What’s new in the Windows Phone Store—a developer perspective

For several months we’ve been rolling out a series of infrastructure upgrades to the Windows Phone Store and Dev Center in preparation for Windows Phone 8. That work is now wrapping up, so I wanted to give you an update, tell you what these changes mean for you, and point you to some helpful resources.

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How new Store features help you

As my colleague Mazhar explains today, the Windows Phone 8 Store has been significantly improved to make it easier for consumers to find and discover apps. But the new design also benefits developers.

First, the Store now clearly calls out—on the app details page and spotlight area (shown below)—when an app includes either a Live Tile or trial option, both of which drive downloads and boost satisfaction. Apps with Live Tiles are typically rated 1.5 stars higher than apps lacking them. We also know that customers buy more apps and games when they can try them first.

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Second, the new algorithms used to generate app lists more directly and accurately reward app quality and user preference. Previously the list algorithms were based primarily on downloads over time. Now we’re able to factor in measures including an app’s customer rating, how frequently it’s pinned or unpinned from Start, and performance (does it crash often?) to determine its overall ranking. The upshot: if you’ve invested in quality, performance, and customer satisfaction you will now more directly benefit through better ranking and discoverability.

Third, we know many of you target smaller and well-defined user segments based on specific interests, geographic location, or season. In the past, however, it’s been challenging for these users to find such apps.

To help, in Windows Phone 8 we created Collections, a new feature (shown below) catering to customers interested in specific kinds of apps. Each Store will have 30 collections of 6 to 20 apps curated by our experts and tailored to each market. Another way we’re getting more of your apps in front of customers is through Picks for You, a new personalized recommendation engine that suggests apps based on what apps customers own and what their friends on social networks use.

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We’re also making it easier for users to buy your apps though a new Wallet feature and expanded payment options in Windows Phone 8, including PayPal in most countries and Bing Rewards in the US. We’ll continue to work closely with carriers to bring direct carrier billing to more customers over time as well.

Windows Phone 7.5 benefits

On Windows Phone 7.5 handsets the Windows Phone Store will still be labeled as “Marketplace” and offer the same menu and browsing options as before. Under the hood, however, there are several improvements. Bing now powers the search results, which are more forgiving of user typos and misspellings, and now also lists related apps in results.

Windows Phone 7.5 users can also expect to see differences in lists like Top, Free and New, as the new algorithms now take into account downloads, customer ratings and actual usage patterns for a more accurate picture of what’s trending. (Developers should expect some variability in rankings over the coming weeks as the new algorithms are fine tuned.)

As part of the infrastructure upgrade, Windows Phone 7.5 devices were automatically sent a new configuration file that pointed them to the new Store service. But some customers—about two to four percent—have phones that for various reasons can’t automatically retrieve the new file. In the next few weeks, these customers will see a specially-created app in Marketplace called Refresh Marketplace. Once they run it, they’ll enjoy the same improved app search and smarter app lists as new Windows Phone 8 users.

More resources

Finally, the Dev Center roll-out is complete, bringing an all-new portal and developer registration in 191 markets. Check out my recent post for a tour and checklist for getting started. We’re eager for you to download and install the new Windows Phone 8 SDK and begin experimenting with new capabilities like in-app purchase. (For more on in-app purchasing and how to take advantage of it in your apps, see Bernardo Zamora’s recent post.)

Another way to take advantage of the new SDK is by signing up for a local Dev Camp, which offers in-person, hands-on guidance from experts.

And remember that if you’re new to Windows Phone or just getting started, you still have a few hours left to pay $8 (US) for a new Individual Account, a savings of $91. This offer expires at midnight Pacific time tonight. See Dev Center for additional details.

Over the coming weeks you can expect more posts with additional technical insights and guidance from the following Windows Phone team members:

  • JC Cimetiere :third-party tools and APIs
  • Larry Lieberman: how to make the most of the platform
  • Cliff Simpkins: SDK insights
  • Bernardo Zamora: monetization opportunities
  • Kevin Gallo’s developer platform team: in-depth feature level technical details

As always, you can reach us here or at #wpdev. We do recommend any bugs or issues you discover that you report them directly via the Community Forums on the Dev Center for faster service.