Wednesday, 09 September 2009 10:53

Windows Mobile app store coming, iPhone developers wanted

A new range of Windows Mobile 6.5-powered smartphones will be available for retail purchase from October 6th. That date also sees the Windows Mobile marketplace open its doors. Microsoft told iTWire why iPhone developers will find it a superior software outlet, why Windows Mobile crashes, and how Microsoft thought of the app store first.

Loke-Uei Tan, Senior Technical Product Manager for Windows Mobile, is presently in Australia to speak at Microsoft Tech-Ed. He took time from his busy schedule to speak with iTWire.

Loke-Uei’s career is an interesting one. He commenced with Microsoft Malaysia as a developer evangelist eight years ago. A few years into that role he assisted the Windows Mobile team with two large and successful conventions. He did such a good job that he was soon invited to relocate to Seattle to work on Windows Mobile on a global scale.

When Loke-Uei accepted this new position, some four years ago, the company wanted to aid developers by making ways to publicise their products to end users through to deployment on devices and monetisation.

In fact, helping company’s monetise software is something Microsoft does well through its Partner and ISV programmes. Yet, something was missing. Microsoft recognised it lacked a distribution channel on its mobile platform.

Loke-Uei told iTWire that a product was developed to solve this, although it never went live. Consequently, he points out, the Windows Mobile Marketplace actually predates Apple’s App Store.

The Marketplace is finally coming to Windows Mobile devices near you on October 6th. This is the date you can get a smartphone running Windows Mobile 6.5 into your hands. The regular, lengthy, process of OEMs and telephone carriers testing, approving and adding to the software has already taken place.

Only a very small number of devices from HTC and LG are expected to have upgrade paths provided meaning for most the entry to Windows Mobile 6.5 will require purchase of a new device.

Still, Loke-Uei notes, the new platform incorporates API support for GPS, light sensors, accelerometers, a compass, multi-touch and other technologies which will likely not have matching hardware support in older units anyway.

On the subject of how many applications would be available in the Marketplace on launch Loke-Uei was more tight-lipped. He stated there will be a large number, certainly far more than Palm provided in their meagre launch.

To ensure a good number of high quality apps Microsoft are keenly encouraging iPhone developers to come over to the other side. The hard work of coming up with a concept has already been done for these people, he points out. They just need to port their code.

In fact, Loke-Uei states, the Windows Mobile Marketplace is ripe for the picking. Any applications which are available on launch will have access to a potential audience of some 30 million customers without being lost in a deluge of apps.

Similarly, existing Windows Mobile application developers are being encouraged to bring their apps into the Marketplace system also.

Microsoft has announced a competition with the most downloaded free application and the commercial application with the highest revenue by December 31st receiving prizes. Of course, Loke-Uei says, “the actual prize is being first to the market place.”

In stark contrast to the bad publicity Apple is gathering over its mysterious and arcane rejection policies Microsoft state their Marketplace inclusion guidelines are clear and explicit. Developers will not need to trust fate as they submit code to an uncertain black box process hoping an approval comes out the other end. Instead, if their program is rejected they’ll know why.

The guidelines prohibit porn and other questionable content as well as voice-over-IP (VoIP) applications.

Additionally, any program which replaces the core SMS, e-mail and media player experiences will also be rejected from the Marketplace.

Loke-Uei clarified that alternate media players and other programs can be developed and sold, just they cannot install themself to become the default media player (or e-mail program or SMS program.)

There is no similar clause for the web browser.

Marketplace applications can be searched online, and on the device itself, by category, newness, price and other criteria. Additionally, business and consumer applications will be separated meaning corporate users can search for inventory or CRM software without needing to wade through games or other entertainments.

Windows Mobile 6.5 is still built on top of the Windows Mobile CE 5 architecture. Loke-Uei conceded this meant users will still find devices crashing and requiring a reboot. He explains this architecture is the biggest cause of dissatisfaction and complaints that Windows Mobile is less stable than BlackBerry and iPhone smartphones.

This architecture has memory and process limitations which date back to a simpler time. He likens it to the old days of MS-DOS where special drivers like himem.sys and 4GW were necessary to make use of memory above 640KB.

Consequently, users are running more and more applications on their Windows Mobile device and the core kernel fails beyond a certain amount of concurrent in-memory programs.

An improved Windows CE 6 architecture has been developed but this is not used by Windows Mobile 6.5 and will not be seen until a later release.

In the meantime, Microsoft is seeking to educate both users and developers. For users the task manager will now be clearly shown on the home screen allowing quick access to close down unnecessary running apps. For developers the message is to include an “exit” button which actually shuts down the program and removes it from memory.

Additional best practices are being shared with developers to help them understand how to load programs into higher memory ranges.

Loke-Uei told iTWire that the Windows Mobile team had learned a lot from the Zune team, leveraging their experiences in tight user interfaces and small form-factor devices. He did however say, despite this collaboration, “there will never be a Zune phone.”

Disclaimer: David M Williams is attending Tech-Ed as a guest of Microsoft.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.





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