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Writing for Phone 7 'a no-brainer,' developer says

Sprint developers conference draws app writers to Microsoft platform

Gilles de Bordeaux has a neat idea for a mobile phone app he calls Hourglass. An image of an hourglass appears onscreen (no, not the one that tells you your computer has stalled) and you set a timer. Set it for five minutes and it takes five minutes for the sand to fall from the top of the hourglass to the bottom. You can also click a button labeled “Egg” and Hourglass runs for the three minutes it takes to soft-boil an egg. De Bordeaux has written apps for Google Android, but he’s going to take Hourglass to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

“No more Android. The tools are not as easy as Visual Studio,” he said in a meeting room with about 100 other developers at the Sprint Developers Conference yesterday in Santa Clara, Calif.

Although the wireless carrier Sprint won’t have Phone 7 devices for sale until the first half of next year, developers are already taking an interest in writing apps to run on phones on Sprint’s U.S. network. And Microsoft is happy to encourage them.

“The goal we have for a developer is to enable you guys to create a great user experience,” said Microsoft’s Michael Scherotter, whose business card identifies him as “Media Experience Evangelist.” To make it easy for developers to write apps to run on Phone 7 devices, Microsoft is inviting them to use the same tools they already use to write desktop apps, namely Visual Studio, Expression Blend, Silverlight and XNA Game Studio.

Like Hourglass developer de Bordeaux, Newton Chan is also drawn to Phone 7 because of his familiarity with these tools.

“For someone who’s already worked with Visual Basic, this is a no-brainer,” said Chan, a developer and adjunct professor of computer science at nearby a community college. Writing for Apple’s iPhone presented a “steep learning curve,” he said, because it is based on the Objective C programming language, which is not as common as languages for writing Phone 7 apps such as XML, XAML (Microsoft’s extensible application markup language), C#, HTML or Javascript.

Scherotter also shared with his audience the price of admission to Phone 7 development and details on how they can monetize their apps. There is an initial fee of $100 and for that developers get to write five apps that to the end user are free. After that, the developers pay $20 each for additional free app. For apps that are sold to end users, or that contain ads that generate revenue for the developer, Microsoft sets a 70/30 revenue split in which the developer collects 70 percent.

Scherotter assured developers that Microsoft’s goal in designing Phone 7 is to make sure their apps run smoothly regardless of the brand of handset or the carrier network. All phones will have a browser, a camera, GPS, SMS, a media player and other expected features so that developers can write apps that use those features.

Phone 7 will also offer “smooth streaming,” he said, a feature for video and audio apps that uses adaptive bit rate streaming to avoid buffering. It continually monitors the connection and the device’s performance and sends different sized bit rate packets as needed to deliver a consistently good experience.

Although generally enthusiastic about Phone 7, some developers in the audience expressed disappointment that their apps will not be able to multitask, meaning run concurrently with other apps. Scherotter said while a few major apps will be able to multitask, such as Zune, Microsoft's music streaming app that will play in the background while the user is doing something else, independent apps will not, for now. Scherotter said that eventually, independent apps will be multitask-capable, but he wouldn't say when that would be.

While Sprint won’t have Phone 7 devices until 2011, U.S. carriers AT&T and T-Mobile will start selling their first models Nov. 8. Microsoft opened its Windows Phone Marketplace last week so there’ll be some apps on its shelves by the time people starting buying their new phones. There are already about 1,000 apps available.

“You can start developing today, you can start posting applications ... and start profiting from them,” Scherotter said.

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