I recently had the opportunity, through my university, to attend a 12 hour Windows Phone Hackathon. The premise was this: “You have 12 hours to build a somewhat functional Windows Phone 7 app.”
So I went. The first night was just an informational meeting in which they handed out 7 phones and a bunch of other prizes. I didn’t win anything. But the engineer who presided was a lead developer for the Windows Phone 7 Team, and he had some great things to say.
First, he wasn’t afraid to make fun of Microsoft which was pretty amusing and enlightening. He would say things like, “And this is XAML (instead of XML) because we like to rename things,” and “We’re not afraid to buy our friends (referencing all the giveaways).” He also made sure to point out the true meaning of Mango, the newest version of Windows Phone 7. It was named this because “Mangoes are sweeter than apple’s.”
But, as I was about to find out, mangoes can also be a tad bitter.
Finally Saturday rolled around, the big day. I showed up (with a friend whom I was working on the app with) and we began to write. It became apparent that Microsoft was trying to buy developers. I won a brand new Samsung Focus S at the start of the day, and several more were handed out as well. The top three winners of that day, would walk away with two XBox w/Kinect, and a Nokia Lumia 800. Winners of the national competition would take home a cool $15,000.
Prizes aside, I was determined to do well in this competition. I’m always trying to become a better developer on every platform I can, and this was a great opportunity for me. As I started looking at different UI and UX elements on my newly won phone, I was impressed. The design was clean, functional and didn’t look like complete shit like Android does. I thought to myself, why aren’t more developers attracted to this platform?
Then I started looking at apps (both stock and 3rd party), and I realized something. Every app looked the same. Every. Single. App.
Even colors were the same. Our Microsoft programming guide even told us that we should use the system’s foreground and accent colors to give the app a uniform look.
There were two key elements that every app possessed. A title in the top left corner in small print, and big swooping subtitles for tab like navigation. To switch between sections in an app, you would swipe left or right. Don’t get me wrong, the actual design of the apps is fairly clean and attractive. The problem is that every one of these apps looks the same, and further yet, Microsoft developers are trying to push independent developers to design their apps in this way. As a bonus, the native youtube app simply pops you into the web browser (which at least has a different UI).
So anyway, I spent the day developing for this somewhat boring platform, and I got nowhere. The simple fact is, there is not enough documentation for a developer fresh to this platform to get started quickly. We wanted to do a basic foursquare type app, but the OAuth and API call were horrendous. The instructor there had built a foursquare app for the MarketPlace, and foursquare themselves licensed his code for their app.
That ate up most of the day, and I ended up building a simple facial recognition app. I didn’t win.
All in all, if I hadn’t won that phone, the day would’ve been a complete waste. I learned almost nothing, and felt defeated at not being able to code a relatively simple project.
Developers make money because they build great apps, apps that stand out. There is just no visibility for Windows Phone 7. Most people say that Microsoft is in a catch-22; developers won’t write for Windows Phone because there are no users, and there are no users because there are no apps.
I disagree. There are no developers because it’s more difficult to write than Android and iOS, and the resulting outcome is just boring.
Oh, yeah. I’m selling my phone. If you want it, click here.
Also, even Microsoft employees use Apple products. The lead developer there had a Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, and iPad. (Due to the nature of his job, he was forced to give up his iPhone.)