ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

The State of Worldwide WP7 Publishing after MIX11

4/26/2011 10:11:58 AM

I’m back from MIX11 and a short vacation after that. It is now beside the point to write anything about general topics from MIX, but as I took on a duty of advocating expansion of Windows Phone marketplace accessibility, I’d like to address what was announced and changed after MIX11.

In this post I’ll talk about developer (publishing) accessibility.

8 (9?) new countries in more than a year. Really!?

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I was still operating in moderate optimism mode (aka stupidity) before MIX. Hoping a lot of new developer countries will be announced (including Lithuania). I’ve got a couple hints that this won’t be the case and it wasn’t.

In more than a year Microsoft has managed to add support for 8 (or is it 9? (see below)) new developer countries. I’m pretty sure a single full time employee working on that could do more in a year, but oh, well. It’s clear now that this sort of expansion is not a priority for Microsoft or they are just waiting for Nokia to bring that part to the table.

Fortunately they at least did something to mitigate the issue.

Global Publishing Partners

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Earlier this year MS announced Yalla Apps as their first official global publishing partner (aka proxy) for Middle East and Africa. I’ve seen different reactions to this – from awe to someone calling it a spit in the face of developers.

I consider it to be what it actually is – a workaround. Something that gets the job done in civilized, but not very elegant manner.

Now they’ve announced additional partners to cover a total of 102 countries. Each has some “focus” countries but actually accepts developers from all over the world (except for officially supported countries).

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The funny part is that no one can tell what that “focus” really means. I’ve got some vague answers that it has something to do with partner using locally preferred payment methods, operating in closer time zone (for better support), etc. But Yalla Apps (which doesn’t “focus” on Lithuania) uses PayPal for payments (which is fine with me) and is located 1 timezone away from me, when our suggested partner (APPA Market) is 2 timezones away. So that “focus” aspect doesn’t seem all that important.

What really pissed me off during the session was this:

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Paid updates are bad for EVERYONE

When APPA Market was announced I immediately went to their web site and saw a price table which had (and still has) this bullet point:

  • Application update £15

Yalla Apps had a similar (yet slightly cheaper) structure. I expressed my concerns to Todd Brix after the session and tweeted this

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and to my surprise when I checked Yalla Apps prices yesterday they were like this:

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(1 credit <= $1). Now 1 credit is not totally free but is negligibly cheap. Kudos to Yalla Apps for listening to the community. APPA Market is still where it was on April 14th.

I understand that these publishing partners are for-profit organizations and aren’t supposed to do charity work or something like that, but being an official partner already gives them way more exposure and business than they would get otherwise. On the other hand they let Microsoft be lazy in this area, so MS could chip in a little or make the process for partners as easy as possible (good APIs to publish updates automatically, etc.).

Paid updates are bad for …

  • Microsoft and Windows Phone ecosystem in general. Developers won’t publish minor updates or even critical updates for non-profit (or no profit) apps if it costs them 15 pounds for each typo. This would result in lower quality apps in the marketplace and is very bad for the ecosystem.
  • Global Publishing Partners. On paper it looks like partners would be making money with paid updates but in reality I think it would result in less developers joining them based on such fee structure and of those who joined fewer will be actually posting the updates. Speaking for myself I decided not to join any of them when I saw that fee structure.
  • Developers. Well, this is obvious. And it even more depressing when you see 1st class “citizens” not only getting direct service but paying incomparably less for it.

Conclusion

Based on what I saw I was planning to turn my back on actual WP7 development for another cycle and further concentrate on my related projects (AdDuplex and amCharts). But now, with updated Yalla Apps pricing, I’m seriously considering joining them. I’ll wait till APPA Market launches on May 1st and if their pricing doesn’t change I’ll go with Yalla even though they are not my “focus” partner.

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Obstruction Detection in Silverlight for Windows Phone

4/3/2011 1:12:14 PM

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AdDuplex Silverlight control is used quite often as a fallback for other networks. As a result it could be obstructed by the other network’s control at times. Problem is that in general case we can’t rely on developers always collapsing AdDuplex control when it’s not visible or informing it about this state in any way.

