Brandon Watson hails 'astonishing' progress but remains silent on Flash and in-app payments
The main focus of Microsoft's Windows Phone event on Tuesday was the benefits to consumers of the upcoming Mango software update. However, Microsoft is also keen to get app developers enthused about the Windows Phone roadmap.
"We have over 18,000 applications in our Marketplace now, and we are about to overtake RIM," said Achim Berg, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows Phone marketing, at the London event. "And if you look at the number of new apps, we are head to head with Android and iOS."
The latter claim may not stand up to closer scrutiny, given that well over 1,000 new Android apps are being released every day at the moment. But the idea that Windows Phone may be overhauling BlackBerry in the battle for developers' affections (and more importantly their investment) has legs.
Following the main event, Microsoft held a separate seminar focused on developers and Mango, with director of developer relations Brandon Watson taking questions from a mixture of developers and journalists as Microsoft released beta development tools for Mango.
"We're driving on my team to make sure everyone is highly available and outreaching to the community," said Watson. "We had to start from scratch last year, but we've had over 1.6 million tools downloads in 220 countries, which is pretty astonishing."
Microsoft's Windows Phone rhetoric is big on pillars at the moment, with Berg having outlined communication, apps and web as the "three pillars" of Mango earlier. Watson had his own triple-pillar vision for developers.
"One is opportunity, bringing more customers to developers in more countries with more billing available," he said. "The second pillar is discoverability, surfacing apps particularly in the context of search. And the third pillar is capability, with great hardware and apps that can integrate with the overall phone experience."
Watson was keen to portray Mango as Microsoft's response to feedback from developers, as well as from consumers. "Most of the topline features we've been hearing about that were missing last year are being delivered in Mango," he said, citing the ability to simulate motion and location in the Windows Phone emulator as an example of a direct response to developer requests.
Watson expanded on his discoverability pillar, saying that the first seven months of Windows Phone 7 has taught Microsoft that search is going to be important for helping people find apps.
"We've learned that customers love search, and they do a lot of search on their phones. We can take that metaphor and make it easier." By which he meant serving up app suggestions in response to more general queries using the Bing mobile search engine.
Microsoft is also upping the amount of "locally driven merchandising" on its Windows Phone Marketplace, with editorial teams picking out apps from independent developers and giving them a promotional push alongside the apps from larger publishers and internet services.
The company is also distributing printed app catalogues for retail staff selling Windows Phones in stores, to ensure they're able to talk about key apps as well as handset and OS features.
Some aspects of Windows Phone remain unknown. Watson said he was unable to comment on Microsoft's plans to integrate Skype into Windows Phone once its acquisition of the VoIP firm goes through, and he also played a straight bat to a question about the lack of Flash on Windows Phone.
"There's no update on that. There are no philosophical objections, it just doesn't run on the phone," he said.
Developers may be more concerned at Microsoft's silence about any plans to introduce in-app billing for Windows Phone. "It's not on the phone and there's nothing to announce at this time," said Watson.
Gartner's recent claim that it's apps that create loyalty to smartphone platforms is reflected in the effort Microsoft and its rivals are putting into their developer relations. The support of a wide range of talented developers will be as crucial to the fortunes of Windows Phone 7 as the handsets and OS itself.
With that in mind, while having more apps than BlackBerry is one metric showing progress for Microsoft, the real battle is yet to come against iOS and Android. Watson's public statements and tone indicate that Microsoft is taking this task just as seriously as it took its entry into the console gaming market a decade ago.