Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is still getting heat and apologising over updates to its Windows Phone 7 platform, but it is also pushing ahead in another crucial area for it in mobile — one that might prove to be a more successful and natural place for Microsoft as a business in the longer run. Today it is announcing a new deal with the multinational mobile operator Telefonica (NYSE: TEF) to integrate Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based development framework with Telefonica’s open-API project, BlueVia.
Under the new partnership, developers will be able to access Telefonica’s BlueVia software development kit and create apps in Microsoft’s .NET Framework, Microsoft Silverlight and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Telefonica, which runs a number of mobile operations including O2 in Europe, says these Microsoft platforms have been optimised for developers to be able to use them in the creation of apps that integrate Telefonica APIs for services like SMS, advertising networks and location services.
Under BlueVia’s terms, each service has a different revenue split with Telefonica. For example, using the SMS API, a developer gets only a 10 percent cut; using Telefonica’s mobile advertising inventory and getting click-throughs gives a publisher a 50 percent cut; publishing a paid app via BlueVia, a developer gets a 70 percent cut of the download; and so on.
One of the significant parts of today’s announcement is that this is not just Microsoft’s play to push its own Windows Phone 7 operating system. To date, Azure has been used to develop and serve tens of thousands of apps for a number of mobile platforms, including iOS, Android and Symbian. On top of that, the announcement made today makes specific mention of making Telefonica’s APIs usable “beyond mobile” to TV, PC and gaming platforms. “But clearly, it’s about promoting the Windows Phone 7 platform, too,” added Knut Asrud, General Manager Microsoft Communications Sector EMEA, in an interview with mocoNews.
For its part, if Telefonica is serious about the project, it really needs some key deals — such as this Microsoft agreement — and a big app or two (and ideally more) to bring more attention to BlueVia.
BlueVia, which has been in the works for more than a year already, was formally launched in December 2010 as an invite-only controlled beta (with developers allowed to invite other developers). Although the SDK has been free to download, Jose Valles, the head of BlueVia, tells mocoNews that 600 developers have downloaded the SDK and to date only 25 have developed apps using them. These are on various platforms: web apps using HTML5; Android; WP7 and even a Mac app are on the list.
As for the need for big launches, Valles says that the group is working also on a couple of best-selling, high profile app publishers (along the lines of Rovio, Evernote and the like) integrating APIs from the BlueVia into their apps, with the first of these coming out in the next couple of months, he says. “Right now it’s still about demonstrating that the APIs work,” he said.
And today’s announcement featured three developers working on the Microsoft/BlueVia platform to show just that: a new taxi booking app called “TAXISTOP”, developed by Medianet in partnership with Tweetalondoncab; Schakra has developed “GoGoStat Connect”, an app for managing one’s contact book on WP7 devices; and “LiveShare,” a photo-sharing app from Cooliris.
The Telefonica attraction for developers is not a bad one — a 25-country footprint with nearly 290 million subscribers, and extra services like a centralised money collection and payment system across the whole network that accounts for all the different tax structures and the different app payments — he says all monies get coverted into euros and developers get paid every time they accrue €200 — so that developers do not have to manage this themselves. But it still means that developers’ efforts end where the Telefonica network ends.
The issue of cross-operator APIs will only get solved if projects like the Wireless Application Consortium ever get off the ground. Valles is Telefonica’s chief envoy to the WAC project, and he claims it is on track for the launch of the first cross-operator API sometime this year.