The other problem is that some of the other network controls (namely Microsoft’s pubCenter) don’t collapse when they have no ad to show, but rather either collapse some internal elements or just make them transparent. This allows underlying elements to show through but they still don’t get the touch events.

So I decided to solve this programmatically. It sounded really easy, but as usual there are some small things that stand in the way.

Meet ObstructionDetector

I’ve created a class with some helper methods that could be useful both in the above scenario and probably some other. You can find it in full at the end of this post.

The “title” method of this class is IsElementObstructed:

public static bool IsElementObstructed(FrameworkElement target)
{
var page = GetPage(target);
var frame = GetFrame(target);
var transform = target.TransformToVisual(frame);
var rect = TransformBoundsToPortrait(transform.TransformBounds(new Rect(0, 0, target.ActualWidth, target.ActualHeight)), page);
var covers = VisualTreeHelper.FindElementsInHostCoordinates(rect, page);

if (covers != null && covers.Count() > 0)
{
return !IsElementChildOf(covers.First(), target);
}

return false;
}

You just pass an element in question to it and it returns true if there’s something in the way of user’s eyes or fingers in front of this element.

The key technique is to use VisualTreeHelper.FindElementsInHostCoordinates() method. It returns elements residing in the same rectangle on the screen as our target. The elements are returned in the descending z-index order. So what’s left to do is to check if the first element in returned collection belongs to (is a child of) our target. If so, then there’s nothing in the way.

A few gocthas

Everything is portrait to VisualTreeHelper.FindElementsInHostCoordinates()

I’ve spent quite some time trying to figure out why the code worked fine in Portrait pages but didn’t work in Landscape. Turns out FindElementsInHostCoordinates() considers everything as portrait oriented even when other parts operate correctly. Apparently this is “by design”. So we need to adjust to this “feature”. For that I’ve added TransformBoundsToPortrait() method.

Get PhoneApplicationPage by going up the visual tree

It’s tempting to use Application.Current.RootVisual and assume it’s child is our PhoneApplicationPage, but it’s not the case in some cases (like page transitions in Silverlight Toolkit). So it’s safer to just go up the visual tree until we find the page.

Account for SystemTray

We need to create a transform based on PhoneApplicationFrame (not Page) since transforming from PhoneApplicationPage doesn’t include optional SystemTray and can result in offset in the results.

Known Issues

  • VisualTreeHelper.FindElementsInHostCoordinates() doesn’t return elements with IsHitTestVisible set to false. So if someone creates a cover for your control and set this property to false it won’t be detected. Any ideas?

Feedback

I know this code is far from perfect, but it’s what I’ve got so far. I would really appreciated your feedback on how to improve it. The class is too small for a separate OS project or something like that, but I’d be happy if someone included it in some WP7 toolkit and improved on it.

The code

using System.Windows;
using System.Windows.Media;
using System.Linq;
using Microsoft.Phone.Controls;
 
namespace Ailon.Phone.Tools
{
    public static class ObstructionDetector
    {
        public static PhoneApplicationPage GetPage(DependencyObject target)
        {
            var parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(target);
            while (parent != null && !(parent is PhoneApplicationPage))
            {
                parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(parent);
            }
 
            return (parent as PhoneApplicationPage);
        }
 
        public static PhoneApplicationFrame GetFrame(DependencyObject target)
        {
            var parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(target);
            while (parent != null && !(parent is PhoneApplicationFrame))
            {
                parent = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(parent);
            }
 
            return (parent as PhoneApplicationFrame);
        }
 
        public static Rect TransformBoundsToPortrait(Rect bounds, PhoneApplicationPage page)
        {
            if ((page.Orientation & PageOrientation.Portrait) > 0)
            {
                return bounds;
            }
            else
            {
                Rect result;
 
