Microsoft is freely admitting it needs developers, so why is it barring a large part of the world from contributing to the WP7 App Hub? Not only can't some international developers sell their apps, they can't even test them!
Microsoft’s latest move to increase the number of application developers for Windows Phone 7 has received a mixed reception.
The main market for applications written for Windows Phone 7 is Windows Phone Marketplace, but until now access to the market was limited to just thirty countries, located mainly in North America and Europe with a few exceptions such as Hong Kong, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Taiwan and Singapore.
This cut out all Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as most of South America and Asia.
Any programmer can download the WP7 developer tools and SDKs for free no matter where they are located, and can use the tools to test on online emulators. To test apps on real devices Microsoft’s rule is that developers need to be registered on the App Hub in order to get a certificate that allows the apps to be tested on the actual hardware. You pay $99 and on completion of the registration you can unlock up to five phones to use as development devices i.e. you can download your app for debugging and to try it out.
The problem is that the registration process serves more than just this purpose. Developers who register and submit applications get paid through the site. What this meant is that many would-be developers for WP7 outside the US and Europe were effectively blocked from creating and selling apps simply because the mechanisms to pay them were not in place.
In view of this, it sounded like good news this week when Microsoft announced a Global Publisher Program that would, according to Todd Brix of the Windows Phone Developer Blog, mean that
"developers from countries and regions all over the world can now submit apps and games to the Windows Phone Marketplace."
However, the details of how this is being organised isn’t quite as rosy a picture.
Brix explained that unlike developers in the favoured areas of the US and Europe, individual developers will need to work with a global publisher to submit apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace. The developers would sign up with a larger publisher who will in turn submit applications to the market.
So far, just one publisher has been announced, YallaApps (http://www.yallaapps.com). This company is offering coverage in the Middle East and Africa, though developers from any country apart from those in the original acceptable list can register at the moment.
On his blog post, Brix said that
“We are working with additional Global Publishers in other regions to bring the same opportunity to more developers around the world”,
but no details are available at the moment.
If you examine just what the deal on offer is with YallaApps, you can see why developers in the Middle East and Africa are getting so annoyed.
For a start, in the YallaApps FAQs, there’s the following:
How will my application be displayed in the Windows Phone Marketplace?
The product description of your application will include the following sentence:
Brought to you by Yalla Apps on behalf of [Your Developer Name].
This means YallaApps, which describes itself as a company that carries out mobile application development, would get the credit for any successful applications. In addition, YallaApps will charge an extra 20% on top of Microsoft’s 30% on revenues, along with an annual subscription fee of $99. This will ‘buy’ developers 100 credits, but as each application submission costs 25 credits whether it’s a free or paid app, and device unlocks then cost 50 credits per device, the 100 credits won’t go far.
The reaction among developers so far seems to be that Microsoft is still treating developers outside a favoured few countries as second class citizens.
Then there’s Ad Control
Having annoyed developers across many regions, Microsoft still isn’t exactly levelling the playing field for the more favoured countries.
One of the more popular aspects of the Windows Phone Marketplace is the Ad Control. This lets you integrate text and banner ads into an application, and consumes ads served by Microsoft's mobile Ad Exchange. When this was launched last year, Jamie Wells, director of global trade marketing at Microsoft Mobile Advertising, said that
"Microsoft’s mobile ad exchange is designed to work directly with demand side platforms (DSPs), so that for the very first time advertisers will be able to place automated bids on mobile ad inventory at the exact moment when an impression is served. This means that buyers will have the tightest possible control over their mobile ad campaigns - where their ads will appear, in which apps, when and to whom."
The Ad Control has proved very popular - where it is available.
As Brix explained in his blog post,
“While it is still early days, we are also seeing some exciting results from developers taking advantage of the Ad Control. Since the release of our Ad Control for Windows Phone 7 last September, developers have been increasingly enjoying success building ad supported Windows Phone 7 apps, for example:
- Roughly ¼ of all registered U.S. WP7 developers have downloaded the free Ad SDK for Silverlight and XNA
- Of ad funded apps in the Marketplace, over 95 percent use the free Microsoft Advertising Ad Control
- Monthly impressions from our Ad Exchange has continued to grow by double digits – impressions increased by nearly 400 percent just since January”
A key phrase in this glowing report is “U.S. WP7 developers”, because that’s the only country where developers can make use of the Ad Control, giving developers in the States a significant advantage over rivals elsewhere.
When developers who choose to create their apps for other hardware can choose to work with other networks such as Admarvel, Microsoft’s restrictions seem short-sighted. It’s all very well enforcing restrictions when you’re the number one player, but when your platform is running well behind the market leaders, you need all the plus points you can muster.
Demonstrating the sort of opposition Microsoft is up against, Opera has just launched Opera Publisher Portal, which will let developers publish apps to the Opera Mobile Store. The Opera Mobile Store works across several mobile platforms, and users of mobile browsers on most major phones can access it. It’s also built into Opera Mobile and Opera Mini browsers, which are used by an estimated 100 million phone owners across the world, and which run Android, Java, Windows Mobile, Symbian, BlackBerry, and Palm. The store serves up apps for Android, BlackBerry, Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile. No, it doesn't offer iPhone apps, but Opera plans to integrate with Apple's App Store in the future.
Unified app stores like the Opera Mobile take apps from any country and the storefront experience is customized to each user's phone, charging for paid apps in an appropriate currency. It treats developers all over the world as equal as far as is possible. It is also proof that it is possible to construct a world wide app store complete with payment facilities.
What all this demonstrates is that Microsoft appears to be parochial in its attitude towards the world of developers. It tends to serve the home market first and do what little it can to spread the developer net to some easy countries.
If it really needs developers and thinks developers are what will make WP7 a success this isn't smart. Apart from alienating a lot of people it is also ignoring a reservoir of talent. You need to keep in mind that Angry Birds is Finnish and Rubik's cube is Hungarian - not all blockbuster games originate in the US. Even Microsoft's smash hit Kinect game hardware is Israeli-designed and guess what, if you are an Israel-based developer you can't test, let alone submit, a WP7 app!