Windows Phone Dev Ecosystem – One Year On

The title is a bit misleading as I have been in role for close to two years, but Windows Phone has been in market for a year.  During the course of the past year, I learned quite a few things, and have been asked a number of questions from the community.  I wanted to take this time to share some of those learnings, and answer a variant of the most common question I get (both internally and externally): “how are you guys doing this?”

Upon starting in role, the person who recruited me for the position (Charlie Kindel) walked me through what he calls the 5Ps.  This served as a very useful framework for thinking through how our team was going to tackle the very real problem of being in last place for developer ecosystems, and building excitement and driving recruitment for a pre-released mobile OS.

When we first met as a team, we sought to lay out what we though were the foundational principles for our work.  This is essential, as it makes it very easy to say “NO” to things when you have clear principles.  Since our fiscal year runs Jul to Jun, we have refactored our team principles for our current fiscal year.  We did this based on the experience of the year we had behind us.  With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the principles from the last fiscal year.  No real corporate secrets here, and in fact, some people will say that this is just common sense.  Maybe so, but the results have been building, with the new IDC/Appcelerator report out (expected press coverage), and it looks like interest in Windows Phone development is at an all time high.  Awesome.

Inspire Developers

The problem facing our team was essentially one of a cold start reboot.  We had to start with a completely new dev platform, new tooling, and the fallout of a clean break from Windows Mobile 6.x, making many of those developers angry.  The bottom line message for the team, and our extended team in our DPE org (Developer & Platform Evangelism), was to build the message and demonstrate the clear opportunity of building on Windows Phone.  For the first year, this involved heavy upselling of our investment in the long term success of Windows Phone.  However, it also necessitated that we have improved reach and effectiveness with our outbound communications.  This meant landing our stories with the press, but also engaging with developers on a 1:1 basis where possible.  An impossibility to execute with our team alone, the partnership with our DPE org led to the creation of our mobile champs program.  Having local feet on the street in the countries where we were selling phones was critical for developer support.

Make Developers Rich & Famous

It’s long been one of my driving assertions that developers care about two things: making money or getting noticed for their work.  Scoble once quipped that it was about getting paid or getting laid.  Same difference.  Here’s the thing: it’s not all about sales of apps.  That matters – absolutely matters – but we can also do other things.  We don’t need any more web traffic.  Any chance we can take to redirect web traffic to a partner/developer is one we should take.  Same thing for speaking opportunities, inclusion in press, conferences, etc.  People know who we are.  They don’t know who the developers are.  Investing in them early pays off huge dividends later.  We focused on ensuring that put the developers and apps in the spotlight.  You will even see this in our newest round of commercials.

Beyond simply shining attention on the developers, we wanted to work with them to find ways to monetize their work, and that included ways to work with them to envision completely new business models.  We’ve had some interesting conversations on that front, though for confidentiality reasons I can’t discuss them here.  Needless to say, the attention units spent on developers for the Windows Phone platform was critical to our success.

Search & Discoverability

From day one on the job, I told the team to stop creating content.  We had people who had historically been goaled on such things as “create 10 case studies.”  Why?  Who saw them?  What customer were they serving?  Instead, we chose to focus on one simple dictum (use of Google intentional, since at the time, 70%+ of developers used Google): “If you cannot come up with the Google query for which your content surfaces in the top 10 links, DO NOT CREATE THE CONTENT.”

As part of a whitepaper I wrote when I took over the role, I included the following (modified pronouns):

Whereas developers once turned to books for their learning process, search is now the primary means by which they get answers.  The relevance and authority of a source discovered via search has been solved for them by the position in the search results; the author is almost irrelevant, as long as they can solve their problem. The faceless millions of bloggers/developers, not us, collectively produce the user manual they reference for our development platform.  Their screen has room for 10 links. Their patience has room for clicking through to one, maybe two, additional pages of links. Exist in that space or we don’t exist at all.  Though they start with search, the pervasiveness of social networking brings the expertise and influence of others closer than ever to their project spaces, and they rely on those social connections as trusted sources for how to solve their problems. They hope to be sought out as an expert someday.

The world has changed from a publish and forget medium (books) to publish and connect one. Any successful community must support the platforms by creating living content, and connecting that content to other content created by other members in the community.  This is a subtle, but very important, shift which has taken place over the last decade.

Simplicity & Removing Friction

Charlie taught me a great saying: never show your organizational boundaries to your customers.  He’s right.  Yes I run the developer experience team for Windows Phone, but really, I work on Windows Phone, and that’s all customers care about.  They don’t care about my title, or my org.  They care about the problem they have in front of them, and not much else.  I know it sounds crazy, but focusing on solving customer problems wins hearts and minds.

