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This week I spoke with the CEO of a small company that’s created apps for all three major mobile platforms: Android, the iPhone, and most recently Windows Phone 7.*Apple is well known for its control-freakery toward app developers, while Android is like an unmonitored playground.
I was expecting Phone 7 to fall somewhere in between, but this CEO told me that it’s even more locked down than the iPhone.
Microsoft is being surprisingly strict about defining how apps can share data and call various functions on the phone hardware. These restrictions, combined with a user interface that’s totally different from the other platforms, made development a challenge.
Why the lockdown? This CEO speculated that Microsoft is going through an adjustment process similar to when it got slammed for the security holes in Windows XP.
Windows XP didn’t always inform users when they were about to do something stupid, like installing useless browser add-ons that actually contained adware and spyware and that later proved almost impossible to remove. So Microsoft overreacted by having Vista pop up alerts whenever an application wanted to do almost anything. This technology, User Account Control (UAC), became one of the biggest complaints about Vista. Microsoft retreated a bit in Windows 7, and seems to have struck the right balance between security and user annoyance.
This time, it’s about reversing the bad impressions of Windows Mobile which (like Android) had few restrictions on apps.With Phone 7, Microsoft is going out of its way to make sure that nobody creates a dramatically bad app that’s going to run in the background and suck up battery life, or call hardware functions like the camera in an unexpected way that angers users. Eventually, this CEO speculated, Microsoft will retreat a bit and find the proper balance.
On the plus side, this appmaker CEO said that Microsoft is doing a much better job with communication than Apple.
With Apple’s App Store, you “drop off your app, cross your fingers, and hope you hear back.” With Microsoft, he got very clean and detailed feedback, explaining exactly what was out of spec and what should be done. The feedback was canned rather than personal, but at least it was useful. Microsoft also gave his company early access to handsets and test labs.
By the way, our guy got no big financial incentives to encourage him to develop for the new platform.
Microsoft is apparently saving those for a handful of must-have apps from big-name companies, many of which already have deep partnerships with Microsoft. (Think Facebook.) His company didn’t fit that category. In fact, they approached Microsoft first, using personal connections he’d built up in the past.
Why bother? Because he believes Microsoft is going to commit serious resources to Phone 7 and its successors for several years, and he wants his company’s app to be the first of its kind on the new platform.
*He asked me not to share his or his company’s name, but I can tell you that it’s a technically sophisticated app that connects back to a cloud-based service and serves both business and home scenarios. No farting dinosaurs or on-screen cigarette lighters in this one.
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