                if (page.Orientation == PageOrientation.LandscapeLeft)
                {
                    result = new Rect(bounds.Y, bounds.X, bounds.Height, bounds.Width);
                }
                else
                {
                    result = new Rect(bounds.Y, 800 - bounds.X - bounds.Width, bounds.Height, bounds.Width);
                }
 
                return result;
            }
        }
 
        public static bool IsElementObstructed(FrameworkElement target)
        {
            var page = GetPage(target);
            var frame = GetFrame(target);
            var transform = target.TransformToVisual(frame);
            var rect = TransformBoundsToPortrait(transform.TransformBounds(new Rect(0, 0, target.ActualWidth, target.ActualHeight)), page);
            var covers = VisualTreeHelper.FindElementsInHostCoordinates(rect, page);
 
            if (covers != null && covers.Count() > 0)
            {
                return !IsElementChildOf(covers.First(), target);
            }
 
            return false;
        }
 
        public static bool IsElementChildOf(DependencyObject element, DependencyObject parent)
        {
            var current = element;
            while (current != null)
            {
                if (current == parent)
                {
                    return true;
                }
 
                current = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(current);
            }
 
            return false;
        }
 
    }
}

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Windows Phone 7 Users, We All Need to Chill!

3/26/2011 11:33:27 AM

Let me start by stating that I’m not happy with current situation around Windows Phone 7 updates. I have an unbranded WP7 device and have yet to see the NoDo update supposedly released to open market devices 3 days ago.

I should also say that, even though I know close to nothing about public relations, it’s a completely strange PR move to release this “happy face” video 2 days after you get 200+ unhappy comments to your blog post.

This would’ve been good for a general public TV outlet, but general public doesn’t watch videos on Channel 9. Only geeks do. And geeks are not happy.

That said…

… when I read comments about class action suits and stuff like:

It's been a long time since I've watched an interview that made me want to jump through my screen and strangle somebody like this one did.

It makes me go WTF!? Come on people, it’s just a f***ing update for a f***ing phone.

As I see it it’s a pure PR disaster, not technical disaster, not business disaster. Just an odd approach to informing the public.

When Microsoft says they’ve RTMed next version of Windows and you’ll get it in 3 months, we all go “Hooray!”. When Microsoft says they’ve shipped NoDo and you’ll get it in 3 weeks we all go like “What a bunch of a***oles and liars!”.

I see it simply as approaching this consumer device business the same way as enterprise or even consumer PC business. This is wrong but it’s far from “the sky is falling”. No one is going to die from receiving the update one month later than his neighbor. It’s just Microsoft’s PR pissing people off by leading them to perception of the process as a tragedy.

We’re cornering them by demanding more transparency and unfortunately they don’t know how to handle it. They are giving us a date and miss it a little. The new date is totally valid from their point of view. They’ve shipped the bits to “manufacturing”. The only problem – it’s not a milestone for us. We only care when we actually get it on our devices.

IMHO, they should have silently started rolling the update and publicly announced it on March 31. The new “late March” date would be met and there would be at least a few happy people with update on their phones to support their PR efforts.

So to sum up… We should definitely let them know that their perception of the process is incorrect from the consumers perspective, but going all crazy about this is definitely over the top. I really don’t want to associate with these crazy people so I’m just going to shut up about this update business.

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Don’t “monetize” your WP7 apps on Day 1

2/4/2011 1:29:25 PM

cents

Disclaimer: I’m the creator of AdDuplex. That said the thinking outlined in this post is what led to creation of AdDuplex and not the other way around.

From Zero to Hero

Obviously money is not the main and/or only reason most of us are in business of creating of Windows Phone 7 apps. That said getting paid for the time we spent on creating that nice app is what most of us wouldn’t mind at all. But here’s a news flash. A sad one, I must add. Not even the top independent WP7 publishers have bought themselves nice Lamborghinis with WP7 money.

Most of the developers of top WP7 apps are doing OK for a side gig, but not more than that. And most of them were there at launch and gained their momentum from being one of the first apps in their respective category.