Beyond that, we have driven a hard core focus on reducing the number of steps it takes to get to the right answer.  We haven’t been 100% successful, and we still have a ways to go, but much of the content created, access to tools, etc, have all been dramatically reduced in terms of click-time commitment.  We also have spent a great deal of time on ensuring that we have ample code samples available for our developer community.  We know devs are short on time, and having easy to find, and approachable, samples makes their lives a lot easier.

For this principle, it comes down to showing them the way, not showing them how smart we are.  In many cases, they are smarter.  We just have access to information they may not.  Get it to them and watch what happens.

One Year On

Yes, we have recalibrated our principles as a result of what we have learned over the year.  The essence remains largely the same, though I can say that we have made them more focused.  What has made me happier than anything is the level of support from the community.  Heck, I might even go so far as to say we have fan boys.  The 38% of devs who are expressing that they are “very interested” is a nice data point, but we have a long long way to go before I will be happy.  The addition of Nokia as a key ecosystem partner is a huge win for us, it further validates our model, and developers agree.

The number one principle for this year is: be highly available.  We’ve learned quite a bit over the last year, but more than anything else, I have learned that if you make yourself available to the community, and do your honest best to invest in helping people out, and getting their questions answered, it will pay off in spades.

Helping out devs and being available means a lot of things.  Here’s a great anecdote to show what I mean.  When an android developer was showing me his app at a conference, I asked if I could give him feedback.  They guy next to him was incredulous that I gave him honest feedback about how to make the app better, and that I didn’t try to sell him on Windows Phone.  Why would I do that?  He’s already invested in Android.  I wanted to validate that investment, and give him useful information.  If I could help make him successful on Android, my hope is that when he considers his next platform, he puts Windows Phone first because one of us stopped to help him out.  Trying to convince him he made a bad choice with Android can only end in tears, and he may walk away thinking that we are jerks.  I gave him my info and told him when he was ready to get started on Windows Phone to give me a holler, but I definitely wanted to hear from him when his app landed in the Android marketplace.

Being highly available means publishing your email (ThePhone [at] Microsoft), your phone (425-985-5568) and being on Twitter enough to answer the @ replies (man, this is where the integration with Twitter on Windows Phone Mango comes in SOOOO handy).  Invest in the community.  It’s very easy for someone to hate a company, but very hard to hate a person.  We are putting a human face on developer platform for Windows Phone with the likes of Ben Lower (@benlower), Cliff Simpkins (@cliffsimpkins), Larry Lieberman (@LarryALieberman), Matt Bencke (@bencke) and the countless other mobile champs in the field.  It’s been a great ride thus far, and looking forward to the next year of phone availability.

  • first

  • Anonymous

    Developers, Developers, Developers: An Important And Unique Perspective! Microsoft, and especially the Developer and Platform Evangelism team for Windows Phone, got it right. Developers are your most ardent supporters and are key influencers. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you!
    @sk1rtsfly

  • Anonymous

    Brandon,
    This is exactly why I came to you with the WimMobile.se dilemma. You are a no-crap guy in a world filled with… well… crap.

    The interest you’ve shown in devs and the community in general have proven to be much more than lip service, and the values you’ve set up for your team as well as the freedom and encouragement Microsoft has given you to implement them speaks volumes about both of you.

    Great post and info any dev should take to heart when choosing their primary platform. 

  • Anonymous

    Great read.

  • Anonymous

    lol, love the podcast.

  • RBJ

    Now if only you can add MS points so we can actually support these developers.

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  • thx btbam91! i couldn’t resist – albeit a bit childish 😉

  • Anonymous

    “Make Developers Rich & Famous….we wanted to work with them to find ways to monetize their work, and that included ways to work with them to envision completely new business models.”    
    REALLY?  WP7 has failed here, big time.  The only way to monetize is ads via pubCenter.  No in app purchasing, no favoritism that XBLA titles get, no sales from paid apps because gamers will only pay for XBLA titles, no native support for 3rd party engines/studios to leverage existing games to the WP7 marketplace.  

    In fact, you have done the opposite and restricted us to the oldest business model around.  iOS and Android are killing you in this respect, and, that’s what attracts developers….their bottom line. The bottom line on WP7 its very thin and does not scale for indies trying to grow into studios, which is very possible on other platforms.

    I have 4 games with 300K downloads total on WP7, I have done well with 1 of them, the other 3 could be doing 10x better if I could monetize them outside of just ads!  When will we have in app purchasing for games? And don’t say “Win8”, because Im not waiting that long.

