WP7 – Release the Devs!

Microsoft tossed out some really heavy stuff during the Day 2 Keynote at Mix11 in Las Vegas. It was pretty dev-heavy stuff. The responses were not tepid, but at times were quite enthusiastic. That brings me to my first point:

As Balmer said  developers, developers developers. Developers Developers Developers. This is how Microsoft has decided to run WP7. They have allowed deep rooted links and live tiles that don’t just boot an app, they can boot a specific function of that app. But before I get to that, let me point out that Microsoft seems to be pushing their Dev program almost as hard as WP7 itself. Granted, Microsoft has built a major following with the .NET framework and their Visual Studio suite of development software, so using that as a springboard into mobile development isn’t too big of a stretch.

Yet, the improvements they’ve set up in the Mango update, due out this fall, step things way up for the user, and when the devs get the kit in about a month, they’ll have some awesome new tools to play with. Microsoft is not only focused on the creation of apps, however. They are also tightly focused on helping their devs get those apps to people who are looking for them in any way possible. As I outlined in my review, they’ve already helped the marketplace with an app specific search. Now they’ve added a quicker way to access that (likely) long list of apps you’ve got. You can search the phone for an app, and if you don’t have one that suits your needs, an option to search the marketplace comes up.

They’ve also spruced up the marketplace, giving ratings, screenshots and purchase screens their own pivot screens, as well as adding a “similar apps” option. All of these tools help those hardworking devs get the most exposure. This idea was obviously well received, and probably greatly appreciated by the people who bang their fingers on keyboards all day to make a buck.

Other updates in the Development front begin in the developer environment. Microsoft has a great tool in the Visual Studio, and they push it further for phone developers who want to play with the system and create detailed apps. The first item touched on was the ability to mock pivot the phone within the environment, via the mouse. This allows the developer to test the functionality of their code against the phone’s accelerometer.

They’ve also mirrored this move with the GPS. Previously, the developer had to write up some separate code to test various locations. Now they’ve got an emulated GPS feed, allowing you to search a map for locations, drag and drop a pin to set locations or even save a set of coordinates to an XML file and call them up in a specific interval, noting how their app addresses GPS updates. These are useful tools, because they’re guaranteed to emulate exactly how WP7 would report changes to the app instead of depending on homebrew (and possibly buggy) code written by the developer.

One of the more helpful APIs that Microsoft is releasing is Motion Sensor, which ties together the accelerometer and compass, providing a simple stream of data for the developer to use; or as it’s explained, not “preventing some people from making these kinds of apps” due to the math intensive coding required. The simplified stream of data also allows for better battery life from the device, and in the beta demo app, it seems to flow pretty smoothly.

Once you get past putting all your ideas in code, you get to the fun stage: Debugging. Thankfully, Microsoft built some awesome tools to help developers get the most out of their time behind a keyboard. You can now run analysis on apps through different stages, and when you exit the app your (pc connected) phone will crunch the data and display exactly how your app interacts with the phone.

You can then drill down into the code and see what, exactly, is causing the frame rate to drop to 16fps on the pivots, or in the case of the keynote, why there’s a sleep statement in the middle of your menu function.  When you highlight an area of the graph, it will pop up with flags regarding the highlighted areas, allowing you to streamline your app.

So what has Microsoft done? They’ve given devs the tools to build better apps, faster, with fewer bugs. They’ve allowed devs to take over how you use your phone. A search for ‘movies’ on Bing will allow you to check out the IMDB page – within the IMDB app – directly from the results page. You can now set the ‘tweet’ function of your Twitter app to a live tile, so you no longer have to load the whole app and click through menus to get to what you really want: Content. It seems Microsoft has finally found the way to get you “in, out and on with your life” as they’ve advertised.

With a better development process that produces better apps will come word of mouth movement to the OS. Just in the past day, a lot of people who were on the fence about WP7 have decided that it is moving forward enough to say they like it. Fair weather fans, but fans are fans, and at this point Microsoft needs as much support as it can get.

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