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Summary:

Microsoft unveiled a new set of tools for iOS developers to help them port their apps over to Windows Phone 7. But to really catch up in this game and significantly bump up developer support, Microsoft needs more than tools. It needs to sell more phones.

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Microsoft unveiled a new set of tools for iOS developers to help them port their apps over to Windows Phone 7, part of an ongoing attempt to court developers to its new mobile operating system. The new package, including an API mapping tool, adds to an already strong set of developer resources, and shows the company is serious about building momentum for the platform. But to really catch up in this game and significantly bump up developer support, Microsoft needs more than tools. It needs to sell more phones.

The company has still not fully come clean fully on how many Windows Phone 7 units it’s sold, and declined to share the information in its earnings report this week. The company said in January that it has sold 2 million licenses to manufacturers but it’s still hard to know how many devices Microsoft has put in the hands of consumers. What we do know is that it’s doing a decent job getting apps into its Marketplace, with some 15,000 now available. That was boosted initially by Microsoft opening up its wallet for big name apps. But the platform is on pace to outgrow BlackBerry App World and Nokia’s Ovi store in the next year.

But for Microsoft to build momentum and close the gap on Apple and Google, it needs to show developers that there’s money to be made on its platform. And that means a sizable and fast-growing installed base. Right now, even with some extra tools, developers won’t rush to support Windows Phone 7 because there are better uses for their resources in building apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets.

That’s the picture we got from the latest Appcelerator/IDC developer survey, which found that developer support dropped from 36 percent for Windows Phone 7 in January to 29 percent in April. Windows Phone 7 still managed to become the third most popular platform after iOS and Android because BlackBerry dropped more sharply. But it underscores the hurdles that these other platforms face in trying to be a solid No. 3 challenger. Unless you have a lot of sales momentum and money-making potential, time is better spent on iOS and Android. The developer survey found that 62 percent felt it was impossible to catch up to Apple and Google while another 46 percent said they had their hands full with iOS and Android.

Now, this is not say that Microsoft shouldn’t put out better developer resources. The new mapping tool is a step in the right direction, helping iOS developers find their iOS API calls and easily look up the equivalent classes, methods and notification events for Windows Phone 7. It’s still limited right now to three categories of APIs. But Microsoft said it will eventually expand the scope of its tools and is working to bring the same resources to Android. I think this can still help with some developers looking to dabble in WP7 and some that have the extra resources and time. But unless these tools get a lot more robust and make porting vastly easier, don’t expect this fuel a developer bonanza. The real momentum swing will happen when developers sense they can’t afford not to invest in Windows Phone 7. And so far, Microsoft hasn’t proven that to them.

  1. Nice of you to conveniently ignore Microsoft’s agreement with Nokia, which promises to put WP in the hands of tens to hundreds of millions of users in the next few years. Of course it will take some time to get there, and casual developers aren’t rushing to build the next fart app for Nokia/WP7, but serious mobile app shops are already ramping up their teams to be ready for the huge potential that will come from the partnership.

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    1. Yeah, the Nokia deal will be a help, but I still think it would be good if MIcrosoft showed more momentum now.

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  2. Nice of you to conveiently assume people will buy Microsoft-Nokia handsets when they finally come out, since Nokia’s largest customer base (developing countries with low-end phones) won’t be getting WP7 anytime soon.

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  3. Steve Larrison Friday, April 29, 2011

    Wayne Gretzky used to say that instead of skating to where the puck is, he would skate to wear the puck was going to be. Windows 7 is a relatively new platform. It makes sense to look at more than just the current installed base.

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  4. But it doesn’t matter! According to MobileOpportunity, native mobile apps died in February 2008… http://goo.gl/Gr75Y

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  5. Disclaimer: I work in the Death Star, so certainly that brings certain biases.

    I think you’re completely out of touch with the platform. I don’t know if everyone is publishing developer numbers of any kind, but I’d be shocked if WP7 didn’t have the highest number of developers per capita of any of the big three platforms.

    In terms of having robust developer tools, really? You’d be hard pressed to find many people who use Visual Studio and want to go to anything else. I’ve used Xcode and Eclipse (for iOS and Android, respectively), and there’s no comparison. VS buries them in terms of productivity. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Objective-C on the iOS platform is a dinosaur of a language to use. People use it because it’s where the hotness is, not because it’s easy to use.