  • Anonymous

    thank you for your hard work 
    and thank you for announcing the full support of arabic language with marketplace availability to middle eastern users in 2012 

    i’ll stick to windows phone as a user as long as you stick to it 
    keep up the amazing work windows phone team

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  • I feel a little bad about a note I wrote to you about a year and a half ago, it was on your Facebook messaging. I was going to town on the fact that WinMob 6.5 had all these capabilities that were being left behind on WinPh7. I was pretty ruthless in my criticism, because it felt like for YEARS and years, Microsoft was not listening to us the end users.

    I think the most vocal of us, who have tried to learn not to pass judgement while still being adamant about what it is that we are criticizing have flocked to the Blog comment sections to be heard.

    Your comment: “When_  he considers his next platform, he puts Windows Phone first because one of us stopped to help him out.”, reflects how I approach my own business and it is refreshing to listen to someone in charge at MS talk about what is necessary to win people over. Honest listening and hearing what is being said by the very people that use the products on a daily basis.

    I had the greatest pleasure yesterday in turning a friend on to the Samsung Focus S. His wife told him to get an IPHONE. I told him that I would never help him with his computer (for free) again, unless he got a Windows Phone. That night, his wife put down her IPhone and wouldn’t let him play with his phone because she ended up playing with it for the rest of the night.

    It’s been a loooonnng wait for us that are the true soldiers in the Microsoft army. It’s nice to see that the giant within Microsoft has been awakened. Nice job all around Brandon, let’s make 2012 the year that Microsoft wins the hearts of the consumers.  JF

  • Thanks for the txts on my mobile…hopefully my response was OK with you.  I can’t comment on unannounced features, but in-app purchase is certainly a top request, as is native gaming.

    I hear you on the XB Live promotions, but if you remember, when we started up Windows Phone, we were starting cold in the water, so having those XB Live titles helped sell phones.  As with anything, we will adjust over time based on customer (in this case – developers) need.

  • Brandon I love my WP7 every chance I get I’m showing this phone to friends and families we have three of the samsung focus in my house and my sister also has one Ive converted about 10 android user and my wife an iPhone user to WP7 and they all have the update but guess what I dont have it can you let us know when we will get this update?

  • From a field mobile champ, thanks for the no bs leadership. 

  • Anonymous

    So I’m thinking what I did was very wrong…I had to go into an apple store in Salem NH because My daughter had to buy a macbook for school. God how I wanted to vomit. But me being me and wanting to get back in someway for my daughter spending my hard earned money on an apple machine…. I took out my HD7 and started playing with it. soon a few people started asking me if that was the new Ios laughing no it’s WP7 Microsoft new mobile OS. then the tiles started to flip with information. and a few more people came over…some wanted to play with it…sure WOW this is smooth… now some guy in a blue shirt comes over and tells me sir. this is an apple tore we don’t allow this..allow what? me looking at my mail? no trying to sell a Microsoft system here. excuse me but I was reading my mail not my fault the fanboys thought it was a new IOS. just then my daughter came back dad must you always do that to me? do what hun? sigh we can leave now… ok…Man did I love doing that.

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  • Nice read, Brandon! It has been a great first year. Excited to see what this second year of Windows Phone will bring us!

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  • Aaron

    Hi Brandon,

    You’ve also convinced me to start developing for the WP platform. When I sent you an email expressing how annoyed I was when I was developing for the WebOS platform, you responded very quickly and very personally. You totally win me over that I decided to grab my friends with me as well. Thanks for creating a “human face” for us, and I know that I am communicating with a person, not to a corporate.

  • Anonymous

    Brandon,

    Love what you guys are doing for WP7. Amongst all the other comments and feedback, please ask the team to provide us with meaningful information about adding enterprise features to coming releases such as on device encryption, private app stores, and better management of devices. Please make this a high priority. Enterprises are ready to adopt WP, but are holding back due to these basic features that are missing.

    Also, having Office is good, but its missing a lot of basic features. For instance, Word only has 3 foreground colors and few highlight colors. Microsoft can do better than that! Not sure if we can open .CSV files now, with the original WP7 release, the built-in Excel app could not open .csv files.

    Thanks

  • what I’d like to see you guys do is put really good third party app developers in touch with the first party.  I’ve seen some decent “unofficial” 3rd party apps, but I think they would gain more street cred if they were published by the first party.  The developer hopefully gets some money and also doesn’t have to trash up an otherwise good app with ads to make money.  This first party doesn’t have to do a lot of ramp up on learning WP7 and can get good publicity by saying they support more platforms. 
     A good example of this is MyTrips which is signifigantly better than the official TripIt app.  Another example is 4th and Mayor versus foursquare…though foursquare got a LOT better and now 4th and mayor has fallen a bit.  However the official app will always win in the end because of authoritiative name recognition.  Pair these good 3rd party devs up before their app goes off into obscurity. 
    Heck, for the first challenge you all should team with CNN and have a contest on who can make what will become the official CNN app.  Yelp even said they would like a good WP7 dev to make their app feature equal to other platforms.  There are sooooo many good internet properties out there that have a poor WP7 showing, and sooooo many good independent developers out there wanting to build their name.  Please make this type of collaboration work.

