Microsoft's release today of the final version of its Windows Phone 7 development tools signals a shift in the campaign to re-launch its mobile business: from an intense behind-the-scenes focus on enlisting developer support to more visible marketing efforts aimed at consumers.
With this latest set of tools, developers can finalize their mobile applications for submission to the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, the online application and game catalog that will go live when the first handsets are formally unveiled, expected on Oct. 11. Microsoft has invested time and money to revamp that Web site and simplify and speed up the submission-and-approval process.
Details of this final tools release, with links to other developer resources, were posted at the official Windows Phone 7 blog.
Microsoft will release later today a video demonstration of select Windows Phone 7 applications from a variety of high-profile partners including Twitter, Netflix, OpenTable (an online restaurant reservation service), and others. Short videos of these applications in action have been posted online.
Microsoft's handset partners, which include Asus, Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung, have created a line of phones specifically for the new operating system, according to Brian Watson, Microsoft director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, who has seen some of them. "They've created some really kick-ass designs, and have added features [in some of them] to appeal to specific demographics," he says. "It's a good line of phones: they look very different [from each other] and feel very different."
Watson is, in a sense, paid to be enthusiastic, and he wouldn't go into details or identify specific phone manufacturers.
The Windows Phone 7 tools neatly embody a key part of Microsoft's re-energized mobile strategy: to leverage the large number of Windows developers, outside the relatively smaller community of developers who focused on the older Windows Mobile platform.
The Windows Phone 7 tools, all available free as a single download, include a Windows Phone emulator program for testing an app's look and feel, and add-in components for the latest versions of Microsoft's premier software tools: Visual Studio 2010, Expression Blend 4 (an application designer), and XNA Game Studio 4 (for video games). As "managed code," all Windows Phone 7 apps will run on the handsets using either Microsoft's Silverlight or XNA runtimes.
The approach ensures that hundreds of thousands of Microsoft software developers worldwide already have the basic development skills to target the new mobile platform. By mid-August, there were 300,000 downloads of the earlier versions of the mobile tools, according to Watson. That jumped by another 100,000 in the next four weeks, he says.
He acknowledges that not all Windows Mobile developers are on board. "The market has changed, and our market share in Windows Mobile is falling off," he says. "That was one of the leading causes for us to 'hit the reset button' on mobile….Some of these developers will be unhappy. There's not much I can do, except try, one developer at a time, to win their trust back."
But Microsoft for two months has been seeding prototype phones with Windows Mobile 6 independent software vendors, who mainly focused on the enterprise market. In the past week, follow-up calls to this group found a high level of excitement, and promises to have Windows Phone 7 applications ready for the October launch, according to Watson. "We've been pleasantly surprised with the uptake," he says.
Immediately after the October launch of the new phones and the online application marketplace, Microsoft will host 70 developer events in the U.S., with Microsoft employees introducing the OS and tools to developers in face-to-face meetings, demonstrations and training.
Well before then, Microsoft is expected to crank up a powerful marketing effort designed to capture the interest of consumers. Watson is frank that Windows Mobile focused largely, though not exclusively, on the enterprise market. The success of Apple's iPhone in the consumer market, and increasing number of devices running Google's Android OS, forced Microsoft to rethink and reorganize its approach.
One telecommunications analyst, Jonathan Goldberg, of Deutsche Bank, recently estimated, in a story at Techcrunch, that Microsoft will spend $400 million just on marketing to launch Windows Phone 7. It's likely already spent hundreds of millions of dollars more on its internal reorganization of the mobile business, the internal development costs, developer evangelization and for offsetting the development costs for the handset makers.
Goldberg says he was told by Microsoft executives that the total first year tab, paid by Microsoft, its handset partners, and the mobile carriers offering the new phone line, probably would reach "billions."
Whether the marketing money will be effective remains to be seen. (See "Windows Phone 7 Marketing: Message More Important than Money.")
Only a trickle of that is yet appearing in mass media marketing. A teaser ad, in the form of a movie trailer, was presented recently at a London film festival, noted by Network World's "Microsoft Tech" blogger Robert Mullins. Probably only an audience of filmophiles would detect the mimicking of a famous scene from the movie "Lawrence of Arabia." The trailer ended with the image of Windows Phone 7 handset emblazoned with the words "The Revolution is Coming."
This week, a working, but likely pre-production, Windows Phone 7 handset appeared in an episode of Bravo TV's "The Rachel Zoe Project," a reality show about a celebrity stylist. Her husband appears in one scene, using a smartphone with the distinctive Windows Phone 7 UI to pinpoint the location of her next appointment with Bing Maps, part of Microsoft's Bing search engine. Engadget.com posted the video and screen captures.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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