Back in December, 2010 Jeff Webber has posted some sales numbers for Krashlander – one of the top paid (if not THE top) indy games on WP7. The numbers are obviously a little outdated, but unless you are sitting on something you consider deserving to be a supermegahit, you should look at these numbers as top limit for the nearest future.

Sigurd Snørteland has posted download and sales data for his 4 apps more recently in addition to previously posted data. His Tetris7 game is #12 free app at the time of this writing. Meaning it’s close to the maximum possible downloads for the app at the moment. His cumulative download stats show that Tetris7 had an install base of not more than 170,000 on January 8, 2011.

tetris7_marketplace_jan_2010_all

Considering that each of these installs shows 1 ad per day on average (which is wishful thinking, imo) and he gets $1 per 1000 impressions this results in about $170 per day or about $5000 per month. Not that bad until you consider that this number is based on wishful thinking and it’s one of the top apps. Plus it’s Tetris and I’m still not sure how legal the game is anyway.

And I’ve posted my more than modest numbers for Tic-Tac-Toe 3D. Consider that free version is #606 free app in Marketplace (#726 overall) right now.

image

Which is still in top 10% of the apps in the marketplace.

You can see the picture, so make your own conclusions.

Go Free, Ad-less or AdDuplex

During gold rush periods people tend to forget general business rules. If you are in it for a long run your goal at launch should be building reputation, buzz and as a result popularity for your app, not turning a profit.

So, unless your app is a novelty app or related to some specific event in time, I would strongly argue that your best bet is going free right now. Remember that you can switch from free to paid later, but not the other way around.

It’s probably not wise to run paid ads at the beginning either, considering that the returns won’t be sizeable at first and overall situation in advertising space on WP7. By far the most income generating ad network on WP7 is Microsoft’s own pubCenter but it’s limited to USA (both developers and users) and even US people experienced some issues getting signed up. Other networks seem to be working on pay-per-click (not per-impression) basis and don’t generate any substantial revenue according to reports from developers using them.

In the R.I.P. GooNews blog post in addition to describing issues with pubCenter Shawn Wildermuth writes:

I went with AdMob to serve ads.  The experience there isn't great as their pay model is per-click not CPM (so I haven't received any revenue from GooNews' ads) but at least they were serving ads across the world, not just in the USA.

So, basically there aren’t many options for generating reasonable revenue from the free app at the moment anyway. And, as I stated above, I would argue that this is not what you should be thinking about at this point in marketplace evolution.

So I’d say either go ad-less or use the ad space to promote your own apps, products or services. It is wise to be prepared for the moment when your app gets popular enough and the number of phones in the market increases to the point when it makes sense to try and make money from the advertisements. When that time comes you might find yourself in a situation when there’s no screen real estate you can dedicate to ads. So think ahead (but don’t overthink) of a place you can incorporate the ads if you decide to go ad-supported.

Another option is to use the advertising space to get free promotion for your app by helping other developers promote their. I’ve created AdDuplex with that particular idea in mind and that what it does. Once you are ready to make money from your app you can intermix AdDuplex ads with ads from commercial network of phase it out altogether. But for the time being popularity of your app is what you should be concerned with the most. This is how I see it.

banner_square_free

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Windows Phone 7 Marketplace – Excel Economy

2/1/2011 3:36:08 PM

Yesterday I’ve posted about Trial vs. Free Windows Phone 7 app usage. Since I’ve already started analyzing statistics, I decided to look at it from other angle.

One aspect of my “WP7 activism” in recent months has been a “fight” for worldwide expansion of Windows Phone 7 marketplace (they are not awarding WP7 MVP awards for that ;). About 1400 people have signed a petition asking for action or at least information on the subject (have you?), but Microsoft keeps it’s silence. So I decided to look at my app usage data on a country basis.

Note: the data is taken from Google Analytics based on IP addresses. So it’s not affected by people from around the world using US or UK LiveIDs.

