App developers get ready for Windows 8 :: Can this lead to another opportunity in mobile applications development?

Last month, Microsoft gave developers and journalists a chance to tinker with a developer preview of Windows 8, the latest overhaul of the OS that merges tablet, desktop, and mobile application development.

With Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system (OS), the technology giant is attempting to rethink its platform to bring in big changes to the user interface and navigation. One of the biggest components of this platform’s success would be application developers.

Microsoft has announced that developers from 120 markets (including India) will be able to publish their Windows 8 apps and start selling them online on Windows App Store from October 26, when the new OS will be commercially launched.

The tablet and touch friendly face of the OS, formerly called Metro, and now called simply Windows 8-style (and which I’ll call new-style to avoid confusion), can be used to launch the new set of Windows 8-style apps, which run full-screen and are designed for touch with simple and consisent interfaces. But it can also serve as a launcher for the desktop-style apps that Windows users have been accustomed to. In RTM, the Start screen tiles for desktop apps get a slight face-lift, with larger and in some cases redesigned icons.

The sheer number of apps, both free and paid, was the primary reason why Apple and Google succeeded with their iOS and Android platforms, respectively, and also where Research in Motion (RIM) failed with its BlackBerry OS. With 3,500 developers participating at its AppFest earlier this month, Microsoft is throwing the red carpet to welcome developers.

The other advantage of Windows 8 is that it lets app developer monetise their applications. Microsoft will offer developers the option of using in-app transactions to make money or get the money upfront from the users for their apps. Alternatively, the developers can rely on the ad-funded model. The minimum price of an app, according to Microsoft, will be as low as $1.49 or as high as $999.

Microsoft, like Apple, will keep 30 per cent of the app price on sales up to $25,000. For app sales beyond this, the Redmond-based company will keep 20 per cent. This revenue-sharing arrangement for a company like Rovio, which made a killing selling Angry Birds, could mean a potentially larger pay cheque from Microsoft over competing platforms.

After iOS, we will be considering the Windows platform for our apps, before we even think of Android where monetisation is extremely difficult.

Even developers who don’t have a Windows 8 app are betting the platform would open new doors. Developers also see Windows 8 as an alternative to Google’s Android OS, one of the most popular OSes.  The Android ecosystem is fragmented at the moment, as developers have to configure apps according to different devices and the experience varies for each device. Secondly, there is no real business model surrounding Android. Google has not provided for any payment mechanism. Although one can depend on advertisement revenue, that is still very small.

Apart from computers and tablets, the Windows 8 OS also supports apps on Xbox console and smartphones, providing developers a much larger opportunity than its rivals. Windows has sold 630 million licences in about 200 countries and has a 90 per cent share of the OS market, which indicates the upgrade potential for Windows 8. The new OS will also allow users to make purchases for their Xbox 360 gaming and queue them up for download on the console. In other words, Microsoft hopes to unify the OS across device platforms.

According to the latest Developer Economics report, Apple’s iOS is the most expensive platform to develop apps on, where an average app development costs about $27,000, making it 21 per cent more expensive than Android. The average app will take approximately three months to develop. A Windows Phone app, on the other hand, costs about $17,500 and an average Android app costs $22,617. “Naturally, app development costs depend on the country and app category. For example, iOS is faster to develop communication and social networking apps than Android,” the report notes.

Microsoft has also launched a four-month long programme across 50 cities in India, titled TechDays, to promote developers and technology enthusiasts to create apps for its OS.

Although Microsoft and its partner on the mobile front, Nokia, are going all out to woe developers and customers, its success will only be decided over the next few quarters.

So overall let’s take a moment to enumerate what the new OS brings to the party for everyone:

  • Much faster startup. Let’s be honest, there’s no comparison with the time it takes to start using an iPad versus a Windows 7 laptop. Windows 8 makes great strides towards eliminating this difference.
  • New Start screen with live tiles that update with app info such as arriving emails, news items, weather, and stock tickers. Default apps are included that provide all this.
  • Syncing with all your PCs through Microsoft account sign in. This capability syncs personalization preferences, Internet Explorer favorites, backgrounds, WiFi passwords and more with cloud-connected accounts.
  • New App Store. The apps sold here will run on both Windows 8 tablets and full PCs. The apps will have to pass standards, and can be updated and installed on multiple PCs in your account (just as with the Mac App Store). They’ll also get the ability to connect with other apps for services like email or social network updating.
  • Improved battery life for laptops as well as tablets.
  • Faster Wi-Fi reconnect times.
  • Faster graphics and text performance, thanks to hardware acceleration.
  • A much improved Internet Explorer 10, with far better support for the new HTML5 standards and faster performance.
  • New file folder window choices.
  • New Task Manager
  • Trusted Boot. This prevents malware from loading before the OS, on systems with UEFI boot. In general, security is much tighter in Windows 8 than in Windows 7 (though we’ve heard that song before).
  • Built in Consumer apps—People, for social network contacts; Photos, Mail, Messaging, Calendar, Video,
  • ISO mounting. The OS can now make a disc image file appear as a drive.
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