The success of WP7 depends on developers

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) was officially introduced on Oct 13 and the devices are set to be released in the market on Nov 8. This blog captures my thoughts on WP7, in particular how software developers can strongly influence the success of the platform.

In a network-based market, the value of the WP7 platform is proportional to the number of other users who use the product. It is commonly known in the business of hardware/software that software sells hardware and vice versa. And through this consumption, the demand of one good becomes directly proportional to the demand of the other. Take the case of Micosoft-Intel PC market, the buyer typically purchase a PC primarily for Windows and the applications the operating system runs.

So software matters and a higher proportion of quality apps can attract more people to adopt the phone platform. As the installed base grows, more software developers begin to see a market potential for developing apps for the platform. As more developers enter the market, a wider variety of software is produced. This is the self-reinforcing cycle of the hardware/software market. However I don’t think the number of available apps available only is enough to drive mass adoption. At this writing there are about 250,000 apps available on the iPhone and 100,000 on the Android. WP7 has a lot of catch-up to do in order achieve the same number of app offerings – don’t forget that old Windows Mobile apps don’t even run on the new platform. Quantity alone is not the determinant of higher adoption, diversity and quality of software titles are important drivers too. It is imperative Microsoft must attract software developers to create apps for the platform. But building a thriving software developer ecosystem isn’t something new to Microsoft. Ballmer famously said in the past that Microsoft business is about developers, developers, developers (I still laugh whenever I watch this video). For WP7 to compete successfully, Microsoft needs to build a base of developers to build apps for the platform and initiate this self-reinforcing cycle. Are there any interest from developers so far? It’s hard to tell. Right now, iPhone and Android apps development are keeping most software and mobile app companies busy. It’s difficult for developers to develop for multiple platforms at once. There are already numerous solutions available in the market to address multi-mobile-platform development. I won’t be surprised if Adobe would release a developer tool to compile Flash apps to native WP7 apps.

The technology used to develop WP7 apps isn’t something new. WP7 apps can be built using Silverlight or XNA. Both technologies are already well established in the software development world. Silverlight is based on existing, mature .NET technology while XNA is used by game studios to develop DirectX hardware-accelerated games on XBox and PC. Microsoft should exploit its 3D development suite and existing network with software developers, software retailers, and content partners to develop new titles or port existing best sellers to WP7. While all these initial complementary assets may not have been the only factors influencing the two companies’ successes, they certainly helped the companies to overcome initial entry to market barriers.

I give Microsoft a lot of credit for revamping the Windows Mobile platform and redesigning the user interface. This is a gutsy move but I think it will pay off in the future. I haven’t played with the user interface, but it looks promising. And thank you for eliminating the corner Windows Start button. I quite like the utility of a task-oriented UI of WP7 as opposed to iPhone UI, which is app-oriented.

As a late entrant to the highly competitive smartphone market, Microsoft faces tough competition. Microsoft has strong complementary assets and products which put them in a good position to compete effectively in this market. While I don’t see Microsoft faltering, I don’t see the company emerging as the market leader in this market space anytime soon. But seriously, who knows how this market will play out. For me, I am adopting an (optimistic) wait-and-see stance on developing software for the platform and using a WP7 device.