A year ago, Microsoft released free developer tools for its Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. Today, Microsoft is celebrating a set of numbers that show, the company says, developers have enthusiastically embraced the platform.
The implication is that the OS is, or at least is becoming, a success. But is it?
The celebratory anniversary blog post was written by Brandon Watson, senior director, Windows Phone.
Watson says the free Windows Phone Developer Tools, which consist of Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone and Expression Blend 4 for Windows Phone, have been downloaded 1.5 million times, presumably by software developers.
Of that number, fewer than 2.5 per cent or 36,000 have become registered WP7 developers. Watson doesn't cite this percentage. Further, nearly two-thirds of them have so far not published any app on the Windows Phone Marketplace [read on for more detail on this point]. According to Watson, 1,200 developers are registering every week on average. "Developers are pragmatists and they are going where there is ample opportunity," Watson says.
But that opportunity ultimately hinges on Windows Phone handset sales. As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer succinctly put it in October 2010, "Job one here will be selling a lot of phones, and if we sell a lot of phones, good things are going to happen." So far, that cannot be determined, because Microsoft and its handset and carrier partners have not released figures that reveal how many phones have been activated.
Nokia's recent decision to adopt Windows Phone 7 as its sole smartphone OS could lead to wider acceptance, but the first Nokia-branded phones are not expected in volume until next year, though the company could introduce them later this year. According to one Nokia executive, the company has seen a marked increase in developer interest since announcing the Microsoft alliance. [See "Nokia looks to make Windows Phone 7 hottest mobile OS on the planet"]
With smartphones, there's a symbiotic relationship among developers, end users and applications. Microsoft clearly hopes that its emphasis on supporting Windows Phone 7 as a platform with developers will eventually pay off in retails handset sales.
Currently, Watson says in his post, there are 11,500 WP7 "amazing" apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, apparently created by those 36,000 developers (he uses the word "amazing" eight times in his post). What this number means is hard to know; the tools have been available for a year, but there were not 36,000 developers working on apps for that entire period. A distribution graph relating developer registrations and app submissions and app approvals would show more clearly the productivity trend of the Windows Phone developer community.
It's also confusing because Watson says that 40 per cent of the "fully registered developer population" has published an app or game. Assuming 36,000 is the fully registered population, 40 per cent would mean 14,400 have published an app, though Microsoft only cites 11,500 apps. A majority of the fully registered developers, 60 per cent, have not published an app or game for WP7. These are not a problem but an opportunity, according to Watson. "That's incredibly exciting when you consider the amount of creativity which is still forthcoming," he says.
Of those 11,500 apps, the vast majority are paid apps, currently 7,500, and 44 per cent of these include a "trial version" that users can try out before deciding to buy. Watson says developers are embracing WP7 because they're seeing greater revenues from their app sales, compared to other platforms.
"Based on the conversations we are having with some of our developers, many are telling us that they are seeing more revenue on our platform than competing platforms, despite the fact that we cannot yet match the sheer number of handsets being sold," Watson says. "For them it's about truly setting their own price and the ability to get noticed."
About 10 per cent of all apps, or 1,100, incorporate the Microsoft Advertising Ad Control, which inserts in-app advertisements, also creating revenue for the developer. According to Watson, ad-funded apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace are growing at a "double digit growth rate." Watson doesn't say how much revenue these ads are creating. Nor does he address whether developers are turning to the in-app revenues instead of one-time app payments.
Windows Phone users download on average 12 apps each month. Watson doesn't say what proportion of these downloads are free, ad-funded or paid. "Considering that the phone has only been widely available for around 4 months, that's very healthy demand," he asserts.
For most developers, the WP7 app certification process is fast and painless, according to Watson's post. The average time for certification of an app is 1.8 days. Nearly two-thirds, or 62 per cent, of all apps pass on the first attempt.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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