What Silicon Valley should learn from Windows Phone 7 app developers (First looks at Zagat and Loopt's apps!)

So, if you haven’t heard about Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 yet, you are either living under a rock or Amish or something like that. Microsoft is spending a billion in advertising the new system. Will it be successful? Well, I’ve been visiting app developers to figure that out.

Early results? Yes, it will be successful. Why? A few reasons:

1. It’s a sexy new OS that gives app developers more capabilities. You’ll see that in the Loopt video when CEO Sam Altman brags that his app is able to display info right on the home screen.
2. Developing for it is easy and consistent across the devices that it runs on, unlike Android, which requires testing and specialized development for each different handset.
3. There are a ton of bored developers who are familiar with .NET and Visual Studio who are chomping at the bit.
4. Almost every developer I’ve met lately has been approached by Microsoft’s evangelists (I used to be one so am familiar with the tactic) and have been offered everything from money, to discounts on other Microsoft products, to developer time to port apps. Microsoft knows that if its system has no apps no one will buy its phones, even if most customers use very few apps (the belief that they are missing out on a more capable ecosystem, they know, will keep them from buying).
5. The hooks with Microsoft Xbox have developers intrigued. Why? Well, just sign into Xbox Live and see how many people are online right now. I’ve been playing with Microsoft Kinect for the past few days and, damn, a lot of my friends are into Xbox. Gaming drives a lot of revenue on phones. Just talk to the folks who developed Angry Birds.

So, what can Silicon Valley’s mobile companies (Apple, Google, and others) learn from these developers?

First, watch the videos with Zagat’s head of mobile, Ryan Charles, showing off its Windows Phone 7 app:

And also take a look at Loopt’s Windows Phone 7 app, as shown by Loopt’s CEO, Sam Altman:

1. Phones now are going to be judged on what info will get displayed on the home screen. That makes Apple’s iPhone look lacking. Apple’s screen just shows you a count of things that are waiting for you. For instance, Whrrl on my home screen is showing “8.” That means that eight messages or friend requests are waiting for me. But that’s pretty lame compared to Windows Phone 7, which shows a lot more detail.
2. Apps are going to need to be photographic in tone. Look at the new Zagat app’s home screen and how beautiful it is. Makes Zagat’s app on iPhone and Android look pretty lame and Nokia and RIM? Not even in the ballgame.
3. Apps are going to need to have better cross-app links. Look at Zagat. It displays info from Foursquare users (tips) and Foodspotting users (photos of meals). Take that further, Apple is starting to look dated because its apps don’t allow interoperation. Wait until Tuesday and you’ll see another example on Android of how a system can do better integration than is allowed on iPhones.
4. Microsoft’s Xbox Live is showing signs of becoming a full-blown social network that could make Google very jealous. How? Well, I stood in front of my Kinect tonight and it recognized it was me, not my wife. Also, we’re using Xbox to watch movies, download music, video conference with friends (very cool feature of the new Kinect, by the way), and do other things. Facebook, Google, and Apple better watch for those things to come to Windows Phone 7.
5. The real money is in enterprises. While Apple had to convince us one-by-one to stand in line to get our iPhones, Microsoft knows that it can convince entire companies to switch, which will bring tens of thousands, or sometimes even hundreds of thousands of users in one swoop. Heck, I work for Rackspace and we have 3,000 users. If Rackspace decided on one phone system over another, I’d have to use it even if I didn’t like the choice (luckily Rackspace hasn’t been like most enterprises so far). I’ve already started seeing chatter of entire companies going one way or another. Microsoft has some big sticks to convince CTOs to go with Windows Mobile “would you like a deal on Exchange, Sharepoint, SQL Server, and Office?” Google and Apple don’t yet have a consistent answer to the Microsoft salesforce.
6. Google and Apple have to treat developers better to ensure innovative developers support them only. Microsoft +is+ winning over developers due to easier-to-use-and-more-powerful development tools and love and feeding due to 1,100 evangelists working the globe. Does Apple have 1,100 evangelists? No way. Neither does Google. So both have to find ways to make developers more loyal. In Apple’s case there’s industry-leading revenues. In Google’s case? Number of handsets. Will those arguments work in 2011 though? Microsoft is coming on strong.
7. But to me it comes down to the visual aesthetic. You have to see the new Zagat app. Can Apple or Google match this look and feel? Not yet, and that’s something they should look to beat.

How is Apple fighting back?

Well, Kik just found out how good being featured in Apple’s iTunes store is. They got more than a million users in just a few weeks. Heck, a less interesting app, FastMall, got 250,000 users the same way. Would they be able to get that many on Google or Microsoft? No way.

Also, Sephora.com tells me that most of its store’s mobile users are using Apple devices. Same thing with eBay’s CTO. OpenTable’s Mobile Team. All tell me that Apple has the most lucrative customers. Can Google or Microsoft get in on that action? Well, Zagat and Loopt aren’t leaving that to chance and have built great apps for Windows Phone 7. Other developers? They tell me they are waiting to see how Windows Phone 7 sells before dedicating precious developer time to that platform.

Listen to Zagat’s Ryan Charles and he says he is getting a lot more feedback from Apple’s users, which helps him develop better apps.

One other huge negative to Windows Phone 7 that I’ve heard from every developer: the Web browser is sub standard. Way behind Android and iPhone. I sure hope Microsoft fixes that soon, because a whole other range of developers are betting on HTML 5 to get into mobile. There’s a whole range of companies who don’t have enough developers, like Loopt and Zagat do, who want to build really great web-based apps, but who are looking at the browser in Windows Phone 7 and finding it really is crappy. That’ll hold back excitement of Windows Phone 7 for a while.

How about you? Are you excited about Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7? Are you building an app for that platform? Leave a comment here.