The Sad Reality of Excel Economy

I’ve taken the data for Tic-Tac-Toe 3D Free game (available for only 2 weeks) and grouped usage statistics by countries based on whether the country has WP7 Marketplace support or not. The app was used about 3,500 times from 68 countries. Here are the results:

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As you can see unsupported countries make up only 13% of free app usage. This means that developers and Microsoft are getting only about 13% less revenue by supporting only 17 countries (actually 16 since, as far as I know, you can’t buy apps in India) instead of the whole world. So on paper (or in Excel) worldwide expansion of marketplace services probably looks like something not worth the effort.

This is what we call “Excel Economy” at work. A few years ago our local government in the face of financial crisis decided to increase taxes in order to increase budget income. It looked like they’ve just changed tax rate in an Excel spreadsheet with data for last year and looked how the number in the “Total” column increased. Unfortunately this is not how things work in real life.

Same goes for this app usage data. Who knows why this number is so low? Do these all “other” countries really make up only 13% of potential buyers? Or maybe they don’t use apps at all because their Zune desktop client doesn’t show “Marketplace” tab at all? Or maybe they didn’t buy WP7 device in the first place because they were told that they won’t have access to the Marketplace?

Here’s another slice of the “Excel Economy”

image

Looks familiar? USA, Germany, UK, France and Italy make up 85% of the usage while 11 other supported countries only 15%. Why support them?

Anyway, I still don’t understand what’s the problem of supporting more countries is. So don’t 1400 signatories of the petition. But Microsoft likes keeping us in the dark. The same way they let users of Yahoo! Mail loose money on 3G traffic for a month while they solve their corporate problems instead of providing a quick workaround to mitigate the issue.

But I guess some things can’t be explained by logic. Especially when dealing with corporate monsters. It’s time to learn that.

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Windows Phone 7: Trial (Paid) vs. Free

1/31/2011 5:58:24 PM

It’s been about 2 weeks since I rereleased Tic-Tac-Toe 3D for WP7 as a free version. First days have seen a peak of interest from being a “new” free app, so I waited for some time to pass before making any conclusions. It seems that usage has stabilized over the past week, so let’s take a look at the stats.

The Stats

image

That’s “visits” which roughly represents the number of times the game was launched during a day. The average is 147 visits per day (~116 visitors per day).

At the same time a paid version of the same game demonstrated this usage:

image

That’s a whooping 3.7 “visits” per day. That’s almost 40x difference.

There are a couple of interesting points about these stats:

  1. the paid version has a free trial which is a fully functional single player game
  2. I promoted the paid version when it was released to some extent (video, featured in couple WP7 blogs, etc.) and did nothing for the free one (aside from using it as a case study app for AdDuplex)

The Economics

Despite huge difference in usage the economics of both versions could be pretty similar. The paid version sold 22 copies in 7 weeks which is about $15 after MS takes it share (where’s that Ferrari dealership phone number?) and the free version displays about 3300 ads a week which would be about 23,000 in 7 weeks. Assuming $1 CPM rate (which I guess is reasonable if I ran pubCenter instead of awesome AdDuplex) that would be $23 which is comparable to the revenue from the paid version.

But that’s not what I want to emphasize. Remember that paid version has a free trial which is a fully functional single player game (I guess the vast majority of the users use that anyway).

Trial API != Lite API

When Microsoft introduced a Trial API on WP7 it was in part targeted to be used to create Lite and Premium versions in one. What my stats above show is that the system doesn’t work in this capacity. The current trial mode is only good for making, well, trial – a mode which demonstrates application’s capabilities but is essentially unusable.

No one is looking at paid apps without intention to spend money. Even if the app has a fully usable free trial (with some premium features available to paid users) no one is going to try it. That’s a sad reality.

For my game it’s safe to assume that at least 80% of users would be satisfied with functionality available in the trial of the paid app (no 2 player mode and no high scores board). So the usage of the “paid” app should be no more than 20% less than for the free one, not 40 times.

The conclusion for the moment – for Lite/Premium combo your best bet is creating 2 apps.

