When Microsoft launches Windows 8, its completely revamped operating system, next year, it will follow in Apple's wake and unleash a store that will sell apps to run on its PCs.
And Microsoft wants app developers to know that it will be a very good store indeed—one that, among other things, allows developers who sell large numbers of apps to keep more of the revenues than the Apple store.
To that end, Microsoft held a preview of the upcoming Windows Store in San Francisco on Tuesday, which seemed designed to hammer this point home. "This is the biggest and most signficant developer opportunity ever," said Antoine Leblond, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Windows Web Services.
The store will launch with a limited number of apps as part of the Windows 8 beta, which Leblond said will begin in late February. For the store to succeed, Microsoft needs to convince developers to take on the burden of building versions of their apps for Windows 8, in addition to the versions they create for the Apple and Android markets.
Leblond reeled off all the reasons developers should be excited about the Windows Store. First is the size of the ecosystem: 1.25 billion PCs in the world use Windows, Leblond said, and half a billion licenses for Windows’ latest operating system, Windows 7, have been sold so far. In comparison, only 247 million tablets and phones run Android, and only 152 million devices have the iOS (the iPhone and iPad) operating system.
Windows offers "incredible, incredible reach," Leblond told the developers in the audience. "That’s what you get to participate in by writing Metro-style apps." ("Metro" is the name for apps written for the new Windows platform.)
Microsoft says it will also allow developers to keep a bigger chunk of the pie. The Windows Store will use a 70/30 revenue split—the same as Apple and Android—but only up until the first $25,000 in sales. After than, Leblond said, Microsoft will reduce its share of the take to 20 percent and let developers keep the remaining 80 percent.
"We’re going to give you a bigger bite of the apple," Leblond said, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.
The Windows Store will also save developers time by offering a "free trial" option that will allow customers to give apps a spin before deciding whether to buy.
That’s enormously attractive to app developers, Yash Bandla, a product manager for Sling Media, who was at the event, told Fast Company. It means developers will only have to build a single version of their apps. That capability doesn’t exist on iOS, so developers who want to give customers a taste of their apps have to build two versions: a free one and a paid one.
Leblond promised developers greater flexibility in managing in-app payments and in things like subscription management. The store will be global, available in 231 markets around the world and in 100 languages.
As for the approval process, Leblond said Microsoft will seek a happy medium between the Android free-for-all, which has led to problems with malware, and the Apple black box, which can take months to get approvals and leave developers in the dark when their apps are turned down.
Leblond said the Windows Store will set a maximum app price of $999.99 ("because $1,000 is too much for an app") and a minimum of $1.49.
Asked to explain the rationale for the minimum, Leblond told Fast Company that was due to calculations Microsoft had made about the minimum a developer would need to charge in order to break even on development costs.
"You can't buy a song for 99 cents anymore," he said. "$1.49 seemed like a reasonable price."