Windows Phone lacks developer experience first thinking.

Today I read that Apple iPhone makes more money than Microsoft does all up, that is to say the phone that Steve Ballmer the CEO of Microsoft used to mock – generates more revenue than his entire company does (who is laughing now).

It got me thinking, let us assume you were inside Microsoft today and you heard this news for the first time, how would you react? How would you adjust your core strategies overall and how do you think this will play out?

Inside Microsoft they have a vision, it centres on the Windows 8 or bust mentality, and that for me is something of a concern given, they really have not done anything new to be openly honest.

Yes, there is Metro which is new, well not really, the initial design execution is new but the concept of taking a minimalist approach to the desktop has been around for quite some time (Adobe really did this well with their CS5 and CS4 product UI’s which you’d be an idiot if you assumed had no influence in design today).

The web has been also doing grid based design for as long as I can remember, so that’s nothing pioneerish going on here either. The idea of some NUI effects and control, sure that’s new I guess but not enough to flip the world into a new way of doing software interaction and development in fact it probably falls down when it comes to data density.

What is new then? The most obvious piece to what is new in this saga is the reality that Microsoft faces around its future. The industry has grabbed Microsoft by the shirt and dragged them into focusing on User Experience first, Technology second and what is so striking about the metro + Microsoft story is that its hinting at some new thinking.

What hasn’t changed though is the technology first approach, Microsoft continues to retreat to its initial bad behaviour, that is to say it thinks in technical terms and not in experience terms. What hasn’t change is that each team is left to interpret the experience strategy and what hasn’t changed is that Product teams make, marketing / evangelism sustain and the divide occurs resulting in both teams looking at one another as if “its your fault we don’t have adoption”.

Allow me to illustrate.

WP-Marketplace-Opportunity-infographic-r09b 011112

Games make up for about 64% of the current Windows Phone 7 sales, which is a little bad given if you’re an Application developer depending on your category of choice you stand to only tap into around 8% of the audience purchasing power.

That aside, Games are the golden ticket in the Windows Phone 7 way of life. Ok, so let’s build a game? Open up your browser and start typing search terms for Windows Phone 7 game tutorials and XNA or whatever you feel is appropriate.

You should be coming up short on examples that mostly live in a small spread across Microsoft random websites that constantly change context and when you’re done there, you should also be drowning in blog posts that are either extremely detailed or very shallow (not quite in between).

That for me is a problem, if I were in the team I’d be looking at this from a perspective of two things. How can I market the potential of this platform in a game centric device world and secondly assuming that thread is off and running how can I sustain this momentum once the devs have taken the bait.

I’m not saying that the key to Windows Phone 7 overtaking the iPhone is games, there’s probably a thousand or more things that need to occur before you even embark on that discussion, what I am saying is the grass roots fundamentals aren’t in place.

Lets say I click my fingers and the $500million spent on marketing to date actually worked, you have an audience of Windows Phone 7 folks over the next 2 years running hot in potential sales of the device. Congrats, 1 in 5 mobile phones sold today are Windows Phone 7.

Now what.

How do you sustain that momentum, how do you encourage more and more solutions to be built for the phone and lastly how do you retain control over the entire experience.

This is a huge problem today within Windows itself, there is so much energy spent on promoting the entire vision of WinRT and its future(s) but there is no on ramping to help the solutions delivery for this vision. Instead, it is a lot of wait and see?

Android has had next to no marketing but yet its retaining a steady share and I’d argue that its developer base of java and mono geeks have really taken this bad boy out for a test drive. It’s not a huge learning curve either, in under a week I was mucking around with the Android development and I’d say the community backing for this phone is quite loud despite the randomness of Google.

It’s still just as bad as Windows Phone 7 but that’s fine, reason being this is typical with any Google solution – Microsoft however can be better than that? They can on board people faster and with more energy than their competitors do as they are staffed worldwide better.

If you ask me, the phone itself is one thing but if the experience at the developer to consumer is filled with random noise and less signal around getting solutions to a mature level of quality, then that’s just the first strike and more to come shall follow.

