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Microsoft Shows Up at the iPhone App Store Party

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 15, 2008 11:25 AM PT

Microsoft has released its first application for the Apple iPhone. While this news may be somewhat surprising on its own, there's an even bigger surprise: The app has been made available for the iPhone before it's been made available for Microsoft Windows Mobile-based devices.

Microsoft Shows Up at the iPhone App Store Party

The app is Seadragon Mobile, and it lets iPhone users browse super-large giga-pixel images on an iPhone screen. Users can zoom way out or zoom way in -- similar to how users already can zoom into Google Maps or Google Earth on the iPhone.

The key is the ability to browse around images quickly and easily, and Windows-based users can also tap into their own Photosynth photos or those already available on Microsoft's Photosynth.com.

Photo collections are also rendered as tiny thumbnails, which can be zoomed into or viewed via a side scrolling mode that lets users flick through the images.

Slightly Broken

Unfortunately, the Browse Photosynth functionality "broke" just after Microsoft's Live Labs group submitted Seadragon Mobile to the Apple App Store. A fix has reportedly been completed, but it'll be about a week before the functionality is returned to the iPhone app. There's a workaround, though, which requires users to manually enter a long URL (uniform resource locator).

Not just for photos, the Seadragon viewer can handle most any type of content. For instance, the Seadragon app installs with bookmarks for the U.S. Library of Congress for documents, as well as links to photos of galaxies, Mars and the moon.

On a 3G connection, the app is surprisingly fast and nimble, letting users zoom in and out with ease -- obviously Seadragon uses the iPhone's graphics capabilities to good effect.

What Is MS 'Live Labs?'

"The Live Labs are sort of a separate group from Windows Live, but they are part of that big online services group," Matt Rosoff, an analyst for Directions on Microsoft, told MacNewsWorld.

"And what they are supposed to do is come up with online services that are cutting edge and original but don't necessarily have an immediate business value to Microsoft. They are kind of like a research group, but a little more real-world than Microsoft Research, which is more pure academic research," he explained.

Even though the rivalry between Apple an Microsoft runs deep, cross-platform development between the two happens regularly. iTunes and Safari, for example, are available for Windows, and Redmond sells a version of Office for the Mac.

"The iPhone is a really exciting platform. I don't think that Microsoft is necessarily against it or that there is some top-down directive, 'Thou shall not develop for iPhone.' In fact, I've recommended to a couple of teams that they should try and make a Hotmail app that works on the iPhone, and that's something they might consider ... I wouldn't be surprised if we see other Microsoft apps for iPhone," Rosoff noted.

"That said, they are definitely working on their own Windows Mobile platform, and they'll have their own services, too. It's very similar to how Microsoft creates Office for the Mac was well as Office for the PC. When it makes sense for them to support a non-Microsoft platform, they'll do it -- it's not like it's some big shift in strategy for them or anything like that," he added.


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