During Microsoft’s annual Tech-Ed and Partner Summit in Durban this week, we got to sit down with John Press, Business Development Manager at Microsoft. With the big news being the local update of the Windows Phone 7 marketplace and Microsoft’s involvement with Nokia, much of the conversation centred on that.
We spoke to John about the evolution of the marketplace, developing for Windows Phone 7 and Nokia’s Symbian, the release of Windows-based Nokia phones, and the release of Zune for South Africa.
* Microsoft has a local app market for Windows Phone 7. What will the evolution be of the online store?
Marketplace is our online destination for all the applications for Windows Phone and the good news there is that we now have local availability of the market place with Rand-based billing. That started with the Mango update, in the last week and a half. If you have Mango, you will be able to access it. We have gone through a process of throttling the roll-out, so that you don’t have the hiccups we have seen previously. We expect that over a period of four weeks, we should have 100% coverage of the marketplace update.
* There is still a slight problem with getting games on the marketplace? Has it been a FPB issues, or what is causing the delay?
I wouldn’t put it down to the Film and Publication Board. So what’s happened is that the developers who opted-in for global distribution of their applications, opted-in in that point in time where South Africa wasn’t included in the marketplace roll-out, and by default we can’t use those permission rights for SA unless they have actually physically opted-in for our market. There has been communication that has gone out to that entire base. (They have to explicitly list in our base and) we have seen that uptake happen fairly rapidly, so we’ll be on par in a very short space of time. But you’ll see that your fundamental and bigger applications are already there.
*Microsoft recently acquired Skype. Why isn’t that on the marketplace?
Skype is an interesting one with the Microsoft acquisition. We were holding off on the deployment of the Skype application until we knew that it would be passed from a regulatory point of view. So now that that has happened, you’ll see news around Skype and the application, but it’s very much work in progress and we expect to see an application very soon.
* There are still some apps that aren’t available. When will they be developed for the Windows Phone 7 market?
There is obviously a kind of hit-list and a priority list of all the applications that we are going after, and that has happened at a global level and at a local level. There is 30 000 applications in the global store at the moment, and if you look at it from a traction and point-in-time view, we are ahead of where Android was at this point in their life cycle, we are ahead of where iPhone was at this point. So we making some nice progress, but we aren’t where those two are just yet.
* There is vetting in Microsoft’s eco-system, and none in Android. Isn’t that limiting for developers?
A lot of people argue that it is limiting, but our approach is that we’ll rather see quality over quantity. Yes, it has to go through an approval process, but the benefits of that is the quality. Malware is becoming a reality, and if you got anybody who has the ability to deploy on the devices, how do you control that? It’s fine for a sub-set of consumers we are IT literate, but for your average Joe Soap, it’s pretty risky business. We certainly believe that the closed eco-system has its benefits.
* With Microsoft working very closely with Nokia, and Nokia phones running on Windows Phone 7 Mango, how will that influence the development of apps for their existing Symbian system as well as for WP7?
We want to leverage where they have strengths (Symbian developers) and I think there are areas where we bring strengths to the party. A combination of those two is what certainly makes sense. We want to approach as much of the developer community as we can, and those guys that have competency within the Symbian-base, there is no reason why they can’t start developing on the Windows Phone. One of the things that we evangelise extensively is the ease of use of the WP protocols, and there are programs already in place to assist those guys in moving across.
* How easy is it to move Nokia’s Symbian apps across to Windows Phone 7?
There is no porting of Symbian apps across to Windows Phone, but I think the strength that we have, is that those tools are so easy to utilise, that for those guys who have been developing on Symbian, that transition is really easy. We’re working very closely with the Nokia team, there is a lot of educational training at the moment and we are working to incentivise and make sure we see that local uptake and bring those guys across, because that is what’s going to drive this eco-system.
* When will Nokia handsets be shipping with Windows Phone 7?
We’ll be their primary smartphone operating system. Those announcements, and to the question of when we’ll see the first devices, the announcements are specifics relating to those devices happen at Nokia World (26 October), and we are really looking forward to that date. A lot more will be shared at that point.
* With both the Windows marketplace and Nokia’s Ovi store gaining some good traction in South Africa, which one will take the lead when it comes to opening the market for Nokia phones running WP7?
How that morphs and how Nokia presents the applications around a Nokia shop front, is going to be disclosed at Nokia World. Around the services piece, and what they will deploy through Nokia devices, as part of their existing portfolio, will also be disclosed at Nokia World. The strength in this partnership lies in the services that they bring to the table – exactly how that is going to play out in terms of time-frames of them incorporating those assets into the Windows phone proposition, it’s going to take some time.
* How will Windows Phone compete in a very app-centric world?
I think our approach to applications is slightly different. The web experience is also now available through Mango, so you can go onto your browser through Zune and have access to those applications through your PC browser. The next thing is, is how we integrate applications into the OS and the experiences you get from those applications that make use of things like Live Tiles. So we’ve tried to build applications and give API access to our developers to do a little more than just build this static kind of application. Around the volume of that, again it comes back to where we are in the life cycle; it’s the whole quality versus quantity discussion. I think we have done pretty well, given the time that we have had in the market. But ultimately, for me it’s about the integrated user experience that people will have on Windows Phone that you’ll not get from other smartphones.
* When will Zune be launching in the South African market?
There is no time on that at this point. (Your phone) will remain your default handler for all things media-content related. We have improved that experience with both the software on the device and on PC, but as far as the ability to purchase and a marketplace, there is still no news on that. If you look at all of the content options across Windows Phone today, we would like to have the full portfolio. But unfortunately for Zune, we can’t commit to a time. It’s certainly being looked at, but I think with music in particular you start getting into pretty hairy publishing negotiations.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor