Nokia and Microsoft Try to Woo New York Developers to Windows Phone 7
[A previous version of this story inferred that Fresh Digital Group developed the TVPyx app. Viafo created the app.]
It is no secret that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems dominate the smartphone realm. But Microsoft and phone maker Nokia are marching in lockstep together in a bid to disrupt the near duopoly of the market. At a Mobile Monday New York event this week, Nokia and Microsoft gathered local developers to encourage them to create apps for the Windows Phone 7 platform. That is a hard pitch to make in the current mobile market that has already seen Research In Motion’s BlackBerry devices eclipsed by the iPhone and Android-based smartphones.
Though Nokia’s forthcoming Lumia 900, which is powered by Windows Phone 7, was named best smartphone at CES in January, it’s taking a bit of handholding to get developers on board with the platform. At the moment, there are more than 60,000 apps available for Windows Phone 7 users compared with more than 500,000 iPhone apps. With a huge amount of catching up to do, Microsoft and Nokia are campaigning like dark horse political candidates to the developer community.
At the event, Danilo Diaz, Microsoft’s developer evangelist for the Northeast, talked up the differences that Windows Phone 7’s tile-based interface offers compared with iOS and Android. For example, the Windows Phone 7 weather app displays a radar image of current weather conditions rather than the generic icons found on many other smartphones. Diaz pitched such reactive features as one reason for app makers to work with the WP7 platform. “This is the time for developers to get in early on the game,” he said.
Nokia’s representatives at the event said their company wanted to remake itself in the eyes of developers and U.S. consumers alike. To that end, Nokia offered its phones and unspecified funding to help developers build Windows Phone 7 apps.
A handful of developers from the greater New York tech community also took the stage to demo apps they already created for Windows Phone 7. Douglas Hwang, product manager for Amazon-owned audiobook provider Audible, showed how his company’s app takes advantage of the tile-based interface to let users instantly pin their favorite titles for later listening.
Stacia O’Connor, co-founder of New York’s Fresh Digital Group, spoke about her company’s Windows Phone 7 apps. Fresh Digital is a developer and mobile strategy company that works with brands and marketing agencies. O’Connor demoed a Windows Phone 7 app developed by Viafo called TVPyx, which let users view television program listings and find related Twitter and Facebook comments about the shows.
Some of the developers in the audience at Monday’s event were curious about building apps for Windows Phone 7 but wanted more details before diving in. Scott Kolber, chief operating officer of New York’s Roadify, spoke to Xconomy immediately after the demos and discussed what his company needs before it dabbles with the WP7 platform. “We’re now at a point where we’re seriously considering expanding to other platforms,” he says—but Roadify would require more funding to make that happen.
Roadify is an iPhone app that lets users see updates about subways, bus routes, and other transit information. The app won the NYC BigApps 2011 competition last March and Kolber says the company recently released a highly revamped update though it currently remains only available for iPhone users.
Kolber says his company is entertaining the idea of bringing Roadify to the Windows Phone 7 platform—if he sees potential there to build its audience. “What we care most about is distribution, access to an existing user base that’s growing,” he says. Though Windows Phone 7 is a newcomer among smartphone platforms, he says working with larger companies such as Microsoft and Nokia may offer Roadify some strategic opportunities to grow.
Fresh Digital’s O’Connor spoke with Xconomy after her demo about her own previous reservations concerning Windows Phone 7 and the advantages that won over her company. She says that during the early stages of the smartphone boom, iPhone and Android left little room for other players. “The Windows platform was either nonexistent or dying out at that point,” she says. Even once-dominant mobile device maker RIM fell by the wayside to the newer incumbents. “BlackBerry has died; if their technology doesn’t change then I don’t think there is anything compelling there,” O’Connor says.
The high volume of apps available for Android and iPhone users, however, creates a challenge for app makers who want to stand out. The many copycat apps in the market can be difficult to sift through. Windows Phone 7, O’Connor says, may offer an opportunity for developers to escape that glut and attract users. Some of Fresh Digital’s clients, O’Connor says, created apps for the incumbent platforms, but in such crowded markets, found they did not attract enough users. “We aren’t going to make a significant dent if we are only iPhone developers,” she says. It made sense both for her company and its clients to diversify where their apps are available. Fresh Digital is working on more apps for Windows Phone 7 and, though O’Connor says is too early to share details, she says the WP7 platform may give her company an advantage in the new mobile frontier. “It’s going to open up a third ecosystem,” she says.