The conventional wisdom among developers is to target the largest available platform.According to that wisdom, developing apps for Windows Phone 7 is at best a “wait and see” prospect, and at worst a total waste of time.
But in this particular case, the conventional wisdom might be wrong.
- First mover advantage. Remember the first iPhone app somebody showed you that made you want to buy the phone? For me, it was the song-recognition app Shazam. For a lot of my musically inclined friends, it was Pandora. Both of those apps have since been downloaded more than 20 million times, and in the case of Pandora, launching strong on the iPhone saved the company. I had a similar experience recently with Google’s SkyMap app for Android. Given the already crowded state of the smartphone market today, this is probably the last major new platform to launch for a while–at least until Nokia decides to scrap Symbian. (At which point it might go with Windows Phone 7 anyway.) So if you want a chance to ride a new platform to the top, this might be it.
- Microsoft has done this before. Eons ago, Microsoft’s developer evangelism team did great work getting developers to write apps for MS-DOS and then Windows, and longtime company insiders credit that team for helping Microsoft squeeze Apple’s early personal computers out to the margins. A more recent example is the Xbox: when the first console launched in 2001, a lot of developers were sceptical. To convince them, Microsoft built up a huge stable of first-party titles, mainly through acquisitions of companies like Bungie (who created the Halo franchise) and Rare. More than 60 million consoles later, game developers start by assuming they’ll build for the Xbox 360. If Microsoft is serious about its mobile ambitions, it has the cash and experience to pull this trick off again.
- Advertising bucks. How many mobile companies can afford a 10-figure advertising budget? Microsoft’s already got one (that’s a 2009 figure, and spread across all its products, but still). Apple and Google could probably spend that much if they had to. Nokia and RIM, probably not. And while Apple and Google’s phones are already packed with apps, the field’s a lot less crowded with Phone 7. If you want your mobile app featured on a high-profile TV ad (Superbowl?) you’ve got a better chance with Microsoft than with any other mobile platform.
- Cash. According to a Bloomberg story in July, Microsoft has offered revenue guarantees and other financial incentives to get mobile developers with popular apps to create a version for Phone 7. Although I haven’t been able to confirm this independently, Microsoft does this all the time with its enterprise software, offering various incentives to get early reference customers and subjects for white papers. More recently, it has begun to pay PC makers to prebundle Windows Live software with new computers. So it wouldn’t be out of character at all.
Of course, there’s always the risk that Phone 7 launches weak like the Zune, fails to gain market share, and becomes the victim of the next round of cost-cutting at Microsoft. But Microsoft’s weak mobile story is an existential threat: smartphones are going to be the next PC for a lot of consumers, and most of them aren’t running Windows. And every time a company agrees to let non-Microsoft smartphones connect to Exchange for e-mail, that’s a small wedge into Microsoft’s enterprise dominance. In these existential situations, Microsoft tends to double down after early failures rather than retreating. Think of Xbox and Bing.