    I would also suggest you do some hands-on comparisons of apps. The Weather Channel and IMDB are great examples of how the WP7 version is vastly better.

    If you really want to get down to it, the opportunity ship sailed a long time ago in the Android and iOS markets, because your app is just another in a sea of fart apps. Getting noticed is hard. It’s already getting hard in the WP7 marketplace, as it’s now well over 12k apps. The gold mines are relatively rare for anyone.

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    1. I’ve definitely heard that the tools for WP7 developers are great and this certainly helps. And there are a good many developers already in the fold and more on the way. But I think a lot of developers take their time and want to see where to spend their resources. But if Microsoft can show more solid sales growth, better execution on things like software updates and as a commenter said continued marketing and brand imaging, I think it will help convince more devs to add WP7 to their plate.

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    2. More developers for WP7? Then all those fart apps must have developed themselves. I’m sure there is some irrelevant technicality you’re hanging your argument on, but hanging it you are.

      You mention getting noticed in the app marketplaces (valid point), but consider getting noticed on the freaking phones. Why would I build something that will be obscured by the giant tiles on a WP7 screen? That hub design might be fun for users who want constant access to a few things, but for developers it’s like throwing an app down a well.

      Now if you want to talk about pernicious lobbying, broken customer promises or spying on ordinary citizens I would be happy to recognize your expertise.

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      1. Perhaps you should look up what per capita means. I’m talking about the ratio of phones in the wild to developers.

        And I don’t think your point about the design of the start experience is at all relevant. Let’s be honest, it’s the difference between scrolling vertically and horizontally. That said, it’s still not relevant. An app being purchased has nothing to do with how discoverable it is once it’s on the phone.

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      2. Thanks for naming the irrelevant stat.

        Hey, Ryan, would you mind changing the headline to read, “Microsoft, sell fewer phones if you want fewer developers per capita”?

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      3. Whoops – that’s “…more developers per capita”

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  6. This will be a long fight, but WP7 is a good product. Microsoft’s largest problem is their brand image. That’s what really needs addressing. They need to keep pushing innovation and show what they’re doing to everyone out there. On my daily commute I see at least one regularly updated Android billboard ad, and I’ve just recently seen one for iPad, too. I see nothing coming out of Microsoft at the moment. They need to get behind the platform more, and they also need to work with their retail partners to get them to promote their product.

    All this, I realise, is easier said than done.

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  7. As an iPhone developer, I didn’t even bother converting the apps for Android, I can’t see why would I do it for Windows 7 phones

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  8. The real problem is they need to make it more compelling to build under VS.

    Tools that port some of the API’s is not enough. I’d suggest adding some check boxes in the build options, “build for iOS” and “build for Android”, now that would get everybody’s attention. One IDE to do them all.

    I know they would never do this, but it would be very compelling to get developers onboard.

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  9. Wow. You guys really don’t know how Windows Phone 7 is doing? It’s some big secret? That’s amazing. Here is how Windows Phone 7 is doing: http://j.mp/gl6Fom

    Thousands of people have been following this data since November. It’s not some big secret. It’s a very simple process. You look at how Windows Phone 7 is doing with the Facebook app: http://statistics.allfacebook.com/applications/single/-/7933375107

    Then you compare it with the facebook apps of all the other phone platforms. That gives you a huge statistical sample of Facebook users, which correlates well to the other published data. Dividing announced user activations by facebook new users gives a rough multiplier that can be used to estimate actual activations of similar phones. Quite clever actually – and it wasn’t my idea. A Microsoft insider actually put out the method after the demise of the KIN to debunk the notion that only 500 had been sold.

    Anyway, there’s the data. This is not going to help Nokia. If fact, it’s hard to believe that Nokia could justify their recent decision when presented with information like this.

    Non-sequitur: When Microsoft partnered with Sendo to make the Stinger phone the two never put together a working system, and after Sendo went bankrupt Microsoft got Sendo’s cellphone intellectual property under the agreement. That was probably a bigger prize than the profits of success would have been. I’ll believe in this Nokia Windows Phone when I see it.

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  10. Well, instead of an lame text lookup tool they might eventually get the iOS dev attention (and evaluation) when it is possible to run the Win phone 7 Simulator in a VM. Reboots bother me a lot more than browsing TFM.

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