We Need Lite API

Actually we don’t. I think it can work with current Trial API with these modifications on organizational level:

  • developers can specify (when submitting to Marketplace) that the app is Lite/Premium, rather than Trial/Full. All using the same Trial API
  • some procedure should be in place for testers to verify that Trial mode is actually Lite mode (no time bombs, fully usable basic functionality, etc.)
  • Lite/Premium apps are listed in Free section of the Marketplace.

Makes sense?

P.S.: on a side note you should check my Tic-Tac-Toe 3D game. It’s pretty nice and engaging. Zune links: free with ads, trial/paid without ads.

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WPF, Silverlight and WP7 at MIX11 – My Picks

1/26/2011 6:31:57 PM

I’ve submitted a proposal to present a talk at MIX11 conference in Las Vegas called “Developing for WPF, Silverlight and Windows Phone 7 at Once”. The proposal has passed the first round of filtering and now it needs your votes to get me into one of the 10 spots. With more than 200 candidates that’s going to be a tough task. But it’s doable, right? RIGHT!?

image

If you like the subject of my talk you can vote for it by selecting all the cats in the CAPTCHA and pressing the “Vote for the session” button.

Obviously mine is not the only great proposal there. Here are some of my favorites I voted for:

  • First of all my virtual friend (devirtualization at MIX?), great developer, Silverlight MVP and overall nice guy René Schulte has 3 proposals: The World Is Not Enough - Silverlight Augmented Reality, Pictures Lab - How To Write A Silverlight Photo Effects Application For Windows Phone 7 and Silverlight 3D. I’m sure he can deliver and you should definitely vote for one of his proposals (if not all).
  • Then there’s The tale of two apps - Making a splash in the Windows Phone Marketplace by András Velvárt and Bálint Orosz. A story of 2 of the most popular WP7 apps made by developers from the “unsupported” Hungary who instead of whining and fighting for justice (like I do) found ways to make a splash in the Marketplace despite obstacles Microsoft put in front of them.
  • Then there’s PHP on Windows by fellow Lithuanian Juozas Kaziukėnas. I’ve seen him present an earlier version of this talk and it was great even though it feels a little out of place in my list. Juozas is a great presenter and the content is interesting for those who want to keep their eye on what’s happening in the area.
  • Then I chose Exploring a Blendable Windows Phone 7 Application by Laurent Bugnion out of 2 of his proposals. I believe Deep dive MVVM will get through without my help. Laurent is probably the most knowledgeable and influential Silverlight MVP in Europe and probably the whole world. It’s always interesting to see him speak.
  • One talk that has a chance to be overlooked but seems very interesting and important is Introduction to Maps by Colin Blair. Mapping becomes more common in all sorts of apps but quite a few developers understand the terms and concepts involved.

My other votes in no particular order:

As you can see these are only a few of the proposals and they are well worth their own conference and they need your votes.

And most importantly (shameless plug and I’m not even sorry) I need your votes. Thanks!

P.S. In case you don’t like cats think of the CAPTCHA as the one were you have to eliminate all the cats.

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Informal introduction to AdDuplex

1/11/2011 6:43:54 PM

banner_squareYesterday I’ve announced a new project called AdDuplex. In a nutshell it’s an ad exchange network for Windows Phone 7 apps. You display ads for other WP7 apps, they display ads for your app. Simple as that.

Why?

1. First of all, I’m not allowed to develop for Windows Phone 7 by Microsoft. But I’m still really captivated by the platform. So, different indirectly WP7 related ideas keep spinning in my head and this is one of them.

2. Microsoft’s pubCenter ad network is open for US residents only and targets users in the US only. Other ad networks aren’t very mature, don’t generate any substantial revenue or just don’t support WP7 directly. So developers of free apps outside US can neither generate revenue nor get any other benefits (except for fame and user gratitude) for their hard work.

