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February 14, 2014

Why you should develop Windows Phone apps

By shutterstock_125813144

Whenever I’m on the train or walking down the street, I’ll look around and notice that most people with smartphones are still using either an iOS or Android device. But that’s about to change. The investment from Microsoft, and to an extent, Nokia, is starting to really show. Contrary to popular belief, the Windows Phone ecosystem is very much alive and growing.

The current state of Windows Phone

New statistics are painting a picture that’s a lot more positive than what the general perception of Windows Phone has been. While it might still be struggling in saturated markets like North America and Australia, Europe and South America is warming up to the sleek user interface and simple, yet powerful integration with cloud services and other Microsoft products such as OneDrive, Office365, Xbox and Windows.

A recent report from Microsoft shows that Windows Phone is now outselling iOS in 24 countries around the globe. These include smaller markets like Ecuador, Thailand and Ukraine, but also countries like Italy, Finland, UAE and Saudi Arabia. You can argue that the first segment may not be in a financial position to pay the premium price tag for an iPhone, but that is certainly not the case for the latter group of countries.

Skeptics could argue that Windows Phone is only making headway in markets where Apple does not compete, but that isn’t true either. Across Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain Windows Phone has increased market share from four point eight percent to 10.2 percent, while iOS has dropped five percent to 15.8 percent over the past year. In general, Windows Phone is having large increases in market share, and iOS has only two real strongholds left: the US and Japan.

note: two graphs use a different scale

Digging through blog posts and unofficial numbers, the stats found there also indicate that Windows Phone users on average download five apps per month, while for Android it is four, and iOS has to settle with three per user. This is encouraging, although unconfirmed.

I am fully aware that I am not mentioning Android in this context, but they are so far ahead that right now Windows Phone is focusing on iOS as a main competitor to beat. World domination is imminent though.

Developing for Windows Phone

Why am I boring you with all these trivial numbers? If you are a developer like me, this shift in consumer trends and preference means I now have more choice. I happen to also be a Windows Phone developer and a very early adopter, which means I now have even more incentive to build amazing apps for Windows Phone. If you have any experience in the .NET space, picking up Windows Phone development is really straight forward. And if you need some convincing about why Windows Phone is superior, read this.

If you need a push to get started developing, there are several incentives. The most popular, and the most fun I would argue, is Nokia’s DVLUP portal. Essentially, it’s gamification of app development, meaning you can earn badges and experience points for completing challenges. You earn points when you implement a specific feature in an app, target a specific category of apps, update your existing app to a certain standard, and much more. Then when you’ve earned enough experience points, you can redeem real life rewards. And we are talking developer centric, cool rewards such as headphones, design reviews, tools and Nokia hardware. You can even get the superior (I have one, so I’m possibly a bit biased) Nokia Lumia 1020. Not only can you get paid from monetizing your app, but you can also get rewarded with great swag.

The tools for developing are all free, including a version of Visual Studio that includes Blend, the user interface designer that removes the pain of writing manual eXtensible Application Markup Language (XAML), as well as the emulators needed to run your app on a virtual environment. To start out, you don’t even need a physical device, although some elements need one to test them properly.

I know from various events and talking to other developers that there are developer kits available to newbies. If you talk to your local Microsoft or Nokia representative and present your case, you can borrow physical devices, and often there are local or regional competitions, which offer up devices as prices.

Cross-platform efficiency

I can understand if you’re now thinking, “Yes, I would like to build an awesome Windows Phone app, but I don’t want to build three version to get it on all platforms.” That’s a perfectly reasonable concern. But the good news is that you don’t have to! There are a few cross-platform tools available, with the most popular being Xamarin, if you’re a .NET developer. Another popular choice if you are a front-end developer in particular, is Adobe’s PhoneGap. Both provide one development environment that can target all three platforms. Although they are different in approach, the ultimate result is the same. You develop once and produce three different apps, one for each platform.

The tools are improving all the time and my favourite at the moment is Xamarin, although that is a matter of personal preference. My background is not in the front end, so Xamarin fits my skillset better than PhoneGap, but both are great.

App Studio

If you don’t have much experience creating mobile apps, especially for Windows Phone, but still want to create a Windows Phone app, don’t stress. The latest initiative from Microsoft is called App Studio and “lets you swiftly build apps for immediate publishing, testing, and sharing with clients, co-workers, and focus groups.”

It is an entirely online experience, and you can really build an app in just hours. You can build from a template, add your own content and get the source code – which essentially is ready for publishing if you don’t want to make any changes to it. It is best suited for simpler reference type apps, such as company profiles and blog content, but can be an accelerator for more complex apps as well.

It really makes it possible for anyone who can use a computer to build their own app. It’s much more powerful than it’s given credit for, and for simple ideas and apps it really makes sense. It’s even a great way to start if just want to get some code to look at.

With so many development options designed for everyone from beginners to veteran developers, and with the current mobile market stats as positive as they are, the decision to create apps for Windows Phone should be an easy one.

About the Author

Lars is a solution architect, Pluralsight Author, Microsoft MVP, podcast host and keen tech geek with a passion for the Microsoft ecosystem. He is a stickler for best practices and using industry standards to produce awesome, robust and maintainable software. He was selected among 10 in the world to participate in Nokia’s FutureCapture hackathon in Sweden, developing cutting edge prototypes for the Nokia Lumia phones and won the Melbourne AppFest for his Image of The Day Windows Phone Application. He continues to develop Windows apps for both phone and desktop. As a frequent blogger, Lars is a writer for Pluralsight,, SitePoint and his own blog at, often presenting arguments that are not quite main stream, but with a dash of humour and a smidgen of cheekiness. Lars is co-founder of the DDD Melbourne community event with over 350 participants, now in its sixth year running and has presented at various technical events, both nationally and internationally. Follow Lars on Twitter @larsklint.

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