Windows Phone developers want feedback means

Microsoft's planned update of its mobile operating system to address several key developer bugbears, but one developer urges Redmond for clear feedback channel to raise issues.

Access to deeper hardware application programming interfaces (APIs), multitasking and better app discoverability are some developer concerns addressed by Microsoft in its upcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system (OS) update, a Microsoft executive said. However, having a clearly defined feedback channel between users, developers and Microsoft is still lacking, developers noted.

According to Edmund Quek, strategy lead for developer and platform evangelism at Microsoft, multitasking via fast app switching and background processing for apps coded using HTML5 or Silverlight was one of the most requested Windows Phone 7 features by developers. Another popular update request, he noted, was access to more hardware APIs such as camera and the newly added gyroscope feature.

The Singapore-based executive, who spoke to ZDNet Asia recently, pointed to the announcements made by Joe Belfiore, head of Windows Phone Program Management, during the MIX11 developer conference held earlier this month as efforts to address these issues.

Codenamed "Mango", the next iteration of the Windows Phone OS will be developed to make it easier for the user to launch, search, find, buy and install apps, Belfiore said in a report by ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK. He cited the example of how listings in the Windows Phone Marketplace will have more metadata and users will be able to see reviews, screenshots and related applications.

The features announced for the Marketplace as well as access to hardware functionalities will be welcomed by Sangar Annadorai, a Singapore-based undergraduate and hobbyist developer who developed a mobile app for a local newspaper specific to the Windows Phone platform.

He had previously highlighted Redmond's software developer kit (SDK) lacked APIs that allow for more creative apps, such as those with "access to sockets and raw access to hardware instruments such as compass and camera for apps that have augmented reality functionalities".

Additionally, he also cited the "lack of input" from the Windows Phone Marketplace for developers to glean insight into how consumers use their apps and in terms of the reviews an app has garnered from the various multiple regions it is published in.

Improve feedback channel
While some platform functionalities have been enhanced and issues fixed, one developer also urged Microsoft to improve its feedback channel.

Daniel Tuppeny, a senior software engineer at U.K.-based New Mind Internet Consultancy who has tried developing for the platform, said that there are currently "no means" for the huge majority of developers to report app-related bugs to Microsoft in a structured way.

"The Windows Phone 7 category on Microsoft Connect is still only available to specific, Microsoft-approved developers...and this is a real concern to me," he explained in an e-mail.

He added that, as a user, there are "lots of bugs that aren't related to development", but consumers like him would not know where they are supposed to report these issues.

"If I'm not fully behind a platform as a user, then it's hard to be motivated [to develop] for the platform," Tuppeny pointed out.

The developer had, in a blog post last month, detailed his misadventures using and developing for the platform. In it, he recounted problems ranging from dropped Bluetooth signals while driving to corrupted SMSes (short messaging service) that prevented him from sending or receiving text messages to his wife, and also claimed the Marketplace, specifically for games, was buggy.

Tuppeny noted in a follow-up blog post that two Microsoft executives had advised him to use a service such as UserVoice to collate bug reports and feedback. He also found out that a Windows Phone 7 community had already existed but still urged the software giant to make the community official and monitor it constantly.

Another developer however, downplayed Tuppeny's concern about having a proper channel for consumers to highlight buggy apps. Jocelyn Villaraza, developer of Clique Pic, pointed instead to developers to assume the responsibility for providing communication channels to their users.

She said in an e-mail that Microsoft had made it a requirement for app developers to publish support information for their software visibly to users, but the responsibility of ensuring consumers' concerns are addressed should lie on developers, not the platform operator.

When quizzed on this, Microsoft's Quek admitted that this was not an issue that developers had raised with him.

Confidence in Windows Phone
Differences aside, all three developers expressed high hopes that the Microsoft's mobile platform will flourish in time.

Tuppeny, for one, said that Windows Phone 7 "has a very strong future ahead". He said the speed of success will come down to Redmond addressing "in a timely fashion" the issues developers and users have identified in the past 6 months.

"[On its part, Microsoft] is absolutely trying, that much is clear. Whether its efforts will translate into something tangible is another matter," he said. "Microsoft definitely has the technical ability but as a company, it is some way from being quick and slick enough to wrest the smartphone crown."

Villaraza concurred with Tuppeny. She said that while its mobile roadmap is "ambitious", the software giant is doing the right things to achieve success in the mobile industry, particularly its tie-up with Finnish phonemaker Nokia.

"It's a slow start for them but Microsoft seems to want to do things right so, hopefully, it will catch momentum and go full speed on improving its products and tools. At the end of the day, though, it's the quality of the apps within the ecosystem that will attract customers," she noted.

Annadorai, meanwhile, said the platform, being the youngest, has the "largest headroom to improve on". This, he said, can already be seen with Windows Phone 7 capitalizing on both Apple's iOS and Google Android's merits to strike a middle ground.

In fact, with the Nokia partnership, Windows Phone 7 would be able to "gain access to the far reaches of Third World nations and, hopefully, at an affordable price", he noted.

A report earlier this month by Gartner appears to corroborate the developers' optimism. The research firm had forecasted that in 2015, Windows Phone 7 is expected to grow in popularity, partly due to Redmond's maturing partnership with Nokia, to corner 19.5 percent of the mobile market. The platform will supersede iOS to claim the No. 2 spot, while Android will continue its domination over the industry with 48.8 percent of users expected to use devices powered by Google's mobile OS, said Gartner.

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