With mobile phones, sexy hardware is all very well–but the main purpose of sexy hardware is to run useful (or fun) software. And the vast majority of the software that today’s phones run is written not by phone operating system companies but by third-party developers.
So one of the very biggest questions about Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 isn’t whether it looks slick and functional (it does) or if it’ll be a cakewalk for the company to reenter the mobile OS wars at this late date (it won’t). It’s whether enough software companies will build cool Windows Phone software quickly enough to make the platform feel like it’s part of the App Era.
As I’ve met with mobile software companies over the past few months, I’ve had a hard time getting a sense of Windows Phone 7’s prospects. Almost all the ones I’ve asked have said that they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude. But Microsoft has been holding an event at its Silicon Valley campus for some of the mobile developers who belong to its BizSpark program for startups. The companies at the meeting are convening in an auditorium to crank away at Windows phone 7 apps. Microsoft employees are providing both technical and business advice.
I visited with some of the developers yesterday–including name-brand companies and some I wasn’t familiar with–and came away feeling cautiously optimistic.