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  • coolism

    Mr. Brandon, I am from AIESEC Singapore and I am writing this to you on the day I met Microsoft staff for working out a collaboration. In the meeting I just mistakenly mentioned that ‘everybody has an Iphone’ for some reason. That was an awkward moment and now I realize that I had made a blunder after seeing the effort that the team has put in. I can really see the effort the MS Singapore team is putting in as well. I’m sure it is gonna pay off sooner than later. my first app would be for WP! Thanks for your time.

  • Great post and great work! (except for one thing I promised myself not to whine about for a year. I think you know what it is 😉

    I’ve been to an AppCamp event (http://www.appcamp.lt) this weekend and there were 2 teams that built apps for WP7 and a couple more who said they have the skills and/or plan to make a WP7 version of their apps. At first I thought that 2 is a pretty low number, but out of the 32 apps that were built during the weekend it’s 6% which is probably more than WP7 market share 😉 So I guess it’s a good result.

    I’ve also talked to a couple of Nokia/Symbian developers who were excited about the wpdev opportunity (provided Nokia and Microsoft bring developer AND user support to Lithuania). They’ve also praised the quality and personal touch of Nokia’s developer support, comparing them to no or “robotic” support on the 2 leading platforms. They hope that Nokia together with MS will continue to provide this level of highly personal and quality support and your team is a proof that this could actually be the case.

    Thanks and good luck bringing Windows Phone to new heights!

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  • Anthony

    Please remember to give Leo Laporte a Windows Phone!

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  • Put people first! 🙂

  • It’s almost two months now since the release of the mango update and still no word from microsoft on when we will get the update. this is really a mess I never knew that I bought a Android phone…we were told every phone will get the update and no one is trying to help us the ones that didn’t know that there were two different types of the samsung focus, so this is not on us that we choose the wrong phone, because we had no choice in the matter. So who is going to help us with some real info on if we will get this update. the update site have not been update since 10/31/11 so they’re no help to us…we’re begging for some true info because I cant get the iPhone now with my contract!

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  • danvy

    If you, dear reader, are a French developer and need help, feel free to contact me (@danvy). I’m one of “the countless other mobile champs in the field the countless other mobile champs in the field” 😉

  • if you can’t stand to wait for Microsoft’s goodness, there is a way to skip the queue and get Mango right
    now. The method is pretty simple and harmless. Although, no one is quite
    sure why it works. All that is certain is that it really does the
    trick. Microsoft’s

  • Anonymous

    Hi,
    I am interested for your nice information. I like this article.

    Thanks

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  • Tangle Mangle Apollo

    one year later and everything is still broken. one of the WORST Product launch that i’ve ever seen. the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I wanted to see this succeed but it’s a complete joke. The app hub does nothing but approve a cornucopia of flashlight, and and fart and tittie sex apps. You need to have a payment system that works on the app hub and customers need to be able to cancel their account, NOTHING WORKS as it should tho and things are so broken and now that WP7 is out, MSFT Developers are only concerned and focused on the next ecosysem instead of repairing or making a solid environment for the platform to suceed in the first place. the market share of the phone is behind Android, iphone and even BLACKBERRY!. how do you make a phone so lame that it can’t even get beat out blackberry to get 3rd party market share? the advertising has been atrocious. i wanted to see this succeed but it’s been like watching the titanic sink. 

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  • Can I ask you where was it? In Bellevue Square they’ve got both stores side by side. And most people are literate enough to tell which platform that is by glance.

    In fact I’ almost had the opposite. In MS store I pulled out my iPod to check store map with offline app. And there was no similar MS offering to compare. And nobody cared but me. I even asked the rep guy out of boredom to take a look, he cared less )).

  • Hi Brandon, I got here after noticing your reply to my desperate post in AllThingsD. Just want to say sorry for trashing the WP7 so openly. Believe me, I do care and see potential and my intention is not to scare away people, but to try and give honest feedback, as it should be.
    Apple had Steve Jobs, who used to call ideas and products “shit” to straighten perspective and motivate to do even better job. MS, on the other hand, are all about meeting expectations and performances. Calling your own product “shit” is not expected of you. Too bad.

  • Its really informative Article and Discussion
     sofia vergara

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  • Artem

    Is it possible to get a Windows Phone 7 device for development purposes?

    I already have a contract on with another device and off-contract devices are very costly.