Microsoft courts developers for Windows Phone 8

Last week Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) finally unveiled its long-awaited Windows Phone 8 operating system at a media event in San Francisco.  Now the company must turn its attention to the developer community, which it must attract to the new OS if it wants to have compelling apps for its Windows Phone 8 devices.

"This is a turning point. Windows Phone has arrived with this release," Larry Lieberman, senior product manager at Microsoft, told FierceDeveloper.

Lieberman said that in many ways the introduction of Windows Phone 8 is bigger than the introduction of Windows Phone 7. That OS was a milestone for Microsoft because it advanced the company beyond its previous Windows Mobile OS and gave it an entry, albeit a belated one, into the smartphone market led by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android.

Lieberman said that developers should be intrigued by the technology core that Windows Phone 8 shares with the new tablet- and PC-focused OS called Windows 8, because the shared core allows developers to more efficiently target each device type with compatible applications. He touted its native code support, which will allow developers to write applications in C and C++; this capability is expected to help attract game developers to the OS.

He believes manufacturers will want to offer devices based on the OS because their software drivers will be applicable to a wider variety of devices, a convenience that can shorten time-to-market for devices and spur a bigger inventory of products for the market. He also emphasized the potential consumer and enterprise audience Microsoft offers, based on the widespread use of Windows-based products around the world today.  

Developers do need a software development kit to get started, and Lieberman said Microsoft will have its SDK available for developers later this summer. The company will begin an all-out developer education campaign at that time. Devices will be on the market in the fall. Four manufacturers will offer devices at launch: HTC, Huawei, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Samsung. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) will provide the chipsets for these devices.

developer platform

Source: Microsoft

Developers can expect Microsoft to schedule hundreds of training events that will be held in locations across the United States and internationally.  For Windows Phone 7, Microsoft hosted more than 800 code camps and it partnered with Nokia to offer a couple hundred more to promote development of apps for Nokia's Lumia devices. The companies seeded the market with thousands of devices and it has been reported that Microsoft also offered financial support to developers as incentives to work with the platform. Given the higher stakes facing Microsoft now with this release, Microsoft may want to offer developers comparable incentives to work Windows Phone 8.

The company hopes, in part, to use better monetization opportunities in the Windows Phone Marketplace to spur developer adoption of the OS. For example, with Windows Phone 8 Microsoft will make it possible for app developers to sell virtual and digital goods via an in-app payment infrastructure that Microsoft will bring to the storefront. This is a "critical feature" not available in the Windows Phone Marketplace today and represents a gap that Microsoft is filling, Lieberman said. 

The shared core feature that Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 have should create a positive uptick in interest among some developers who so far have been reluctant to develop for the platform.

Windows Phone 8

A preview of Windows Phone 8 screens.
Source: Microsoft

The analyst firm Strategy Analytics asked developers specifically about this in a study conducted in March and April of this year. In that study, developers in general ranked Windows Phone fourth in importance for their work during 2012 compared to competing platforms. The developers gave Windows Phone a ranking of 5.3 (on a scale of 1 to 10). Android was first, with a 7.3 ranking, followed by iOS (6.6) and HTML5 (6.1).

The greatest naysayers for Windows Phone in that study gave it an average ranking of 2.23. Yet when asked if their interest would change if Microsoft could make it easy to build apps for deployment on both smartphone and Windows 8 devices, those skeptics increased their ranking for Windows Phone to a 4.36.

"Basically what it shows is the intensity of support amongst (current) naysayers will likely double under such a scenario," said Josh Martin, director of applications research in the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics.

While the cross-device friendliness between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 tablets and PCs is a motivator, developers that have been Microsoft's early adopters and have already created apps for Windows Phone will have an unexpected fragmentation problem to deal with. The new OS will not run on legacy Windows Phone devices, although applications already written for today's phones can run on Windows Phone 8.

Fortunately, the installed base of existing Windows Phones is not sizeable considering it represents a very few percentage points in the overall global smartphone market. And the inventory of available Windows Phone apps, numbering about 100,000 titles, is small compared to the inventories offered for iOS and Android devices, which together have about a million products. Certainly some developers will need and want to continue to support their initial Windows Phone apps, but others will likely decide to move on and focus on the future for this platform, which is Windows Phone 8.