There is a reason why the Windows Phone 7 marketplace is filled with crappy games or apps, some are good but they aren’t as rich as the iPhone (even then iPhone has crap to).

I’d argue that the competitive advantage Microsoft has right now that isn’t being capitalised on is the stark reality that they have a development experience that is quite rich and inviting the downside is once you get past the Powerpoint style development and want to actually build a Minecraft / Voxel Engine on a phone well you come up short.

If Microsoft’s vision is to ramp developers onto C++ then where is the investment on learning C++? DirectX? XNA? OpenGL? Etc. etc.

This phone needs much more than guys dropping the phone in a urinal as way to entice the masses to the cause. It needs to start at the experience level and work its way back to the technical detail(s). Its not just about building yet another Microsoft website that doubles down on Tutorials its more about thinking and engaging developers in ways that they understand or need massive leaps in thinking around. If Windows 8 and its device strategy can’t sustain the developer base and relies heavily on the market to teach the masses, then its yet another failure on the horizon. Same tactics as last time only more glitter.

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  • Michael Ramirez

    I think the Mono project does more for C# development with MonoDroid,MonoTouch and MonoGame then Microsoft. MonoGame looks really promising for developing crossplatform games on Android,iOS and Windows Phone 7.

  • runewake2

    Your posts are really hard to read as they feel more like a “Go Apple” rant than a “here are some problems and solutions” rant. You criticize grid based design, when modern computing is entirely based on it. Look at iOS. It is 100% a grid based app library.

    And you criticize the Microsoft has done nothing really interesting or new with Windows 8. The problem here is that compared to other OS’s they have. The entire way you interact with your PC has been changed. This is more than can be said for the iPhone 4s or iPad 3.

    As far a segregated development community goes both Mac and Microsoft have this. ObjectiveC requires you to entirely relearn how you code and is the like learning Mandarin Chinese when you normally speak English. This is a far larger change then a language like C# which is, at it’s core, Java for Microsoft.

    As far as the Windows Phone is concerned it offers more out of the box than the iPhone. Unlike the iPhone it is genuinely more than an app library and phone. The Windows Phone takes a lot of what you do from your apps and places it in the phone itself dramatically simplifying the entire process. The phone is fast and looks fantastic as well (Especially on a Lumia 900). While it doesn’t have the same customization features as a Droid does it offers far more than the iPhone does. Furthermore it gets rid of all those pesky shines and gradients that plague iPhone apps.

    It should also be noted that C++ development for Windows Phone is “under consideration”.

    Edit: I should also note that Microsoft is sponsoring multiple programs for developers. This includes Dream.Build.Play which is including a Windows Phone competition this year. Imagine Cup and many more. In my experience Microsoft is nice to their developers.

  • “Your posts are really hard to read as they feel more like a “Go Apple” rant than a “here are some problems and solutions” rant. You criticize grid based design, when modern computing is entirely based on it. Look at iOS. It is 100% a grid based app library.”

    I think I mentioned Apple once and that was around its fiscal prowess in that its staggering how much one product has managed to accumulate in both market share and price volume compared to all of Microsoft(s) products. Hint, they did get it right. 

    You’re what we used to call in Microsoft a “blue-blood”. Someone who rejects anything associated with Apple as positive because you bleed Microsoft blue deeply.

    Lastly I didn’t say grid based design was bad. I said:
    “The web has been also doing grid based design for as long as I can remember, so that’s nothing pioneerish going on here either. ”

    Your response comes of now as blind ignorance to the context of the actual post.

    “And you criticize the Microsoft has done nothing really interesting or new with Windows 8. The problem here is that compared to other OS’s they have. The entire way you interact with your PC has been changed. This is more than can be said for the iPhone 4s or iPad 3. ”

    Are you high? Windows 8 hasn’t even released and what they have released isn’t setting the pioneering fires a light. Take the concepts you find in most CSS design / iPads today, flatten them out to wireframe and add a couple NUI features to the equation and you have Windows 8. Take a step back from the kool-aid and really analyse what just happened.

