Microsoft banks on India's developer ecosystem to drive Windows Phone

Redmond has been focusing its efforts and offering incentives to encourage app development on its mobile OS, which was launched in India several months after the global launch.
Written by Abhishek Baxi, Contributor

NEW DELHI--Windows Phone made its India debut in October 2011, several months after its global launch, and faced challenges here where Google Android smartphones were capturing both market share as well as mindshare at a brisk rate.

However, Microsoft is banking on the developer ecosystem to help drive adoption.

In an interview with ZDNet, Harish Vaidyanathan, director of tech evangelism at Microsoft India, said eight months since the launch, he was happy with what they had seen in terms of the number of developers and apps.

"App developer concept is still evolving in India," he said. "The Indian software industry is services-focused, and so, to think of an idea and implement it is evolutionary."

"[We need] lots of imagination [and] being able to seek out latent need. It's not just about apps or Windows Phone, but building the ecosystem. We've just started to scratch the surface," Vaidyanathan added with cautious enthusiasm.

Microsoft ran a campaign, called I Unlock Joy, which encouraged developers to build and publish Windows Phone apps. Anyone who published three or more apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace was rewarded with a Windows Phone device.

According to Vaidyanathan, the initiative saw huge participation and propelled Microsoft toward reaching 100,000 apps in its Marketplace appstore.

"The incentive was good, and the barrier was low," he said. "The total number of submissions was well north of 10,000 with about 4,000 of these from students. We literally had to pull the shutters down. We managed to get the attention of the student community, which is good. They of course had free access to the Marketplace."

It is now launching the second phase of the I Unlock Joy campaign and this time, the focus is on quality, he said.

Microsoft also ran a publisher program targeted at individuals, development studios and startups that build mobile apps and services. They were invited to Windows Phone camps and the software vendor's Mobile Acceleration Week events in several cities across India including Delhi, Bangalore, and Pune.

Comprising 14-hour marathons, the week's events saw an attendance of 30 to 40 developers in each city, allowing them to jumpstart the app and seek support from designers or mentors, Vaidyanathan noted.

"It went very well. I don't want to put a metric like the number of apps since it was [about] a deeper engagement," he said.

Monetary incentives no longer on the table
Windows Phone had launched in India together with several local apps, and Microsoft helped kick off marketing efforts and developer interest. These included heavy engagement and even financial investments such as co-marketing and promotional campaigns, which Vaidyanathan said were necessary at that time.

"It was important to force the momentum a little and then bring on programs like I Unlock Joy. These partnerships broke the inertia, allowing other programs to roll for an organic growth of marketplace," he explained.

Vaidyanathan, however, made it clear Microsoft was no longer paying for any apps.

"While it was an important step to bootstrap the ecosystem, it is not a sustainable exercise. We can't put money on the table to get the apps," he noted. "We got the juggernaut rolling with upfront money and have now shifted the needle to co-marketing and promotions."

"There's still a bunch of support we'll offer, but we've stopped paying for the apps," he said.

Vinod Unny, who runs a technology consulting company and developed the popular "Delhi Metro" app, said the co-marketing efforts were important. "When Delhi Metro was featured on the Windows Phone Marketplace for a while, I saw a huge spike in the number of downloads of the app. Being on the front and center does help and drove up the revenue," Unny said.

In India, Windows Phone is the first platform of choice for several publishers and services including Cleartrip and Flipkart. This is a unique win Microsoft would like to replicate across the globe, Vaidyanathan noted.

While its developer movement is off to a good start, Redmond still faces a huge task translating this momentum into consumer interest, especially with Windows Phone 8 due for launch Oct. 26.

Market analysts believe the recent patent dispute between Samsung and Apple, and Motorola and Microsoft, might push OEMs to look at Windows Phone more seriously.

Vaidyanathan is excited about both the market as well as developer potential of Windows Phone 8. "We expect the Windows 8 momentum to rub off on Windows Phone 8 in a significant way. New developers would also need to be educated on Windows RT and the scenarios there.

"Also, with this release we'll scale out at a market level [making it] available in 180 countries, with local billing support and local languages. It's massive. We've unlocked the world for the developers," he proclaimed.

Abhishek Baxi is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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