Microsoft Aiming to Bring All Top Apps to Windows Phone

Despite having more than 70,000 apps, Microsoft’s Windows Phone is still far behind Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android in terms of sheer numbers. That is probably the biggest hurdle that Microsoft needs to cross, now that it seems to have figured the hardware conundrum, with its new focus on budget smartphones with Tango.

Microsoft has been surprisingly friendly to Windows Phone developers until now, and apparently has plans to become even more friendly, to attract more of them to its platform.

Nokia and Microsoft will be spending up to $12 million each to fund a new program called AppCampus at Aalto University in Finland. They will fund app developers who build apps for Windows Phone, as well as other Nokia platforms.

More details about Microsoft’s plans to address the lack of top apps were revealed in some leaked slides today. Apparently, Microsoft plans to set aside $10 million and use it to “ring-fence” top iOS and Android app developers who aren’t currently building for Windows Phone. Even if Microsoft isn’t able to match the numbers of iOS or Android, if it is able to get the top apps to Windows Phone, that might do it for most users. It also plans to reduce average app pricing to bring it in line with other platforms, and try to offer more exclusive titles on Windows Phone.

Microsoft plans to bridge the gap in terms of top apps by Q2 2012. We should know how it works out in the next three months.

Smoked By Windows Phone Campaign Gets Smoked!

While Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS might not have managed to gain as much share the Redmond based company was hoping for, but its ‘Smoked By Windows Phone’ campaign definitely did! The ‘Smoked By Windows Phone’ campaign was initially kicked off by @BenThePCGuy at CES this year.

In the competition, Ben would pit his WP7 running phone against any other smartphone – BB, Android, or the iPhone – against any random task as chosen by the opponent. If the non-WP7 user would win, he would get $100 from Ben! If not, they would have to get a picture of themself clicked saying their current smartphone got smoked by Windows Phone. Our own Apple editor, Parth, managed to smoke Ben in uploading a photo on Twitter at the competition during CES.

In the last few years, the ‘Smoked By Windows Phone’ campaign was definitely one of the most interactive and unique advertisement campaigns from any company. However, today morning, the Smoked By Windows Phone campaign did exactly opposite of what it was supposed to do.

One Galaxy Nexus owner (Sahas), who took part in the ‘Hunger Games‘ themed Smoked By Windows Phone, won the competition but lost “Just Because”. Basically, Sahas managed to beat the Microsoft store employee by a split second, but he was refused the $1000 and the laptop because the Microsoft stores employees refused to accept that he won. Readers can find out more information about the controversial event here.

Thanks to all the negative media publicity, @BenThePCGuy himself decided to take things in his own had and gave Sahas the laptop that he won along with a free Windows Phone, and an apology email. While it is still unknown as to whether it was Sahas who was right or the Microsoft employees at the store, one thing is for sure. This negative publicity is definitely going to hurt the ‘Smoked By Windows Phone’ campaign from Microsoft!



Microsoft Opens App Hub To New Markets

As announced around two weeks ago, Microsoft has expanded its Windows Phone App Hub to new markets, according to an official blog post on Thursday. The App Hub is now available in the following 23 additional markets this month: Bahrain, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Estonia, Iceland, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

As you can see, this was a required move in the various markets where Windows Phone was only recently introduced — especially China and certain Middle Eastern countries — as Windows Phone would be quite bare without third-party applications. While submitting apps to the entire world is pretty easy (as explained in this step-by-step guide), certain countries — Bahrain, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — will be subject to additional app certification approval due to local laws.They also note that app approval times — which are approximately 7 days on average — may also increase.

Nevertheless, it is quite exciting to see the App Hub make its way to more and more regions. With entry-level phones such as the ZTE Orbit and Lumia 610 hitting the shelves in these emerging markets, Windows Phone is sure to at least get its foot in the door of the developing world’s smartphone market.

Microsoft Kicks Off Widespread ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ Contest

During CES, the ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ competition was born. In it, a user would try to perform a task on their Android or iOS device in less time than the Windows Phone (which, at the time, was handled by ‘Softie Ben Rudolph.) If they beat the Windows Phone, they receive $100, and if they didn’t, they’d have to acknowledge that their smartphone was smoked by Windows Phone. Since this competition’s inception, it’s gained quite a fair bit of traction, recently becoming a widespread digital ad campaign.

Microsoft is continuing to cultivate the popular competition. For a limited time, Microsoft has brought the Smoked by Windows Phone challenge to their brick-and-mortar stores, and the stakes have been raised. Now, if you do manage to smoke the Windows Phone, you’d win a Hunger Games Special Edition HP Folio 13, valued at around $1,000. And if you lose? You’ll have the opportunity to swap your current smartphone for a Windows Phone (but, unfortunately not a Lumia 800.)

So, in both cases it’s a win-win for participants. But, of course, this is limited to brick-and-mortar Microsoft Stores, which are currently sparse.

