not realize how bare the shelves are, though. It is only when you compare it to Apple and Google that you see the difference. I was reminded of the short time I was using the HP store for my HP Touchpad and thought there was a decent amount of apps for the PalmOS/WebOS it ran. Only when I compared it to iTunes or Google Play did I see the stark contrast.

It reminded me of something my friend from down under Andrew Greely used to tell me about the initial iPhone. I was not that impressed, but Andrew used to say, "Shimmy, Shimmy, it is all about the 10,000 apps." How right he was. But it was more than 10,000 - it was closer to a million. While I don't know the exact numbers of either Apple or Google's apps, it dwarfs the Microsoft apps.

I am afraid it is more than the number of apps, though. It is the infrastructure as well that leaves Microsoft a distant third in this race. Since I didn't want to rack up bandwidth/data charges I was loading up the devices with content while on my home Wi-Fi network. I would purchase a movie or show for rent and download it to the device. With my fast connection at home, it shouldn't take too long to download even a full-length movie in HD (about 4.5GB). On Google Play, it didn't take long at all. Even Apple, which sometimes can be slower, was not too bad. But downloading content from the Microsoft Xbox network was painful. It literally took over night to download two movies. 

I ran bandwidth tests again and again to see if it was the device or the Microsoft servers. All of them showed the same thing. My Windows device and network were fine. The Microsoft servers were just really slow.

At the end of the day, my kids and many of their friends are not as hung up on whether the device is an Apple, Android, or Windows device. They care about the apps and the content. No matter how good Microsoft makes Windows, it is meaningless if they don't have the apps and infrastructure in place.

My kids' patience ran out pretty quickly waiting for the Microsoft content to download. While they were happy on the way home that I had stored a few movies on the Windows box, if they had to wait for the download I am afraid Windows would not have made the cut.

While Windows in all of its flavors continues to develop on many fronts, including security, Microsoft needs to put substantial time and resources in building out the rest of the experience. Their servers should not be lagging behind Google and Apples in delivery. That is just unacceptable and a deal breaker. I am not sure what to do about app diversity, though. What can they do to incentivize app developers to develop for the Windows platform? They seem to have cracked the code for Xbox, but most app developers I speak to don't develop for Windows and don't have any plans to. 

There is, of course, one easy answer - bring more users to the platform and the developers will follow. But in a case of chicken and egg, how do you get more users without more apps?

Until Microsoft can shore up their network and bring more apps and better delivery, though, I can assure that they are never going to catch Apple and Google for the hearts, minds and wallets of users.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10