The two events -- Keep the Cash's kick-off and the slowing of the app store's growth -- put Windows 8 and its limited-feature offshoot, Windows RT, in a difficult position. Microsoft, after all, has tied the success of those two operating systems to the Modern app ecosystem. CEO Steve Ballmer has repeatedly pitched that opportunity to developers by touting the number of likely Windows 8 machines to be sold this year.
After a spike last December, the Windows Store's growth slowed dramatically, dropping to 8% to 12% in the first three months of 2013. (Data: MetroStore Scanner; image: Tech-Thoughts.)
Last year, just three weeks before Windows 8's launch, Ballmer told developers at a San Francisco event, "There will be customers coming and looking for apps. That I can assure you. It's going to create a heck of a lot of opportunity for folks in this room to make millions."
"Microsoft is feeling some pressure," said Singh, referring to the double whammy of declining Windows Store growth and lackluster sales of Windows 8 and Windows RT hardware.
App store numbers aren't everything, of course, something that other analysts pointed out earlier this week when Microsoft launched the $100 app rewards.
"The industry has become its own worst enemy," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "This measurement of app store success by numbers plays to the crowd." As Moorhead noted, other app vendors -- Apple especially -- frequently tout numbers as a measuring stick.
But while that's an easy way to compare app ecosystems, it's not what ultimately matters. "The app store people should be talking about how many awesome apps they have, rather than just how many apps," said Miller of Directions.
The experts agreed this week that Keep the Cash was a move for quantity, and if quality was a result, it was clearly secondary. With so little on the line, Microsoft was aiming at amateur and hobbyist developers, not the mainline firms that have yet to pull the trigger on porting existing work to Modern, or coming up with a brand new app for Windows only.
"Microsoft's asking developers to invest significantly in a new style of app," said Miller when discussing the $100 rewards. "It takes time to build a good Metro-style app, it takes time and money."
Singh blamed the slow sales of Windows 8 hardware for developer ambivalence. That's not Microsoft's fault alone, but it has to take some responsibility for its strategic decisions to emphasize touch when so few existing PCs support it, when new touch-enabled personal computers are priced higher than most buyers want to spend, and when other operating systems, iOS and Google's Android, have the tablet market in a headlock.