Can a free, beginner-friendly app building tool and citizen developers lift Microsoft's smartphone app ecosystem?
Microsoft is flattening the mobile app development learning curve with a new tool that enables even non-coders to create Windows Phone apps.
Dubbed Windows Phone App Studio
, and currently in beta, the Web-based tool is meant to help both developers in training and code gurus fast-track their app creation efforts on Microsoft's smartphone operating system. According to the software maker, it whipped up the tool to help bridge a coding skills gap that is keeping innovative ideas out of the marketplace.
"We've heard from many potential Windows Phone developers who have great ideas, but who might not have the coding skills to create an app using standard development tools," Todd Brix, general manager for Windows Phone Apps and Store, wrote
in a blog post.
Windows Phone App Studio, suggested Brix, can also serve as a launch pad for modest apps and rapid prototyping. "Sometimes, it's a first-time developer with a small-scale idea for an app; other times, it's an accomplished developer who wants to frame up a concept before committing dev time," he stated.
Accessible via a free Microsoft account, the template-driven tool allows users to drop in elements, including text, Web content and images, to cobble together an app. Windows Phone App Studio then packages the app and prepares it for download.
"For hobbyists and first-time app designers, Windows Phone App Studio can help you generate an app in 4 simple steps," wrote Windows Phone Developer Experience head Emilio Salvador Prieto in a separate blog post
. There are also perks for seasoned developers.
The tool allows developers to "export the code and continue working with the project in Visual Studio," stated Prieto. "Unlike other app creation tools, with Windows Phone App Studio, a developer can download the source code for the app to enhance it using Visual Studio," he boasted.
Further lowering the barriers to entry, Microsoft is streamlining the process to register a handset as a developer phone. "Now, any developer can unlock and register 1 phone to load up to 2 apps," said Brix. A Dev Center account is still required to publish apps to the Windows Phone Store, but Microsoft is dropping the price to $19 from $99 during a "Summer Break" promotion that lasts through Aug. 26.
The move could potentially attract more app makers to the platform. Windows Phone not only lags behind Apple iOS and Google Android in terms of smartphone sales, its app ecosystem is eclipsed by their mammoth app stores. But there are signs of progress.
The Windows Phone platform is gathering steam with some help from Nokia, Microsoft's top smartphone partner, asserted Brix. Nokia's 41-megapixel Lumia 1020
and low-cost Lumia 625
are "bringing new fans to the platform and to the Store," he stated.
The Store just served up its 2 billionth download and is racking up downloads. The momentum is growing, added Brix. He said that Microsoft "recently added another billion transactions in under six months—one-fifth of the time it took to generate our last billion transactions."
In spite of these gains, Microsoft has its work cut out. Rival Apple celebrated the 25 billionth iTunes App Store download
in March 2012.