Microsoft continues fine-tuning its Windows Phone 7 resources for developers, cognizant of how a failure to attract third-party apps will harm the platform's chances against Google Android and the Apple iPhone.
Over the past few weeks, complaints from developers about some of Windows Phone 7's policies and backend infrastructure have percolated through the blogosphere. A portion of that criticism centers on the smartphone's apparent inability to report how many times an app's been downloaded. "Currently I have no idea how many copies of GoVoice are sold nor did I receive a single paycheck," Nicholas Yu, creator of the GoVoice app, wrote in a Nov. 22 posting on his blog. "Implementing Push is a very risky thing for me because I need to justify that the expenses will cover the maintenance cost of a Push server."
Microsoft's hope is that Windows Phone 7's unique interface-offering six subject-specific "Hubs" that aggregate Web content and applications, in place of its rivals' grid-like screens of individual apps-will attract both consumers and business users, and allow the company to retake market share lost over the past several quarters to rivals such as Google and Apple.
Developers have also complained about Windows Phone 7's app-submission platform, App Hub, and its customer service-something that the company seems intent on fixing. "Microsoft is now monitoring the forums a little bit better," TechRepublic's Justin James wrote in an update to a Nov. 19 blog posting. "I posted something up on another customer service issue, and a few days later someone responded ... they told me to use the support form." However, he claimed, no Microsoft reps had yet answered his support-form query.
For its part, Microsoft claims awareness of the issue. "They have been fixed," a company spokesperson told eWEEK Nov. 30. "We have added new support employees; we have transitioned more technically savvy support staff."
James' blog post also claimed issues with Windows Phone 7's billing system. "There will be no payouts from App Hub until February 2011," he wrote, "and there is no built-in reporting on downloads as of now. These are all things that are supposedly coming, but for the time being they are desperately needed."
When asked about that portion of James' blog post, a Microsoft spokesperson referred eWEEK to an Oct. 4 posting by Todd Brix on The Windows Phone Developer Blog.
"Shortly after new Windows Phones become broadly available, Marketplace will begin providing developers with individual insights on their app's performance within Marketplace," reads that posting. "Developers can expect the first payout of sales to date to take place in February."
In a bid to increase Marketplace's size, Microsoft now allows third-party developers to create Windows Phone 7 apps using Visual Basic. Released Nov. 29, the new Visual basic for Windows Phone Developer Tools-RTW supports multiple languages and the ability to port an app to Windows Phone Marketplace.
"This release doubles the developer audience for Windows Phone, by enabling Visual Basic developers to create applications for Windows Phone, as well as C#," reads a Nov. 29 posting on Microsoft's Visual Basic Team blog. And unlike September's Visual basic CTP for Windows Phone Developer Tools, "the RTW release provides -Go Live' support, which allows Visual Basic developers to submit their applications to the Windows Phone Marketplace."
Developers wishing to build with Visual Basic for Windows Phone Developer Tools will need to preinstall the Windows Phone Developer Tools RTW along with Visual Studio 2010 Professional, Premium or Ultimate.
Windows Phone 7's app library includes a handful of prominent brands, including Netflix, Twitter and LucasArts' "Star Wars." However, smaller third-party developers constitute the bulk of most apps ecosystems; and in theory, the more of those that Microsoft can attract, the better its chances at taking a serious run against Apple's App Store and Google's Android Marketplace.
Microsoft has specific internal targets for the size of its application storefront, but declines to share those numbers publicly. "We're really focused on quality; we have pretty lofty aspirations," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, told eWEEK in September. "We have to show developers that they can build applications, that they can make money. So we're really focused on the quality of the applications."