The technology news of the moment is Microsoft and Nokia's joint announcement earlier today of their strategic partnership, the most ostensibly significant aspect of which is that Nokia will drop Symbian as its supported smartphone OS and replace it with the Windows Phone 7 mobile platform.
For .NET developers who might have been sitting on the fence about developing apps for Windows Phone 7, thinking their energies might be better directed toward a platform with a larger mobile app ecosystem, the announcement is good news. Why? For one thing, Nokia has the reach that Microsoft needs; the partnership has the potential to open a sizable distribution channel for Microsoft for both Windows Phone 7 smartphones and applications.
"This is a huge step for Windows Phone 7," said Daniel Egan, a Microsoft Developer Evangelist who's focused on Windows Phone 7. "Nokia is the world's largest phone manufacturer. No one is even close."
Market shares of smartphone vendors
Other .NET developers agree, such as Wallace B. "Wally" McClure, a Microsoft MVP and a partner in Scalable Development. "Overall, I think that this is a win for Windows Phone 7 (and Silverlight) developers. More handsets from a manufacturer that is shipping a large volume of product has to be a win," said McClure.
Dan Wahlin, a DevProConnections author and founder of The Wahlin Group, also sees the partnership positively. "I think the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia is a big win for both companies. Although Nokia has been struggling as of late, if you look at the phone stats, they have a huge distribution network already in place and tap into markets that Microsoft hasn’t really touched. Nokia needed a more flexible operating system that developers could easily build applications for, and Microsoft needed a way to distribute Windows Phone 7 more effectively. I'm optimistic that this partnership will be a win for both companies as well as developers in general."
McClure also sees the Microsoft-Nokia partnership as giving .NET developers a reason to start developing Windows Phone 7 applications. "For .NET developers in the mobile space, I think that this is a win as well. .NET developers can currently hit WP7, iPhone (with MonoTouch), and Android (with MonoDroid). Removing Symbian from the marketplace and replacing it with .NET is a big win. It's one less platform with one less language, IDE, and isms to support."
Enlarging the Windows Phone 7 App Ecosystem
Microsoft recognizes that a crucial determinant of Windows Phone 7's success is the size of its application marketplace. In an upcoming BackDraft column, to be published in the March 2011 issue of DevProConnections, author Jonathan Goodyear says that with its Windows Phone Marketplace application store, Microsoft has the opportunity to overtake Google's Android and jump to the number-two position in mobile app market share behind Apple's App Store. In their open letter published today, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer alluded to this as one of the main goals of the partnership: "Microsoft development tools will be used to create applications to run on Nokia Windows Phones, allowing developers to easily leverage the ecosystem’s global reach."
Whither Verizon and RIM?
The partnership should help Microsoft expand the reach of Windows Phone 7 outside of the US—but does it need to bring companies like Verizon and Research In Motion (RIM) into the fold as well, to solidify Windows Phone 7's hold in the North American market? Tim Huckaby, chairman and founder of InterKnowlogy and Actus Interactive Software, thinks so. "The Nokia-MSFT partnership is a great thing for the Silverlight developer. This type of huge push of Windows Phone 7 devices into the market will only cause \\[Windows Phone 7\\] to snowball because it is such a great phone OS. However, I really would have preferred a Verizon announcement. Frankly, in the US WP7 won't explode until it's available on Verizon."
McClure wonders about the effect of the partnership on RIM's BlackBerry mobile platform. ".NET devs can't currently target that platform with their favorite languages and frameworks," McClure said. "Will RIM finally provide developer support?"
Is Windows Phone 7 Now a Contender?
Opening a wider market for Windows Phone 7 is likely to spur Phone 7 app development—and also bring Windows Phone 7 into business decisions involving mobile platforms. "Earlier this week, I sat down with a potential investor in the mobile space," said McClure. "We only talked about iPhone and Android. Windows Phone 7 never entered the discussion. Would it today?" After today's announcement, Windows Phone 7 is looking more like a contender for a meaningful share of the smartphone market.
Want more information about mobile development? Check out the Mobile Connections Conference April 17–21, 2011, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Conference sessions will cover the major mobile platforms: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry. Sessions will cover mobile development, marketing mobile applications, using cloud-based services, the latest products, and more.
Anne Grubb ([email protected]) is content manager for DevProConnections.