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Life on Windows Phone: 3 years on, how are developers finding Microsoft's mobile platform?

Life on Windows Phone: 3 years on, how are developers finding Microsoft's mobile platform?

It's taken the best part of three years, but 2013 had much to offer for those behind Windows Phone.

The last 12 months saw Microsoft's platform slowly but surely shift gear to become the default 'third option'.

Boosted by a range of increasingly impressive handsets from Nokia and, just as importantly, coupled with a third-place rival bumbling from one calamity to another – BlackBerry, if you hadn't already guessed – Windows Phone had a solid, if unspectacular, 12 month run.

But what does that mean for developers? The Windows Phone Store, though not in the App Store or Google Play's league, is growing impressively, heading for the 200,000 mark and, as of September, generates 9 million app downloads an in-app purchases a day.

They're figures not to be sniffed at, but when the majority of developers struggle to earn a living on marketplaces five times the size, is it really worth developers devoting time that, on the surface at least, offers even less chance of success?

Halo, nice to see you

"The reports on fast growing market share over the recent months and the increasing availability of popular apps are very encouraging signals," Arthur Houtman, MD of Vanguard Games – the studio behind Halo: Spartan Assault – tells us.

"We feel Windows Phone has turned a very important corner and things can only get better from here."

Halo: Spartan Assault hit Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8

That's an assessment not purely reserved for studios that have worked closely with Microsoft. For Rovio, the fact Windows Phone isn't a priority for most developers is understandable. But that doesn't mean studios are ignoring it.

"For developers who focus only on one platform, or treat iOS and Android as two completely separate development tracks, introducing a new track for Windows Phone takes time," says Niko Leskinen, platform operations manager at the Angry Birds outfit.

"Adopting your existing technology and work practices to support more platforms doesn't happen in an instant if your mindset isn't multi-platform to begin with."

Rovio notes, however, that more and more developers are beginning to think on a multi-platform basis these days, and that's coming to Windows Phone's aid.

"The Multi-platform approach helps developers mitigate risks, but does create overhead in development costs and processes," adds Leskinen.

"A truly global mobile app should embrace all major mobile platforms, as there are regional differences in the market shares of the different platforms. We are already seeing more and more developers embracing Windows Phone, and we hope that this will continue."

Case by case

Whatever the figures Microsoft is pumping out, as Vanguard attests, it's up for each developer to make its own decision.

"We cannot speak for other developers, but at any developer, it is always a case of matching market opportunities with resource constraints: do you think the platform is viable? If so, do you have the resources to dedicate people towards a version for that platform?" adds Houtman.

"If the answer to the second question is negative, you may see some delays despite the fact that the platform is already solid enough for people to invest in.

"Either way, the fact that those apps are now appearing is a clear sign that developers feel the platform is viable."

But can developers actually make money on a platform that's in a distant third place?

"That fully depends on the development cost of your app," continues Houtman.

"Market share is not as large as iOS and Android, but the upside of the Windows Phone platform is that it does not suffer from the visibility issue of other competing platforms.

"As such, Windows Phone could be great for getting your title noticed, perhaps even by launching there first and then porting your game over to other platforms further down the line."

Best buds

Believe it or not, developers even have a kind word or two to say about Microsoft, too.

"In our experience, the developer tools for Windows Phone 8 fare very well with the competition," adds Rovio's senior technology programmer Antti Tuppurainen.

"Additionally, working on Windows Phone 8 is a better experience for a developer than it was on Windows Phone 7, because it is possible to use cross-platform native code directly, without having to do everything from the ground up."

Angry Birds Space is one of Rovio's long line of Windows Phone releases

Vanguard's Houtman agrees: "The platform is very easy to develop for, and the its continuous growth and app discovery opportunities will make the platform viable for more and more developers. This could very well lead to a surge.

"Opportunities across the entire ecosystem of Microsoft devices within reach. The platforms growth and app discoverability make it a great time to start creating software for Windows Phone 8."

What do you call someone who has an unhealthy obsession with video games and Sean Bean? That'd be a 'Chris Kerr'. Chris is one of those deluded souls who actually believes that one day Sean Bean will survive a movie. Poor guy.

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