Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

Summary: Microsoft got a lot of attention yesterday for its Oprah-style announcement that every employee will get a new Windows Phone this fall. As it turns out, those aren't just expensive gadgets. They're part of an effort to seed the market using the energy from Microsoft's enormous pool of internal developers.


Microsoft got a lot of attention yesterday for its Oprah-style announcement that every employee would get a Windows Phone 7 device after the new mobile platform launches this fall. As it turns out, those freebie phnes aren't just expensive toys or gadgets. They're part of an effort to create some unexpected hits and seed the market using the energy from Microsoft's enormous pool of internal developers.

That bit of news didn't get picked up yesterday. I first heard about it from Mini-Microsoft this morning. The anonymous insider, in his thoughts on Microsoft's quarterly earnings call today, mentioned something I hadn't seen elsewhere:

WP7: application developers in the queue? We need to re-enforce the cool apps that we'll have ready when WP7 is launched. In a move that has totally delighted me, Microsoft is giving every employee the ability to write and deploy WP7 applications (and, what, ability to get a device at launch, too?) - wow! Now's the time to truly show off your stuff and write for WP7 and get your app out the door.

Todd Bishop posted a memo from Windows Phone boss Andy Lees outlining the details:

Develop! With the help of the developer division, we just shipped the Final Beta of the Windows Phone Developer Tools. They absolutely rock, and you should download them now The package includes everything you need to start building apps. In addition, we’ve introduced a new employee developer program which makes it much easier for you to develop apps for Marketplace in your spare time. ...

There are a lot of very smart developers at Microsoft, and they should be able to crank out interesting little apps like the ones that have made the iPhone so successful (the Android platform show slots of promise inthis regard too). In fact, this is part of the Microsoft playbook that goes way back. Back around the turn of the century, from Windows 98 to early XP days, Microsoft employees did some very cool little freebies that were officially distributed (with plenty of disclaimers) at Remember Windows Powertoys and Tweak UI? They went away, by decree, long ago, just before Windows XP Service Pack 2 came out. You can still download them from this page, but the ones I checked haven't been updated since 2003 or 2004.

Among enthusiasts and IT pros, these underground tools were insanely popular. They were also free. Ten years later Apple has proved that smartphone buyers will pay good money for apps, and apps keep a platform fresh and alive. Microsoft has the opportunity to create some app superstars overnight by letting employees develop for Windows Phone 7 and sell through its store.  I can even imagine a promotional program in which Microsoft gives new Windows Phone 7 buyers 5 bucks worth of credit at the Marketplace to buy apps. The lion's share of the proceeds should go straight to the developer, even if it's a Microsoft employee. The company could even pay a bonus for apps that became category leaders, getting great ratings and high downloads. With the company's stock flat-lined for the last decade, I suspect most Microsoft employees would jump at the chance to make a few extra bucks. A talented developer whose day job involves tweaking the Windows TCP stack might be able to produce an amazing game. Someone working for the Xbox team mght have a killer idea for a video editor. I'll bet Mark Russinovich could do an astonishing set of phone-centric tools and utilities a la Sysinternals. You never know until you turn them loose.

If I were a Microsoft dev I'd be scouring the app stores of those other platforms right now to find ideas, and then I'd start coding. As a Microsoft watcher, I'm going to be watching that space carefully this fall to see whether the company's own developers can develop some hits.

Meanwhile, my Windows Phone 7 review handset arrived earlier this week, and I'm busy putting it through its paces. Stay tuned. And feel free to ask questions in the Talkback section.

Topics: Microsoft, Apps, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • What apps would you like to see for WP7?

    Got any great app ideas for WP7? If you can't code them yourself, list them here and maybe someone else will run with your suggestion.
    Ed Bott
    • How times have changed

      Marry J buying her first Apple product (an iPad), and not surprisingly "loving it". Ed reduced to begging, like MS, for product ideas for MS's upcoming Apple clone.

