During year 2011, Windows Phone got quite a bit of traction. It finally reached a more mature stage with the release of the Mango update - a big step forward compared to its 1.0 Vanilla release. Just this October, the platform hit its 1 year milestone and it already gained a solid developer mass, as well as a number of applications that are able to attract the casual user.
Release of the Mango SDK & phone update
The initial (Vanilla) release was nowhere close to being perfect. It wasn't bad, but it needed many improvements - better social integration, background tasks, Internet sharing and many other consumer and developer-based features. More than that, the development kit was quite limited. Developers had ideas and plans, but the SDK didn't offer the necessary API endpoints to implement those - for example, access to direct camera streams, ringtones and alerts. Of course there were workarounds, where developers tried to invoke undocumented function calls, but that was not acceptable for applications that were later submitted in the Marketplace, as according to established policies no applications can be accepted for official public distribution if they are invoking interop calls or are using undocumented capabilities. The SDK later added support for multitasking, direct access to static and dynamic camera streams, as well as to various OS-wide capabilities, like alarms and reminders.
Windows Phone Web Marketplace & OTA application installs
Not everyone has constant access to a Zune desktop client, and often there is no need for one. With the web marketplace, developers can now share links to their applications on any platform. With proper credentials, users are also able to initiate a remote download and install of an application that is available on the Marketplace, given that their Live ID is associated with a physical device.
50,000 apps in the marketplace
With thousands of registered developers, Microsoft is definitely pushing the Marketplace forward at a pretty decent speed. Only a month ago the 40,000 milestone was reached, and now there are 50,000 approved applications available for download. With this rate of growth, we might see 100,000+ applications by the end of next year, and that is a giant step for Windows Phone as a platform competing with already well-established players.
Mango locks down the interop hole for non-OEMs
With all the excitement for native development that started when COM bits were found in pre-NoDo and NoDo OEM applications, Microsoft patched the hole that blocked native driver access for third-party applications that are not signed with the proper OEM-issued certificates. Later it was discovered that the lockdown can easily be lifted when the MaxUnsignedApps registry value is set to be more than 300. This is not a universal solution, as there are still devices without registry writing access (looking at Dell Venue Pro).
2nd generation Windows Phone devices are released
- Nokia Lumia 800
- HTC Titan
- HTC Radar
- Samsung Focus Flash
- Samsung Focus S
These devices sport a better CPU, dual cameras, better batteries and generally are much more performant than first generation devices.
Windows Marketplace now allows beta-testing
In case you wanted to privately distribute your application only to a limited number of testers, you were stuck to develop your own distribution mechanism with the old Marketplace submission process. Now, however, you are able to create a beta release and add device-linked Live IDs of your beta-testers, so that they can download your application and test it right through the Marketplace. This has several benefits. First, the users don't have to be developers. You don't need to explain them how to deploy a XAP or how to compile your source-code. Second - the test devices don't have to be developer-unlocked. This broadens your audience, and even though the developer is limited to a maximum number of 100 beta-testers, those can represent various target user groups.
Native access development possible thanks to XDA efforts
Even though driver access is blocked, this doesn't mean that general native access is blocked as well. Heathcliff74 of XDA created a guide that explains pretty well what you have to do if you want to develop a native Windows Phone application. Of course, there will be several roadblocks on the way, one of them including the requirement to use Visual Studio 2008 with the Windows Mobile 6 Professional SDK (both are commercial products and are available through MSDN), but that pays off in the long run, since developers are able to acces a much more extended set of APIs, including registry read, screen capture and process enumeration. I should note that even though native access is possible, without interop-unlock the application will still be running in a protected sandbox that will not let the developer access driver-based capabilities, like writing to the registry.
Major applications hit the Windows Phone Marketplace
A factor that attracts new users to a mobile platform is the availability of major application brands in the mobile marketplace associated with the platform. With the Mango update, major applications and games finally hit the Windows Phone Marketplace. Those include (of course, not limited to) Spotify, Vevo, SkyDrive, Xbox Companion, Evernote, Sims, Need for Speed, Guitar Hero and Doodle Jump.