Rovio CEO: Angry Birds Space Coming To Windows Phone

According to a statement issued by Rovio CEO Mikael Hed during an interview with Reuters, Angry Birds Space is headed to Windows Phone after all. This directly conflicts with a statement previously issued by Rovio CMO Peter Vesterbacka, in which he originally stated that there were no plans to bring Angry Birds Space to Windows Phone when speaking to Bloomberg.

Here are their two statements:

CMO: “We’re the No. 1 app in the Windows Phone app store, but it’s a big undertaking to support it, and you have to completely rewrite the application […] If you look at activations, Apple’s iOS and Android are clearly bigger than any other platform,” he said. “We want to be on all screens, but we have to consider the cost of supplying the smaller platforms. With Windows Phone it’s a lot of work to technically support it.”

CEO: “We are working towards getting Angry Birds Space to WP7 […] We are working closely together with Nokia to bring our games to their platforms,” Hed said. “Our mutual goal is to bring the best possible experience to our fans, including all fans using Windows Phone devices.”

Internal miscommunication? A split-second decision change? Whatever the case, it’s embarrasing. But, if word from the Rovio CEO stands true, then it seems that Windows Phone users will be able to enjoy Angry Birds Space after all. Definitely a good thing for the platform: The last thing that Windows Phone needs is the unavailability of a high-profile, popular app. Windows Phone needs as many of those as it can get.

Nokia Is Paying AT&T So Employees Can Exclusively Use The Lumia 900

Since the dawn of Windows Phone, its relatively slow sales in contrast to other platforms is largely attributable to those on the front lines. Salespeople are unfamiliar with the platform, and thus naturally push Android and iOS devices to consumers far more than Windows Phone devices. To help solve this problem, it appears that Nokia and AT&T may strike a deal in which front-selling AT&T employees will have the ability to receive a Lumia 900 (for ‘Company Use’) at no cost.

They will, however, have to hand in their current ‘Company Use’ handset — which is either an iPhone or one of the flagship Android devices — in order to participate. So, it isn’t forced exclusivity, but the ability to receive the device completely free of charge may sway some employees to give Windows Phone a shot. Nokia expects that around 80% of Nokia employees will be using the Lumia 900.

So, how much will Nokia be paying AT&T to conduct this promotion? Up to $25 million, according to WPCentral. However, I think that it will be a sound investment. With employees genuinely interested and passionate in the Windows Phone OS, their ability to actually sell the handsets will be far better than if it continues to be something obscure that they don’t pay much mind to.

As a quality piece of hardware, the Lumia 900 is pretty much the perfect device to make people fall in love with the OS. Apparently, it is aptly a “hero” device, which, in carrier-speak means that it would be a heavily-promoted phone (think to the level of the iPhone and some flagship Android handsets), and will be touted significantly in stores. It will be the first Windows Phone to receive this status.

Perhaps with the iPhone available through other carriers, AT&T wishes to find a new platform to push to make itself truly unique from the competition. Whatever the case, this can only lead to good things for the Windows Phone platform.

Calm Down, Windows Phone Developers. Tango is Good for You!

Nokia Lumia 610

Recently, after a blog post on the Windows Phone Developer Blog, there was concern among the Windows Phone developer community about the impact of 256MB phones on the general app quality. The basic assumption made was that apps will now have to be catered for the lowest common denominator. Per these concerns, today’s phones with 512MB memory, and tomorrow’s super phones with possibly more, will be under-utilized, and app developers may not be able to push the limits on the resource usage within their apps.

Justin Angel, the newly hired Principal Engineer at Nokia, has been doing the rounds of popular Windows Phone podcasts to clear the air on this topic. I listened to WPCentral and WPDevPodcast episodes recently, and wanted to highlight the main points Angel made. So, here you go:

  • As mentioned in the original blog post, there are less than 5% of the total apps which are affected by the restrictions imposed on the maximum memory an app can use.
  • These affected apps, which use more than 90MB of memory, should have actually been declined certification in the first place.
  • Microsoft had two choices on handling these apps – pull them off the Marketplace, or what they did, which is mark them as incompatible with the low-end devices, and notify each developer with an email. This email explains what the developer can do to update the app so it passes certification the next time they submit it.
  • The updated developer tools ship with a second emulator to help understand how an app would perform under both 256MB and 512MB devices. The best practice suggested is to always test the app in the 256MB emulator. Angel also suggested that developers should use the memory profiler that comes with the tools, which will help them in understanding where their app ends up using more memory.
  • Microsoft has made some clever technological updates in the “Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh”, aka Tango, which enable even the 256MB devices to support up to 90MB of memory per app. This trickery is completely transparent to the developer (and naturally, to the customer).
  • Since the trickery only applies to the 256MB devices, current Windows Phone customers need not worry about it at all. Developers also need not worry about how their apps will perform before and after Tango on the first-generation devices, since on those devices there is going to be no impact at all.
  • As for loss of functionality or APIs, the generic background agents will not work in the 256MB devices. These are two new types of agents introduced in Windows Phone Mango, which allow arbitrary code to run in the background based on app developer’s discretion. The apps which use such agents are listed under the new settings section so the customer can go and de-select to turn them off. Angel mentioned that because of this ability provided to the phone owner, these generic background agents should not have been made a core part of any app anyway. Remember, push notification services are still available, so toast notifications, live tile updates, alerts, etc. should still work if you use the Push Notification Service (and related APIs).

