Microsoft speeds up app development with free tools

The move to speed up application development follows a clear global trend, of growing mobile data consumption and flat revenues per phone user

Microsoft has opened up a suite of software tools for the international developers, free, for them to write applications and games for its Windows Phone 7 series of mobile devices that are scheduled to go on sale later this year. The move to speed up application development follows a clear global trend, of growing mobile data consumption and flat revenues per phone user.

As mobile data use becomes ubiquitous, the market for application software is expanding fast. Applications sales are estimated to be worth $17.5 billion by 2012, up from about $ five billion in 2009. Several phone and software companies are opening up their online marketplace to application developers, who now have the opportunity to write ‘apps’ that help users do anything from playing games to accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to booking tickets, tracking flights and listening to music. This they can do for various platforms built by Apple, Google, the upcoming Microsoft Windows Phone 7 series, and others, on different commercial terms.

As it prepares for the coming festival season launch of Windows Phone 7 series mobiles, Microsoft recently announced free access to its main developer tools for phones — Visual Studio 2010, Expression Blend 4 and XNA Game Studio 4. The new phone series provides support for the Silverlight framework of Microsoft, which helps to build rich media applications for business and entertainment on computers, the web and on mobile devices.

Free access to tools were among the highlights at the MIX 10 conference for the developer community held in Las Vegas, the U.S., between March 15 and 17. The guided approach to application development complements Microsoft’s decision to define hardware standards for its Windows Phone 7 series devices to be made by leading vendors. By guaranteeing the specifications of a phone belonging to this series, the customer can be sure of performance levels, company executives say.

The minimum features of the devices include a sensitive capacitive touch interface, GPS, accelerometer, compass, five megapixel camera with flash, a camera button, 256 MB memory, eight GB flash storage, directx 9 acceleration, ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion processor or better.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice-president, Windows Phone, told MIX 10 that the new phone series, strongly woven around social networking behaviour, is designed for a user who is ‘38 years old, 76 per cent employed and 73 per cent in a partnered relationship.” That user profile stands in contrast to the trend of phones aimed primarily at youth. The design specifications are oriented towards users who are described by Microsoft as “life maximisers.”

Microsoft hopes that its foray into mobile phones will give it a significant share in the mobile data segment, which is estimated to grow at an annual compounded rate of 131 per cent and mobile voice at 112 per cent over the next three years. By comparison, data access from fixed lines is seen as growing only by 39 per cent CAGR, while fixed line voice use is actually expected to decline by 6 per cent CAGR.

Speaking to journalists in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, Austen Mulinder, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president, worldwide communications sector, pointed out that the number of wireless Internet-connected devices is expected to go up to 10 billion by 2015, up from two billion today. Another metric of interest is the number of users of social networking sites, which currently stands at about 800 million.

The factor that will differentiate the smart-phones of the future is data integration — software and programs that connect the personal computer and the mobile phone — and not all providers possess all the pieces here. Music, gaming, search, maps, instant messaging and so on are part of this value set. Aaron Woodman, Microsoft’s director of mobile communications, argues that Apple does desktop to mobile integration in the area of music, Nokia offers the service suite Ovi, and Google has search and map services, but in terms of deep integration of all these services with a gaming platform, for example, Microsoft is unique in also possessing the X-Box Live. The mobile small screen is set to witness a lot of action in the coming months.

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