      In the past softies had some pride. Little appears left.

      Key apps for me are PDF reader and SSH client. But I suspect neither would be demanded on a windows phone.
      Richard Flude
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude
        For me, it the thing can make a ohone call that will be a blessing. There are some devices on the market today that cannot do that or do it very well. So, I guess that would be my showstopper app!
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude ... on the contrary, I have used a few SSH clients on WinMo, so I have no doubt there will be some available. Likewise for PDF viewing.
      • Indeed!

        @Richard Flude I just bought my first Mac Mini, a copy of Snow Leopard to update my 2008 unibody Macbook and will start learning iOS programming! It's all over for the Redmond!
      • Oh that is TOO rich!!

        @Richard Flude
        [i]or product ideas for MS's upcoming Apple clone[/i]

        Okay, following you so far.

        [i]Key apps for me are PDF reader and SSH client. But I suspect neither would be demanded on a windows phone.[/i]


        You realize that according to your logic, Apple is the one copying Microsoft since we've had PDF readers and SSH clients on Windows Mobile for years now! So answer the question Richard, why did Apple copy Microsoft when it gave you a PDF reader and an SSH client?

        ROFL ROFL ROFL!!!
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude

        Richard, Richard, Richard. Have you seen the tech reviews of WP7, looked at the videos, downloaded the development tools?

        The Windows Phone UI and the development system and its business software are well beyond the iPhone - as are the design and hardware. Apple will not catch this phone in the near future and it may be the eventual death knell for Apple which has only survived due to its semi-smart phone clone, it's mp3 clones and its Unix based software. Not much real research of development in there, but lots of packaging and marketing work. We all know what happens when Apple tries to be "innovative" (i.e. not copy someone else's work) - you get a phone that you have to hold funny and it drops calls ;-)

        Oh and the secret weapon is OneNote. This secretive and most useful part of the Office suite doesn't really get the press it deserves, but it has a huge group of users - why not try it yourself, you may be surprised.
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude , Adobe has had a reader available for the windows mobile platform for years, not sure when they started but i've been using it since 2003
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude
        I have a windows mobile phone that I use to manage my data center. I have many utilities that I use that I am quite sure do not exist on an Iphone or don't do as well of a job. Anyway, yes they will be available on windows phone 7. How do you think all of the Microsoft employees will manager their data centers ?????
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude <-- successful @ trolling. Unsuccessful at everything else.

        Some day people who post emotion-based comments like Richard's will realize that it's all about business - nothing else. Apple, MS, Google, etc. only care about their business. In this case MS has an interesting strategy, and it will be interesting to see if it pays off.

        Gotta love competition.
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Richard Flude

        Seems the crowd that replied to you "didn't quite get it"... Maybe they are so sucked in the "legacy (old)" Microsoft attitude that they can get past the idea that this time MS isn't in the leading role.

        It's kinda a repeat of the I.B.M. P.C. story where the blue suits upped Apple using an out of the box team (just like Windows Mobile dumped the Palm), but later were outboxed by Compaq and Dell (this time Apple and Google).

        In my view, Windows Phone 7 is a good exercise but done in an incorrect platform (Silverlight and XNA), whereas iPhone is native (Objective) C on-top of a Mach clone with native Multi Touch API. So performance will be a key factor, and will all depend on the CLR JIT for ARM (something of an untested key component). Else, graphics will be snappy at moments and lag at others, crucial "moments of truth" (aka XBox Live syncs, Facebook syncs, etc.)
      • Thanks cosuna

        The other posts prove my point. It's really quite sad.
        Richard Flude
    • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

      @Ed Bott
      Ed, for me, the more important thing will be how well the new WP7 actually works.

      If MS can produce a phone that is well tested in the field/wild, with a strong feature set that puts it in direct competition with the iPhone 4, then I, myself, will give it a whirl INSTEAD of the iPhone.

      I think MS did a good job testing Windows 7 in the "wild," and the profits they've made on Windows 7 show in black ink JUST how good of a move it was for them.

