How Old are You, Windows User?

A friend of mine asked me recently why Chronotron is a Windows-only app.

This is not an infrequently – nor unfrequently – asked question. Chronotron is a media player app whose design language is clearly touch-oriented. Music apps have been the realm of Macs for as long as I can remember, and today most touch-enabled apps run on Android or iOS. So why Windows?

The answer has of course a lot to do with the app history and the developer’s experience with that platform, but not only. The typical Windows desktop/laptop/tablet hardware configuration is capable of doing pretty serious number crunching, and that’s the kind of power needed to perform time-stretching in real time at DAW quality levels. And when it comes to user experience, Windows has a nice UI and supports a myriad of input methods, including touch.

However, my friend’s question is motivated by a growing concern out there: does Windows have a future in the consumer space?

Before going any further, let me tell you that I’m by no means an aspiring OS market analyst. This post is based only on my personal observations and experiences as an app developer.

A lot has been written elsewhere about Microsoft becoming the new IBM, so it seems that future Windows relevance to end users is indeed a subject. There’s certainly more to it than tech news clickbait: I keep hearing stories from colleagues, friends and relatives about companies relegating Windows to the data center – or to the cloud – and running their few remaining desktop apps virtualized. I have noticed myself that some enterprise software, which used to rely on fat clients, have become browser-based in their newer releases and therefore less dependent on the client OS.

Some go as far as saying that “Windows is done” when it comes to end-user computing, though in my opinion this is largely exaggerated. However, there’s something that worries me a bit going forward as an app developer: user age demographics.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

The total number of samples over the selected period is a four-digit figure (niche app obliges), but I have seen election polls conducted with less samples than that. Also, we’re talking here about paid software which most would classify under Productivity Tools rather than under Time-Wasters. It has no “social features” and no “engagement notifications”, though it does support stuff like touch, the Surface Dial and – scoop, scoop! – soon speech.

Still, one could assume that the elders would be more likely to stay with a previous version of Windows – therefore not having access to Store apps – so younger age groups would get a boost in the stats, or in any case appear less dim. Such simplistic interpretation might be wrong. Actually, I hope I’m wrong.

But what about Microsoft’s vision and message? The push to get desktop apps to the Microsoft Store is a good move, though I doubt it will help rejuvenating the Windows user base. On the other hand, the Dev Center Benefits website – a rewards program for app developers – hasn’t been updated since almost one year ago. So yes, Microsoft could work harder on telling us developers what their vision for the consumer market is.

Time will tell if Windows will succeed as an app ecosystem. At the moment I have no plans to port Chronotron to other platforms because, as a Windows developer, I want to believe.

And I love you, dear user, the way you are.


[Edit 2018-03-12]

I’ll share some more data with you, at the risk of adding fuel to the fire that my original post started.

Below is the age demographics of Chronotron Mobile, a free version of Chronotron that ran on Windows Phone 8.1. The app lived from Nov 2014 to Nov 2016.

Now comes the interesting thing. Chronotron Mobile offered in-app purchases, and here’s the age demographics of the paying customers:

We all know purchasing power matters. However, the above chart is closer to what I expected from a platform having a reasonable share of younger users (Windows Phone 8.1 in this case).

3 thoughts on “How Old are You, Windows User?

  1. So most of the PC Gamers/XBox users are north of 50? No, I’m not going by the analytics for a $30 tool app, esp. if it’s primed for Surface or even touch. Admittedly, the vast majority of the world is constantly fondling their touch-centric Android/iOS mobile device, ergo a touch-centric musician’s app should be on those touch-centric platforms. You have to play to the strength of Windows and something like a Surface Dial is niche for a very expensive niche PC that probably is owned by older people who can afford it. I’m glad that Windows has a touch option but I don’t think it’s a driver in whether or not people will use it.

    1. Thanks for your comment!
      PC hardware can be customized to meet almost any performance requirement and that’s a strong driver for the video game market. The age argument makes no sense there.
      Microsoft is pushing hard to limit installable software to the one available in the Store (e.g. the new S mode of Windows 10) and incentivizes developers to add touch and inking features to their apps (e.g. via developer awards). My point is that the effectiveness of the Microsoft strategy when it comes to apps is uncertain because, as you noted, the younger audience for such features is somewhere else.
      FYI, Chronotron also works fine with the mouse and keyboard and about half of the users run it on a PC with no touchscreen or Dial, so I don’t believe this is about expensive niche hardware that older people can afford. However, I do know that any price tag north $10 automatically raises the average user age.
      As mentioned in my post, I’m aware that this is about my own perception based on a very specific case. I encourage other developers to share their app stats so we get a better idea of where the app market on Windows is going.

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