Mobile app development is an ever-growing and extremely competitive field of software production. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) and its marketplace offer developers a great new platform for their software, providing advantages over other mobile markets. While there are many benefits, here are my top 7 reasons for being a WP7 developer.
XNA, Microsoft’s game development framework, is my current favorite set of tools to develop with and my framework of choice for games on the WP7. XNA is easy to use, yet powerful enough to create amazing games by providing a useful set of game specific libraries without limiting what the developer can do. This allows new game developers to get up and running quickly while still providing plenty of room for experienced devs to grow and invent.
While XNA is my framework of choice for games, Silverlight is best for data-driven programs. Silverlight separates the front-end (UI) with the back-end (logic), giving designers and developers the ability to work in parallel. Using Microsoft Blend, designers are able to actually implement their creations via a graphical user interface, while developers only have to worry about the back-end.
Built in controls
The built in controls found in both of the above frameworks greatly speed up the development process. The Silverlight controls are extremely straight forward and provide the basis for making applications that have the WP7 look and feel. Silverlight for WP7 has been updated to provide all sorts of important mobile controls right out of the box, ranging from the panorama and pivot (exclusive to WP7) to sliders, buttons, listboxes and tons of other goodies. On the XNA side, the framework already provides all the common pieces needed to make a game. XNA is built off an update and draw loop, has functionality for drawing textures, and includes lots of game specific math (my favorite are the vector calculations). Along with what’s included in the frameworks, the Creators website has a huge educational catalog that contains code for both XNA and Silverlight doing just about anything you can imagine.
Cross Platform Possibilities
Although programming for the WP7 is great, sometimes you want to branch off onto other platforms. Fortunately, XNA can be used on the PC, Xbox 360, and the Microsoft Surface, while Silverlight can be found on the PC and the web. Many of the Silverlight controls can be easily ported to WPF, and since everything is based around C#, much of the back end logic can transfer between any of these frameworks and beyond.
The WP7’s small marketplace size is a huge benefit to developers on the platform. In other mobile markets there are hundreds of apps that all do the same thing, but on the WP7 marketplace some of these apps have yet to be created. Developers still have the chance to make a splash with ideas that have already grown stale in other markets, and releasing the first app to fill a function not yet found can be a big win. Along with the small store size, the WP7 marketplace also has relatively high standards. Applications must pass the store review to ensure they meet WP7 guidelines and standards. There is also a limit to the number of free apps that a developer can release, lessening the amount of free apps flooding the marketplace. With the store review and the free app limit, developers are able to charge higher prices and generate more revenue.
Xbox Live Integration
Being able to harness the power of Xbox Live that Microsoft has already built with the Xbox is a major bonus for WP7 developers. The most exciting part of this integration is being able to use Microsoft’s achievements. Since Microsoft introduced achievements, they have become a must-have in gaming and the WP7 gives you the power of the real thing. Gamers can now increase their gamer score by playing your mobile game. Alongside the draw of achievements you also get access to all kinds of other live functionality including a gamer’s avatar and Live Leaderboards.
Easy to Get Started
Getting started with development on the WP7 is extremely simple. A big reason for this is Microsoft’s App Hub website where you can find all of the tools needed free to download. The only cost is a $99 per year Creator’s Club Account, which is used for the actual release of your app to the store and for deploying to a real device. Fortunately, this is not needed to develop on the WP7 emulator, meaning it is very possible to get your entire app complete or close too before having to sign up. The creators website also provides an awesome get started section (for games and apps) and a huge catalog of educational code samples that can be used, modified, and experimented with as you need free of charge. With all the App Hub website has to offer, you can go from having no tools whatsoever to a WP7 app up and running in a few hours.
These benefits are only the tip of what the Windows Phone 7 has to offer. With the Mango update on the horizon (look for a post on that soon), the future looks bright. Whether you are looking to port a current project to a new market or start a brand new one, consider the advantages of the WP7.