      I soooo wanted the new iPhone 4 for when my contract with Bell Canada renews this Fall. Not so sure anymore ... and the fact is, there are a LOT of ppl that are wondering now. (Did you find the attitude that was portrayed by Steve Jobs' post press conference comments a bit odd for a man who would like to be considered customer-centric?)

      Remember the good ole' days, Ed? (Commodore, etc.) when things weren't perfect, but man they performed for their time. No update button on those puppies ...

      Yes, get great WP7 apps out ... but test the WP7 extensively with everyday ppl. The money will roll in...AGAIN. :)
      • If it works better than android, im switching


        I think the iphones great success is that it looks good but more importantly is easy to use.

        Android looks mediocre and as a phone, is a bit frustrating to use. The google apps and data support are great but that's about it.

        And I think they need to get 2.2 pushed out ASAP. I thought Google and its open development model were supposed to allow for more rapid development?
      • What makes you say there hasn't been

        @cotaddy@... The Motorola Droid was released with Android 2.0 last fall, updated to 2.1 in June and will get 2.2 the first week of August. That seems pretty rapid to me. I've heard some even saying it changes too quickly. I guess what constitutes just the right level of "rapid" is a matter of opinion.
    • Brilliant idea!

      Now they can claim that over 90,000 were sold on opening day. I am also willing to bet they got a good price on these phones (being an order of over 90,000). The real question is how will the price of these phones be written off in a way to make it look profitable?
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        @Rick_K Maybe you don't know this but both Apple and Google ALSO gave free phones to their employee's as well. So this whole "market share" etc opinion is entirely mute and void.
      • RE: Does Microsoft have a secret weapon for Windows Phone 7?

        Hello @Rick_K, The cost of giving these phones away will be a lot less then some stupid ad campaign Microsoft would normally run. It gets the product out where friends and family will see them in day to day use and if Microsoft has got it right will create sales that might have never happened. At last Microsoft has done something smart. May be they won't just fade away as has been predicted.
        John Biles
      • What makes you think that's the "real question"?


        Even if MS were paying $400 per phone (which I would doubt) that would be about $36 million. Rather seems like chump change for Microsoft.

        Also 90K initial sales are not a particularly large number in the larger scheme of things.
    • Obviously to Me Games Should be WP7's Calling Card!

      @Ed Bott If they can bring Xbox360 Gamers into the equation, no doubt they will have instant success. Phones that have the same GPU chip as Samsung's Galaxy Series phones with it's SGX540 in them.<br><br>They're already playing desktop versions of Quake 3 on these phones. This chip is capable of 3 times that of iPhone 4's SGX535 GPU at 90 million Triangles/per/sec. Which is good enough to play PC Desktop and some X360 games. If WM7 can support a down port of Halo on launch and Call of Duty, with a gyro/accelerometer or keyboard support, guaranteed WM7 will be unbeatable. The competition might as well call in sick!<br><br>A game phone could be it's E-Ticket to fame and fortune with Xbox360 owners now numbering 40 million leaping on the phones out the door. iPhone 4 owners will be relegated to cry baby wantabees in the gaming World. With both inferior hardware and games.<br><br>The only group of users that are more loyal than Apple iCult fans are Gamers. Sure... you'd make the phones capable of making calls without dropping them and without being told "You're Holding it Wrong". This would no doubt be a selling point too. But bring true hard core Gamers to your phone and you'll have the answer to why PC's rule the World of Games today and they'll be Guaranteed a sell out launch day!<br><br>Give it Broadcom's new 20751 SoC with DLNA, both Wifi 2.4 and 5.0, Wifi Direct, Bluetooth 3.0 or 4.0 along with 3G/4G Voip in game Voice chat and you've combined a phone with the ultimate portable game machine!<br><br>If they fail to do this full tilt they will no doubt lose to both Android and iOS. But with it.... they'll have no equal!!!