It was good to see people lining up to get their hands on Microsoft’s new Windows 8 products this past weekend, if only to serve as a reminder that Apple – despite all the press it gets – isn’t the only game in town when it comes to such things. Microsoft unleashes part two of its hoped-for resurrection today with a press event from San Francisco that will show off Windows 8 as it applies to phones. For the sake of technology and forward progression, let’s hope it leads to the same sort of interest from the public since we’ll all surely benefit from another strong competitor in phones.
By all accounts, Microsoft looks destined to become a force in the smartphone battle, despite its anemic showing so far. For one, the company has the desire and the money to fund it. As Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney told me during the Nokia 920 launch in September, this is going to attract application developers. “A developer today is going to build for Apple for publicity, they’re going to build for Android for volume and they’re going to build for Microsoft because they’ll probably fund them.”
Microsoft is indeed working hard to court app developers. In an interview at last week’s launch in New York, Windows web services vice-president Antoine LeBlond said the company is offering better terms than rivals. Like Apple and Android, Microsoft is taking a 30-per-cent cut of all apps sold in its store. The pot gets sweetened for developers, however, if their app grosses more than $25,000, with Microsoft’s cut then dropping to 20 per cent.
Possibly of more importance is the somewhat unified nature of the Windows operating system. While a lot of apps are designed solely for smartphones or tablets, there are many that will be able to work across the board, on mobile devices and on PCs. Microsoft allows app developers to use whatever programming language they want to create their software, at which point it’s easy to apply to computers or mobile devices.
“The real question is if you have the skills and knowledge and have learned the programming language and design, how much new stuff do you need to learn to build for this [phone]?” said LeBlond. “If you know those things, jumping from one to the other is easy.”
Numbers are of paramount importance when designing apps, so with this possible unification of devices through software, Microsoft may be able to add the hundreds of millions of computers that will run Windows 8 to its position. For an app developer looking to get access to the widest possible range of customers, that’s a tough proposition to ignore.
One of the startups I visited in Israel a few weeks ago said exactly that. Tel Aviv-based Mobli is a sort of Instragram for video; a social sharing app that lets users post video clips. Vice-president Ido Sadeh said the company had just moved its BlackBerry team into developing for Windows Phone 8, with Mobli very high on Microsoft’s platform.
“The development of the Windows 8 application was smooth and fast, much thanks to a mature and user friendly development environment Microsoft provided, one that allows the development and design to work in parallel in a time efficient way,” Sadeh said. “I foresee Windows 8 users will be a substantial part of Mobli’s users in the next six months and even more so as Windows Phone 8 is released.”
That sort of sentiment is, of course, bad news for BlackBerry. As Gartner’s Dulaney put it, “RIM, no matter what they do, is going to be in fourth place.” Analysts overall expect Windows to explode in mobile phones, even surpassing Apple to become second to Android by 2016. In the end, apps are the virtual be-all and end-all when it comes to smartphones – having cool hardware and a slick operating system is fine and all, but it’s all about what end users can do with their devices that matters. Having lots of apps for them to choose from is therefore ultimately important.
The stars seem to be aligning for Microsoft on that front – now it’s all about whether the company will be able to execute or not.