WinPho Developers Get a Bite of the Mango

Microsoft has rolled out app development tools for Mango, the Windows Phone 7 update about which the company released details earlier this week.

Registered developers can download the Mango Beta Windows Phone Developer Tools from AppHub, Casey McGee, marketing manager for Windows Phone, told TechNewsWorld.

McGee declined to say how many appdevs have downloaded these tools so far, but he pointed out that the package’s predecessor, Windows Phone Development Tools, have been downloaded “more than 1.5 million times.”

Microsoft’s haste in releasing the dev tools underscores the urgency with which it aims to beef up the app count in the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, which trails far behind the competition.

The critical question for Redmond now is, does it have the right tools? Will appdevs run with the tools and populate its app market?

“Development tools are their expertise,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “At their core, Microsoft is a platform tools vendor and, if they can’t do it, they’re really screwed.”

Picking at the Mango Appdev Tools

The application development tools for Mango deliver the top features appdevs want, Matt Bencke, general manager for Windows Phone developer and marketplace experiences, wrote in the Windows Team blog.

These include the use of Silverlight and XNA together, background processing, a new profiler and emulator for testing, enhancements to Live Tiles, and a local SQL database for structured storage.

Silverlight is an application framework for writing and running browser plug-ins or other rich Internet applications, and is an appdev platform for WinPho7.

XNA is a set of tools with a managed runtime environment from Microsoft that facilitates the development and management of computer games. It covers all Microsoft’s game development sections, including the standard Xbox Development Kit and XNA Game Studio.

“The intermixing of XNA and Silverlight is novel and allows highly animative parts of apps to be intermingled with the business parts,” Al Hilwa, a research director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. This might “raise the bar” for apps, he suggested.

Other Pluses for Mango Appdevs

Integration with Bing Search, pictures, music and video experiences and added functionality for the Live Tiles on the Start screen help apps remain engaged with users and stay contextually relevant, Bencke wrote.

For example, when a WinPho7 Mango device user searches for a product, the result will include a link to a Quick Card that contains an apps panel. This apps panel will display both installed and non-installed apps associated with the search query term.

Further, Windows Marketplace now accepts apps from China, Israel and Luxembourg, and Microsoft is expanding its Global Publisher Program.

To help appdevs market their apps, Mango will offer a new Web version of Windows Phone Marketplace that will let consumers shop, share and buy or download apps and games from any PC and send them to their smartphones, Bencke wrote.

The “very strong developer tooling” released months ahead of time is a key enabler for developers to begin creating and testing apps, IDC’s Hilwa suggested. This is a strong point in Microsoft’s favor, he said.

The Flailing of the Feeble?

Microsoft’s mobile marketplace has more than 17,000 apps and 42,000 registered developers, Bencke wrote.

Remember, though, that the Android Marketplace offers over 200,000 apps and the iTunes App Store reportedly has hit the 500,000 app mark.

“Developers often develop to a platform that’s out there in volume, and that’s the difficulty Microsoft has — little volume,” Enderle pointed out. “Application developers are spread very thin with apps on Android and iOS.”

On the other hand, devs “are not making any money on Android because people who buy Android devices apparently don’t want to buy apps,” Enderle said. So appdevs are looking for an alternative, and Microsoft might just fit the bill, he suggested.

“Mango looks good, and Nokia has the numbers, and looks as if it can deliver the money,” Enderle said.

Another point in Microsoft’s favor is the rapid increase in the number of apps in the Windows Marketplace.

“Back-of-the-envelope calculations on app store growth rates show Windows Phone hit the 15,000-app mark in six months between October 2010 and April 2011,” IDC’s Hilwa said.

“That’s roughly on par with the iPhone’s growth rate between July 2008 and January 2009, and faster than any other platform,” Hilwa stated.

“While Microsoft may have come late to the modern smartphone market, it’s definitely too early to count them out,” Hilwa remarked.

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