    “As far as the Windows Phone is concerned it offers more out of the box than the iPhone. Unlike the iPhone it is genuinely more than an app library and phone. The Windows Phone takes a lot of what you do from your apps and places it in the phone itself dramatically simplifying the entire process. The phone is fast and looks fantastic as well (Especially on a Lumia 900). While it doesn’t have the same customization features as a Droid does it offers far more than the iPhone does. Furthermore it gets rid of all those pesky shines and gradients that plague iPhone apps ”

    I seriously cannot take you serious after that response. The pesky shines / gradients for example was imposed on the UI as it represents candy, in that Steve Jobs asked the design team to make the UI “lickable”. He did that for a very important and frankly still successful reason – take adults back to their childhood, give them confidence around the UI and almost make it fisher price user friendly. It worked, whether you agree or disagree with the reasons for their existence it works and has sold large volumes of apps and phone(s) as a result.

    Meanwhile Windows Phone despite its differentiation in the market and even with the huge marketing spend from Nokia (which finally has positioned the phone in a more effective manner) still doesn’t come close to reaching market share as it should.

    As for Windows Phone takes a lot of what you do from your apps and places it in the phone itself remark – you got data to prove that or is it really just you echoing the marketing / messaging.

  • runewake2

    I have no interest in starting a flame war. Nor do I feel that I fall under the “blue-blood” description you use above. I will openly acknowledge that the Mac has some amazing advancements and has some nice features (such as the App Store) that I look forward to seeing in other platforms such as Windows.

    I will stand by my comment on my dislike of the Mac shine. While this comes partially from my experience on a PC and other experience as a coder staring at a terminal for hours. I find the gleam that seems to represent the Mac UI distracting and masking the point of a UI which is to be useful. However, I acknowledge that this is nothing but my own opinion.

    As for the ” The entire way you interact with your PC has been changed” part. I was referring to the move from PC’s as the center of doing to the tablet as the focus. This same change occurred years ago when consoles took over the gaming world. Obviously PC’s are here to stay but Microsoft is making the transition an easy one, you can go from your PC to Tablet without having to leap through hoops. This is nice for developers and also consumers. This has never been attempted on such a large scale.

    Windows Phone is still a new device and with the demise of the Zune it will have only a limited shot against Apple. This is true, but Microsoft has shown that it can turn the tables quickly. This happened back when Internet Explorer was first released and soon it become the leading browser. I would not doubt that Microsoft could do it again.

    So far, most of my responses have been towards Windows 8, as for Windows Phone. I do have items to back this up. Sharing for example, when you want to share a picture you just took or anything else for that matter you need only tap the share button to share to any of your connected networks. No need for developers to implement sharing API’s into their apps, no need for consumers to retype their login info or open an app. You can take a picture and share it in seconds. This is a powerful tool for developers and one that I utilize constantly.

    As for the end of your article. This is a moot point. Yes, in the past Microsoft has encouraged their tools and not the products. However, I don’t feel this is the case. As far as developers go, Microsoft has been extremely nice to us. Every student receives a free developer license to release up to 100 commercial apps onto the marketplace and receives the tools they need to do it through Dreamspark and MSDNA. The app review process is nice and, while not as fast as the Google Play Marketplace, helps keep garbage from the app store.

    It is hard to argue that the Microsoft Marketplace could compete with the Apple App Store at this point as the fact remains that the Marketplace has been around for nowhere near as long as the App Store. However, the ease with which someone can develop with C# makes me think that this will start to change.

    Case and point the Windows Phone is not going to fall over and die and is a relatively good place for a developer to start. Windows Phone utilizes technologies already used by most developers and the language is easy to learn. Better still. You don’t need a degree in design in order to make a Metro App look stunning. All you need is a few cool animations. Which, speaking of animations, is part of the reason that I enjoy the Windows Phone so much, it is a phone in motion. The interface is not static and I like that. But, again, that is just my opinion.