So there you go, developers. There is virtually nothing to worry about with Tango. In fact, there is a LOT to be excited about. With the addition of 23 new markets including China, and the push by Nokia and others into these markets with low-cost devices, there is a very good chance that the lower end devices will actually outsell the top end devices. If your app works on these low-end devices, you will now have access to about 60% more customers!

If you are one of the 5% affected developers, please let me know if you have a reason to exceed the 90MB memory limit. I’d like to know why it is so.

Windows Phone Marketplace Passes 70,000 Apps

Windows Phone may have had a slow start, but it seems to be gaining traction lately. While it’s still far behind Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, Windows Phone has seen some substantial developer love in the last few months.

The total app count in the Windows Phone Marketplace is now up to 70,000 apps, according to stats by WP7AppList. It hit the 50,000 app mark in December 2011 and the 60,000 app mark in January. Windows Phone Marketplace now has over 18,000 approved developers. Apple’s iOS App Store passed the 500,000 apps mark almost a year ago, while Google hit the 500,000 apps milestone in October 2011.

Microsoft has been getting quite aggressive with Windows Phone lately. It recently officially launched in China, and is targeting the budget segment there with cheaper smartphones powered by Windows Phone Tango. It hopes to beat Apple in China, and eventually overtake Android to become the number one smartphone platform.

Though Windows Phone has been lauded for its innovative interface, all that praise hasn’t translated into as many sales, despite being backed by most of the top smartphone manufacturers like Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG.

It is trying hard to fight the fragmentation problem that has plagued Android. Hopefully, it will become one of the top three smartphone platforms in the next couple of years.

HTC Triumph Windows Phone Hits The Shelves In China

Earlier this month, we reported that the HTC Triumph would be the very first Windows Phone device to go on sale in China. And, following its stint of being available for pre-order, it has now actually gone on sale, fully validating its status as the first Windows Phone to enter the Chinese market. With the Triumph, HTC has beat Nokia, LG, and ZTE to being first in the area, who all expressed interest in releasing Windows Phones in China.

Before I proceed, let me just clear up some of the confusion around the Eternity/Triumph branding. Eternity is an English codename for the device, while Triumph is a rough translation of what the device is called in Chinese. The official Chinese name for the device is HTC凯 旋X310e.

Moving on. As a rebranded Titan, the HTC Triumph has the same guts and chassis as its Western counterpart: A 4.7″ capacitive touchscreen, an 8MP LED flash camera, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, and compass sensors, a 1.5GHz Scorpion processor, and an Adreno 205 GPU.

On the software front, the phone is launching running a special version of Windows Phone 7.5 “Tango” that’s optimized for the Chinese market with specific Chinese apps — for example, the social networking integration has been re-gutted to utilize Chinese social networking solutions — and the Chinese language itself, which does look quite nice and clean on the Metro UI.

It’s quite a big day for the platform; with a rapidly-growing economy, China has quickly become a ripe emerging market with plenty of consumers who may be interested in both low and high end mobile phone offerings. We reported earlier that China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest market for iOS and Android activations.

Nokia Windows Phones Outsell Nokia Symbian Devices

In the UK, Nokia devices running Windows Phone have outsold Nokia devices running the older Symbian OS, reports Bloomberg. The difference isn’t by much; according to a research report conducted by Kantar Worldpanel — a research report based on interviews with mobile phone purchasers over three months, ending on Feburary 19th — 2.5% of UK phone buyers purchased a Nokia Windows Phone over the 2.4% who went with a Symbian device.

Something more alarming from this statistic is how small the numbers are in the scheme of things. In a place like the UK, where Nokia’s Lumia handsets are being marketed quite aggressively (at least compared to the US right now), 2.5% isn’t exactly a thrilling figure. Nokia’s lineup is hardly biting into the market share of the established Android and iOS platforms.

Interestingly enough, Kantar also notes that the Lumia 800 is responsible for 87% of Windows Phone sales in Europe altogether. While it’s nice to see people choosing a real OS over Symbian, it’s still disappointing to barely see Windows Phone in the rearview mirror of iOS and Android.

Back here in the US, we have the Nokia Lumia 900 to look forward to. But I’m even more excited about Apollo-based handsets; perhaps once it launches, Microsoft, along with manufacturers would greatly up their efforts to both develop quality devices and market the platform as a whole.