Monday, January 31, 2011

Windows Phone Marketplace: More frustration

   I wanted to do this post for quite a while, but never found the time. Hope that someone from Microsoft will have the patience to read this post and take some action. 
    In my opinion the current version of the Windows Phone Marketplace reflects the state of WP7 platform ... unfinished, rushed on the market. Some time ago I wrote a post about the development platform and said that it's frustrating that "normal" developers don't have access to resources that are already present on the platform like: sockets, camera stream, database. The Windows Phone Marketplace is even more frustrating and I experienced that both as individual developer and company account . So let's take it step by step:

1. Registration
  As a company we were already registered as Windows Mobile developers. When Microsoft updated the Marketplace we had to update our account and something went wrong when the XBox account was generated because it was located in USA instead of Italy. This made impossible the publication of any application as the developer website went into error. We contacted Microsoft support and after almost one week the only solution was to generate/subscribe a new account.
  As an individual when subscribing the Developer Program on the same webpage there were 2 prices "Abbonamento annuale Hub App € 99,00" and "L'abbonamento annuale di € 80,00IVA inclusa" but when I received the message from the credit card the real price was €113,85. 

2. Publisher Certification
   I know that Geotrust is responsible for the certification but they represent Microsoft in this process so it's Microsoft that has to do something to improve this service.
  Company account: after waiting for 3-4 days, as we had our application ready for more than two weeks, we contacted them directly. The first time they said that everything was ok and that we will have the account certified the same day. As we had no answer we had to contact them again after two more days in order to finally have the account enabled
  With my personal account was even worst.I have subscribed the Developer program on 24th of Nov. 2010, then received an email on 26th of Nov 2010 that they needed a document that I have sent the same day. Geotrust answered on 3rd of Dec 2010 that they have received the document and they will complete the verification process shortly. I wrote to them on the 3rd of Jan. 2011 asking why my account was not activated and they finally activated the account on 4th of Jan 2011 :).

3. Publication
  This part is not so bad but can be improved. If you submit an application/update but you find a bug it is impossible to cancel the submission even if it's not have been tested. On one hand it's quite normal, but as time is money if the developer finds a bug why not stop the process right away meaning Microsoft won't loose time to test an application that won't pass certification and the developer won't have to wait for the certification to fail in order to be able to submit an updated xap. The alternative would be to create and submit a new application but if you don't pay attention you will end up with two applications on the Marketplace. This happened to me with BoxFiles. I then wanted to split the applications (one for US and the other for the other markets) but this meant that some users won't be able to update the application they bought because if you bought an application that is updated but not available anymore on your Marketplace you won't be able to update. So I've decided to let both of them.
    I have to make compliments to the testing team. They are really well organized and you will usually get an answer in one or two days. This is the only part of the Marketplace that I can say it's great (even if my latest update was postponed because the Dropbox service was not working for 30 min so they could not login or create a new account).

4. Updates 
   The bad part about updates is that it is impossible to write the update text. The user will see that there is an update, but you cannot communicate what is new in this release

   The first thing that I don't like is the fact that a user can write more than one review. A user should be able to update his review but this should erase his old review (now both of them will be visible). I don't like it because if a user changed his opinion changing it from bad to good a possible buyer will be influenced by the bad review even if the user that wrote the bad review now has another opinion.
   Another aspect is that nobody verifies the reviews. For example one of the bad reviews of my app states that the search section freezes even if, in the old version, there is no search section (1.7 will have it :) ). Another user said that it cannot login in trial version and he will not buy the app even if, for writing an app review, you will have to buy it. It looks like some users are having "fun" trying to make the applications of the others look bad instead of trying to make their applications look good and the Marketplace helps them.
   I also think that the algorithm for calculating an application rate could be improved. I might be mistaken but in this moment is a mean value from all the reviews of an app which, in my opinion, is not reflecting the "state" of the app. I will explain why: an user usually, if everything works, won't take time to do a good review. On the other hand if an application does't work you will be angry and you will do a bad review.  If the developer fixes the things the users that wrote a negative review will usually not take the time to write a positive review. So it would be more fair to calculate an application rating using an weighted average by the application version number. If the first version had many bad reviews and the next one have very good ones but not as many they should count more in the rating as they reflect more precise the actual state of the app. 

6. Security
   I let for last the worst of them all. This part is very shameful for Microsoft. A company that teaches Security Best Practices has such a BIG HOLE in their system and they are not patching it. At the start Microsoft was warned that anybody can download any xap directly from Microsoft Marketplace but Microsoft did NOTHING and there are programs circulating on the web that are able to download xaps directly from the Microsoft Marketplace (just search WP7 3MktPlace). It's shameful not because the Marketplace has a bug/hole but it's shameful because Microsoft is not patching it right away. This means that Microsoft has no consideration for developers. Developers are trusting Microsoft giving their intellectual property for selling and when a bug enables anybody to download any xap Microsoft doesn't take action. I remembered that Paul Thurrott wrote a blog post where he was frustrated by the fact that Microsoft is releasing software for the iPhone while Apple in the first three months of the iOS  released four updates to their OS patching bugs and adding new features. Instead of using their developers for iOS Microsoft should use all their forces to get WP7 a valid alternative to Android and iOS. I know that NoDo will lock the possibility to sideload applications on WP7 but if it will still be possible to download any xap from the Marketplace Microsoft will encourage Intellectual Theft as it will be possible to use Reflector to see how an app it's done. Of course Microsoft will say that you can use an obfuscator to protect your xap, but why justify a security problem with a workaround? It is enough to patch the hole: authenticate the download of the xap using the windows live id and verify if the user can download a certain xap.
    Another thing that I've noted is that you see everywhere on twitter/blogs that WP7 has more than 20.000 developers and there are 7.000 apps on the marketplace. Let's say that we have an average of 1.5 apps per publisher so we have 4,666 "active" publishers. Let's round it to 5.000 meaning that only 25% of the developers "concludes" the publishing process. In my opinion this means that developers need more. I really hope there is more in NoDo for developers other than Copy/Paste and speed. There are so many things still missing.