Microsoft plans to phase in a limited number of Windows Phone 7 applications, starting with the formal unveiling of the first handsets next week. By starting small, Microsoft plans to give precedence to "first mover developers" at the outset, then increase the number Windows Phone applications it accepts, and finally, activate the full range of self-service features for submitting apps online.
But even the first developers won't be reaping payments until February, it was disclosed.
The online developer portal has been extensively reworked, compared to what was available for previous Windows Mobile applications, both in terms of the automated, self-service processes developers can use directly, and the back-end systems needed to support them. "We're going to be very deliberate in our timeline for rolling out [Windows] Marketplace," writes Todd Brix, senior director, Windows Phone Product Management at Microsoft. He announced the changes in a blog post Monday.
"We're starting something new here and we want to give developers a great experience, even if we have to iron out a few kinks behind the scenes along the way," Brix writes.
Recruiting Windows and Windows Mobile developers for the revamped mobile OS is critical to Microsoft's ambition to reverse its declining mobile marketshare. The strategy includes letting existing Windows programmers use virtually all their existing skills, and existing Microsoft developer tools, to create advanced, sophisticated applications and games for Windows Phone 7. From the start, the company has been focusing on creating solidly reliable code, for both the OS and the companion development tools, and encouraging a range of rich applications to exploit the touch interface.
The company is offering selected developers and ISVs financial incentives in cash, assistance with development costs, or revenue guarantees in exchange for their having applications ready for the Windows Phone 7 launch, according to a recent Bloomberg News story.
According to Brix, Microsoft already has contacted all registered Windows Phone 7 developers, and invited them to request early submission to the Marketplace certification process. The deadline for requesting this is Wednesday Oct. 6. By Monday, Oct. 11, the day the first phones will be unveiled for both AT&T and T-Mobile at a Microsoft event in New York City, these developers will get directions on submitting their applications, which then will be published and become available for download by users.
After next week's launch, Microsoft will continue processing application submissions and "prioritizing" requests for certification "in the order they are received." The approach "gives all registered developers an opportunity to be among the first to have their apps and games certified, while also enabling new Marketplace systems to gradually ramp-up to full self-service capacity," Brix writes.
Microsoft will gradually expand the number of accepted applications and full enable the self-service site. Full activation, and full availability of Marketplace to all developers, is expected to take place sometime in November, according to Brix. That's the timeframe when Windows Phone handsets are actually expected to be offered through AT&T and T-Mobile (initially, Windows Phone 7 hardware is available only on GSM cellular networks).
Also being phased in are reporting tools to help developers know how their applications are performing on Marketplace. Brix said Microsoft is getting ready to start beta testing a way to let developers privately distribute their applications for testing through the online Marketplace. Finally, payouts to developers for downloaded apps will start in February.
Microsoft is focusing on creating a Marketplace design that will be very simple and very satisfying to use. That will be important, according to Brix, to keep both groups coming back. He didn't predict any specific number of applications ready for the launch. "Windows Phone 7 will offer a tremendous variety of quality apps and games across a wide range of categories this holiday season, and we're going to deliver them at an amazing rate," he promised.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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