With its newly released Windows Phone SDK 8.0, Microsoft is offering a better story for smartphone software developers, but the SDK itself may force some developers to undergo system upgrades.
Technologists and developers who have sampled the SDK -- mainly Microsoft partners with early access, such as officials at Sencha, Telerik, and Crittercism -- mostly like what they've seen. But software architect and blogger Tad Anderson has given the SDK itself a thumbs-down, calling it a "big-time flop" in a blog entry. Still, he likes Microsoft's overall prospects in the smartphone realm.
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Windows Phone 8 expands the capabilities developers can tapWindows Phone 8 could at long last give Microsoft the smartphone it needs to make up for lost ground in the mobile space, which is now dominated by Google's Android smartphones and Apple's iPhone. "Our developer community, our ecosystem is strongly telling us that Windows Phone 8 is a platform they're going to pay attention to," says Aditya Bansod, vice president of product marketing at mobile software development platform provider Sencha.
Unlike its predecessor, Windows Phone 7.5 platform, the Windows Phone 8 SDK supports Web-based development in the Internet Explorer 10 browser, Bansod says. He claims that will translate to more more applications developed for Windows Phone 8, for which the first devices are shipping in Europe this week, with U.S. models expected before Christmas.
Windows Phone 8 also supports a much greater range of hardware components such as near-field communications radios, as well as dual- or quad-core processors and better screen and camera resolution, says Chris Sells, vice president of developer at tools vendor Telerik. Speech-recognition APIs are also new to Windows Phone 8. "Windows Phone 8 finally allows phone manufacturers to build cutting-edge hardware, which is something that wasn't a possibility in Windows Phone 7."
The SDK itself allows developers to build in backward compatibility with Windows Phone 7 applications, Sells says. Another early user, David Albrecht, director of platforms at performance monitoring software vendor Crittercism, cited XAML development capabilities as well as compatibility with Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE. "I like the XAML authoring experience a lot."
Developers may need a new PC to develop for Windows PhoneThe glowing praise for Windows Phone 8 from tools vendors is tempered by discontent from some early users. "[The SDK is] a flop because of the level of difficulty Microsoft has managed to add to getting it up and running for those of us running in a virtual environment. Adding the Hyper-V [virtualization] requirement has shut us down," says software architect Anderson.
Hyper-V is needed to run the Windows Phone SDK 8 emulator, and to run Hyper-V, some developers may need new PCs. "There is a lot of grumbling," Anderson says. "You need to have a 64-bit machine running Windows 8 Pro, with a processor that supports second-level address translation to enable Hyper-V."
From tools vendors, the emulator gets high marks for performance but low marks for its system requirements. The SDK "has a very, very high-quality device emulator," Bansod says. But he concurs that the hardware requirements for the emulator and the SDK, which favor Windows 8 PCs, could pose a problem. "There's definitely a piece of it there that puts up a barrier to developers," he says.
Anoher barrier is the the lack of tooling support in the SDK, says Crittercism's Albrecht. For example, "NUnit, which is a popular .Net test tool, has not yet been ported to Windows Phone 8," he says.
Despite his strong criticism of Windows Phone 8's SDK, Anderson believes in Microsoft's latest phone and tablet efforts: "Microsoft will gain a market share over the next three to four years that will make all the pain they are putting the development community through right now worth it," he says. "They have too many people who are dependent on their success to allow this push into the mobile market to fail. In fact, those depending on them will pretend it is a success long enough for it to become one."
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