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Summary:

Foursquare’s VP of mobile/partnership said his company would have waited until Microsoft sold at least 10 million Windows Phone 7 devices before it rolled out a Foursquare app. So how was there a Foursquare app for the WP7 launch? Simple answer: Microsoft paid for it.

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Foursquare VP of Mobile and Partnership Holger Luedorf guesses his company would have waited until Microsoft sold at least 10 million Windows Phone 7 devices before it rolled out a Foursquare app. So how was there a Foursquare app available for the WP7 launch last week? Simple answer: Microsoft paid for it.

It’s no secret that Microsoft opened up its wallet for marquee apps. Todd Brix, a senior director at Microsoft, acknowledged in July that Microsoft was willing to pay app developers to write for Windows Phone 7. That was just one in a number of tools Microsoft employed to get big-name apps early and attract about 1,600 apps for the U.S. launch a week ago. In seeing the strong line-up of apps on day one — Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and others —  we’re able to get a sense of how far Microsoft went to bolster what probably would have been a light offering had it not committed serious cash and resources. It’s unclear how much Microsoft spent overall on its developer outreach efforts and how many developers were persuaded to do more or speed up development because of the incentives, but the efforts reflect how seriously Microsoft took the challenge and how critical developer support has become in the modern era of smartphones, especially for players like Microsoft which are trying desperately to catch up.

Luedorf said Microsoft approached Foursquare in August, expressing an interest in getting a Foursquare app on Windows Phone 7. Luedorf said Foursquare, which has about 35 employees, was unprepared to come out with a WP7 app, especially for a platform with no user base. So Microsoft offered to pay for the development of the app, which ended up taking about two months. (Nokia, by the way, also paid for Foursquare’s Symbian app, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.) Luedorf brought in UK-based app design firm Fjord, which built its Symbian app, to lead the development of the Windows Phone 7 app.

“Microsoft is a large partner with us and they’re putting a ton of emphasis behind Windows Phone 7,” Luedorf said. “It’s great to be part of that and reap the benefits of that early. There’s been a lot of press.”

One source familiar with Microsoft’s developer outreach said the company split its efforts into two teams: a depth team to reach the top 50 or so app makers, and a breadth team to evangelize to the broader developer community and offer them support. The depth team wasn’t shy about throwing around cash for “must have” apps, offering revenue guarantees or developers to build the app, said my source. He said Microsoft ended up building or funding most of the top apps on Windows Phone 7 including Facebook, Twitter, IMDb, Amazon and Yelp, though Microsoft didn’t consider it buying off developers.

It’s not that we’re funding a team of developers to build apps,” said the source. “It was that without the apps the phone is incomplete; consumers will be handicapped if they don’t have a good Foursquare or Twitter app.”

PopCap, maker of Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies, was another high-profile developer that was approached by Microsoft. Microsoft also offered something in the neighborhood of $100,000 to bankroll a game from PopCap. PopCap declined the money, but still created a launch title called Bejeweled Live. Andrew Stein, PopCap’s director of mobile business development, said the company didn’t want to be tied into an agreement to build a game when its developers were still getting used to the developer tools. But in the end, the company still moved ahead because it saw the value in being there at the launch of Windows Phone 7.

Whenever you talk subsidy or royalty guarantees, there are strings attached,” Stein said. “We weren’t sure we could meet the commitment but we already identified we wanted to be on there. If the platform succeeds, the dollars we were kicking around the table will be peanuts.”

Most of Microsoft’s work was done reaching out to developers at events and in some cases, cold-calling them. Ina Fried had a good story at Cnet looking at Microsoft’s efforts to appeal to developers. Slacker, an Internet radio app, was one of the developers who jumped at the chance to be on the platform early, in part because of its close relationship with T-Mobile, which promised to ship Slacker on its first Windows Phone 7 device, the HD7. Jonathan Sasse, SVP of marketing at Slacker, told me Microsoft was very helpful in providing support and also offered to promote the app on its app Market.

I would say that the support we got from Microsoft was comparable to what we get from RIM, who we’ve worked closely with,” Sasse said. “For iPhone and Android, you develop with the tools they provide and the environment they set up, but there’s not a lot of communications that goes on.”

