Can Microsoft woo iPhone developers to Windows Mobile?

Five months after officially announcing its Windows Marketplace for Mobile application storefront, Microsoft last week began accepting software submissions for the store. Writing on the Windows Mobile Blog, Microsoft's Senior Director for Mobile Platform Services Product Management Todd Brix notes that the software giant will begin certifying applications on a First In, First Out basis--certification should take about 10 business days, and developers can check in on the progress of their app via the Developer Dashboard service. Should an application fail to pass one or more tests or checks, Microsoft will send the developer a detailed report explaining the problem, adding that apps must meet reasonable expectations for quality, usability and localization while creating a high standard for the marketplace, a consistent experience for shoppers and increased exposure and repeat business for all involved.

In other words, Microsoft wants Windows Marketplace to be everything Apple's App Store isn't. "We're creating a clear process and new opportunity for developers and ISVs to make money from their investment in innovation." Brix writes. "The applications we feature will be well organized, easily accessible by PC or phone and backed by a money-back guarantee. And when they're ready to buy, customers will have a variety of payment options to choose from. These are new customer experiences, and frankly, capabilities that will set us apart." To further galvanize the Windows Marketplace submission process, Microsoft also announced the launch of its Race to Market Challenge, a developer competition running through Dec. 31. Judges will look at WinMo apps according to criteria including download numbers, revenues (according to both downloads and price), usefulness and playfulness. Four winners will receive a developer edition of the Microsoft Surface table as well as online marketing and promotion of their app.

But building an app store and launching a programming contest doesn't necessarily mean developers will come around, and already Microsoft is taking steps to lure iPhone programmers to its platform, even offering technical advice on porting iPhone apps to Windows Mobile devices. Porting the Amplitude Application from the iPhone to a Windows Mobile Device-A Case Study, a new article published in the Windows Mobile Developer Center, documents the experiences of mobile and social application development firm Gripwire in its efforts to port its Amplitude app from the iPhone platform. According to Microsoft, Amplitude--which picks up sounds in a user's surroundings through their handset's microphone and then amplifies the recording, rendering it into a rich graphical representation--is well suited for a porting project because it combines a rich user interface with features like alpha blending and transparency with specific audio and sound requirements. Of course, it's a stretch to call any iPhone app well suited for porting to WinMo given the enormous differences between the two operating systems, although on the Windows Mobile Blog, program manager Constanze Roman touts the role of "developer-friendly tools like Visual Studio [and] the richness of community content that is available for Windows Mobile" in getting the job done.

And Gripwire did accomplish what it set out to do: Amplitude now runs on an HTC Touch Pro powered by a more recent beta build of the forthcoming Windows Mobile 6.5.  The port faced a series of hurdles, however--for starters, the iPhone does not support background operation, a requirement for all Windows Mobile applications. Gripwire also grappled with adjusting Amplitude's screen orientation, accommodating phones with keyboards and porting the UI. "The large development community, both within Microsoft and outside, and the various whitepapers, blogs, virtual labs, websites and other online documentation offered a wealth of information that provided direction and greatly facilitated problem resolution," Gripwire software engineer Luke Thompson explains. "The only real challenge was assuring total portability between screens, and that was assured by utilizing the concept of aspect ratios." So that's one down, and about 64,999 other iPhone apps still to port. Credit Microsoft for acknowledging that Windows Marketplace for Mobile needs iPhone developers to flourish--the question is whether iPhone developers need Windows Marketplace for Mobile. -Jason