3. There has been a lot of criticism of the way Microsoft treats independent developers in the WP7 Marketplace. It’s practically impossible for a non-Xbox Live game to be featured in the Marketplace at the moment and there’s no way to order apps by ranking or any other popularity criteria except download count. So developers are pretty much left to promote their apps any way they can outside of the Marketplace itself. At some point I had an idea that we can help each other promoting our apps and this is how AdDuplex concept was born.

What’s the catch?

I’ve been asked a couple of times on how I plan to finance/support this project. The idea is that you’ll get 80-90 exposures of your ad for a 100 exposures of other ads in your app. And hopefully I’ll be able to sell that 10-20% ad balance. That should pay for hosting and other expenses (including my mansion, yacht, Ferrari and other stuff).

So, if you like the idea, want to promote your app for free and don’t mind me getting insanely rich in the process, go request your invitation and lets start this thing. Early adopters will get that 90% ratio which will go down as the system matures.

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Follow Up on International WP7 Marketplace Petition

12/27/2010 7:15:17 PM

Thank you to everyone who signed the International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition and/or spread the word! As I’m writing this more than 1000 people have already signed the petition. And that without any help from mainstream media (as far as I know). Not bad!

Thanks to WMPoweruser, wpcentral, Mobility Digest, René Schulte, Justin Angel, David Petrla and everyone else who helped us achieve this milestone. Sure this number means nothing if Microsoft doesn’t react but it should be hard to ignore by now.

The feedback has been mostly positive but there were some recurring misunderstandings I became tired dispelling in comments and on Twitter. So I decided to address these in this post one by one.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that everything I write below is 100% accurate but I’m trying to be as accurate as I can

There are some legal, tax, currency and similar issues

First I must admit I’m not a lawyer. And I’m not denying that there might be some issues in this area in some countries. That said my favorite example to dismiss this argument is Belgium and The Netherlands.

These are 2 neighboring European Union countries and are part of Benelux. They have the same currency (Euro) and all EU countries have aligned trade laws so once you can sell in one of the EU countries you can sell in all of them. So why is Belgium is on the list of supported countries and The Netherlands isn’t? The answer is fairly simple once you know that one of the official languages in Belgium is French and there already is a French WP7 app marketplace for a big market in France.

International trade seems to be a boogeyman for most people in USA and they seem to imagine it as something that takes years to overcome. But you know what? I work for and co-own a small company here in Lithuania. We’ve been selling our software electronically worldwide since 2003 and it took us only a few hours to set this up. Sure, we do it through a 3rd party service but Microsoft uses (used?) the parent company (Digital River) of the company we use for their own Windows Marketplace (now Microsoft Store). And guess what, there’s a European Union (English) Microsoft Store.

Anyway I’ve heard that in some countries banks charge credit card owners for international transactions and things like that. This is a valid reason to hold out roll out to these countries, but for many countries and European Union for sure, the English (International) App marketplace is literally no further than one decision and one UPDATE query away. In my humble opinion, for course.

Xbox Live is not global, so what do you want from WP7 marketplace?

Xbox Live is a great addition to Xbox experience, but it’s still an addition to the offline gaming experience. You can go into a store worldwide and buy a game you can enjoy on your Xbox. But guess what’s the only way to get apps onto your shiny WP7 device? Right.

Zune is not global, so what do you want from WP7 marketplace?

Again, you can load your own music and videos obtained elsewhere to your WP7. But guess what’s the only way to get apps onto the phone?

We understand that not everything is in Microsoft’s hands when it comes to music and video. Regional restrictions on music are still lame but it’s a totally different issue and that’s why it was explicitly excluded from the petition:

We are not talking about Music & Video where we understand that not everything is in your hands. We are talking about your own app marketplace.

Additionally Zune is available in some form in countries where WP7 app marketplace isn’t (like Norway and Sweden). This says that these marketplaces aren’t directly related.

Many countries have access to iOS App Store in iTunes but not music and video. These are 2 different stories.

Microsoft wants to localize the marketplace properly before opening it in new countries

Great. So why exactly phones without localization are sold officially in all those “other” countries? If someone bought a phone without localized UI and didn’t return it, would they mind non-localized Marketplace? I wouldn’t.