Time will tell if any of this pays off. As we’ve written before, most consumers base their purchase first on the hardware. The various OS makers know that apps are what keep many consumers tied to a platform and they’re very intent on competing for developer support. The fact that Microsoft had a deep lineup of WP7 apps at launch is not only attractive to consumers, but it’s also a strong sign to developers that the company is in it for the long haul, something many of the developers I talked to remarked on. That Microsoft or Nokia are opening up their wallets for apps and developers is just a sign they understand that developers are the new kingmakers.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user dslrninja.

  1. [...] are strings attached,” Andrew Stein, PopCap’s director of mobile business development, told GigaOm. “We weren’t sure we could meet the commitment but we already identified we wanted to be on [...]

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  2. Dr K Churchill Monday, November 15, 2010

    Microsoft’s efforts are going to fail.

    Windows Phone 7 is suffering from low handset sales. Paying developers will convince some to forget about those low sales. However, low marketshare is just one of the many problems on Windows Phone 7.

    The platform is incomplete. It is lacking APIs for vital functions. 3rd party apps cannot access the phone’s Personal Information Manager (PIM), so apps cannot see the phone’s address book or calendar.

    But it gets worse. APIs are still missing for Camera, Compass, Bluetooth and a whole lot more. What is the use of making a compass compulsory on every Windows Phone 7 handset, when the apps cannot access it?

    Some of Microsoft’s favored developers have been given access to native code, which can side-step some of the serious shortcomings in Windows Phone 7. That native NDK is called ‘Iris’. However most developers have been barred from accessing it. This will hobble many apps.

    These shortcomings are going to bite Windows Phone 7 more as time goes on, and people look beyond the pretty interface to see what’s underneath.

    There will be no natural Windows Phone 7 ecosystem until Microsoft has fixed these problems. Throwing money around isn’t going to kick start it when the platform fundamentals are missing.

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    1. oh the same rubbish was spouted about apple and the iphone.

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  3. Although it makes good business sense, it is pathetic. Microsoft is an entire company of faceless suits who just copy. Replay blowhard Ballmer’s reaction to the iPhone. The fat slob is clueless.

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  4. Microsoft’s efforts are going to fail.

    Windows Phone 7 is suffering from low handset sales. Paying developers will convince some to forget about those low sales. However, low marketshare is just one of the many problems on Windows Phone 7.

    The platform is incomplete. It is lacking APIs for vital functions. 3rd party apps cannot access the phone’s Personal Information Manager (PIM), so apps cannot see the phone’s address book or calendar.

    But it gets worse. APIs are still missing for Camera, Compass, Bluetooth and a whole lot more. What is the use of making a compass compulsory on every Windows Phone 7 handset, when the apps cannot access it?

    Some of Microsoft’s favored developers have been given access to native code, which can side-step some of the serious shortcomings in Windows Phone 7. That native NDK is called ‘Iris’. However most developers have been barred from accessing it. This will hobble many apps.

    These shortcomings are going to bite Windows Phone 7 more as time goes on, and people look beyond the pretty interface to see what’s underneath.

    There will be no natural Windows Phone 7 ecosystem until Microsoft has fixed these problems. Throwing money around isn’t going to kick start it when the platform fundamentals are missing.

    Share
  5. while it may seem underhanded, it actually makes alot of sense for the newcomers to the smartphone game to take this route (HP too maybe?).

    what it ultimately does it resolve the chicken or the egg dilemma, developers want lots of devices sold 1st, but customers want lots of apps available 1st.

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  6. You mean Microsoft paid people to write software? Shocking.

    It’s called contracting. It’s been done before.

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  7. I actually really appreciate that Microsoft did this, as it is another sign that they are serious about making WP7 a success. If you don’t have a substantial existing user base, which will convince developers to make apps for your device, how do you convince them? Co-development funding is one arrow in the quiver.

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  8. Silly comments from people who think they can tell the future. It seems pretty clear that Microsoft always wins in the end . They did with windows total domination 90%. And they will again with wp7 . That’s not a prediction , it’s based on past success . All those things you state that are wrong are meaningless nonsense that either will go away in the next couple months duh, ever hear of a progression of a platform. Or they don’t matter to the people who will buy them . People want facebook twitter , music and IE that’s it.

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