In addition proper localization is almost impossible. Here’s one comment from a Belgian who signed the petition:

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I live in Lithuania and most of the content sites over here are in Lithuanian exclusively. The nearby Latvia has a larger Russian-speaking population and almost all of the sites over there have both Latvian and Russian versions. You get the picture.

It’s a global world so there’s quite a lot of people living around the world and not speaking (or at least not preferring) the language of the country they live in. There’s a need to be able to switch languages in any region and basically in all of them there should be an option to switch to English. So why not launch English marketplace right now and work on extra languages later?

Conclusion

That’s all I can think of right now. I still don’t see any reasonable explanations to the situation around Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace. A few critics of the petition all rehashed the same things I’ve tried to disprove above and Microsoft keeps it’s silence for now.

We’ll see what happens next.

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International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition

12/22/2010 1:28:00 PM

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a fan of petitions, “calling your representative” and things like that. Yet I can’t understand the current state of Windows Phone 7 experience around the World. The more or less full experience (minus differences in access to Music & Video) is available in 17 countries. At the same time phones are sold in way more than those 17 countries.

Last time I raised this issue the phones weren’t officially available over here in Lithuania. Now I can go into official stores of 2 cell operators in Lithuania and walk out with one of the 2 available HTC models.

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At the same time when I launch Zune Software on my Windows 7 with current location set to Lithuania here’s what I see:

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Notice that the Marketplace tab is missing. It takes switching location to United States (or other supported region)

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to see that tab

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Unfortunately even after this we can only access the free apps and trials because it wouldn’t accept our credit cards.

Some might say we are lucky that we can see free apps in the marketplace on our phones (I’m still not sure if this is the case without any tricks but it could be). People in other countries can’t do even that:

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The worst part of all of this is that there’s no official information on the problems Microsoft is facing with allowing access to the marketplace in countries other than those 17 lucky ones. And unfortunately for Microsoft not many people can come up with a reasonable guess as to what these problems might be.

I’ve heard (and thought of) only 2 reasons:

Guess #1. Localization. Microsoft wants to localize the marketplace into local languages before launching it in new markets.

Here’s why this doesn’t make much sense: There’s no Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, etc. UI in the Windows Phone 7 OS itself, yet the phones are available in Lithuania, Norway, Poland, etc. So absence of localization doesn’t stop them from selling the phones, but stops from providing access to the marketplace? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Guess #2. Taxes. Apparently Microsoft needs to deal with tax differences and similar stuff.

I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure that once you’ve dealt with taxes in one European Union country you can cover all of the EU from there without any substantial overhead. We have 8 EU countries covered by the marketplace (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom). Where are the other 19? And I’m not talking about new members. Where’s Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden, etc.? Looking at the list it seems obvious that selection was made by language rather than anything else. But we’ve covered that above.

Any other guesses? And why do we have to guess? Why is it difficult for Microsoft to come up with an explanation and a roadmap? What’s the point in silence in this case?

Who wins here? Consumers can’t access the marketplace – bad. Developers and Microsoft can’t sell apps to these consumers – bad. And the worst part that there are no explainable obstacles responsible for that. I’m not saying there aren’t any for sure, I’m just asking to let us know if there are.

A week ago I’ve shown my LG Optimus 7 to a non-technical friend. He asked me if I can recommend him buying a WP7 phone. And honestly, being a Windows Phone fan myself, I couldn’t. I don’t want my friend to be mad at me for having to go through hoops just to get some apps on his smartphone. I will recommend the phone once this is resolved, I will highlight it’s great novel UI and try to justify some deficiencies in order to convince my peers, but I can’t do that right now.

So when I saw another desperate cry of frustration with this situation on Twitter, I’ve snapped and decided to create a petition. Here it is:

International Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace Petition

If you agree with what’s written there and in this blog post, please, take a few seconds to sign the petition and spread the word. Maybe this way Microsoft will hear us and shine some light on the situation or better yet just flip the switch.

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