Mobile developer survey: Apple iOS most profitable platform, but even Windows Phone is viable

Vision Mobile has released the results of a survey of 6000 mobile developers, sponsored by Blackberry and Mozilla.

Reading through the survey reminds me that despite the critical importance of apps to mobile platforms, surveys which look at developer intent are poor predictors of the future health of specific platforms. High interest or even affection for some new platform tends to dissipate quickly if platform adoption is poor.

Developers influence the success of a platform by developing (or not developing) desirable apps, but this is only one among many factors. Others include:

  • Mobile operators: which devices are they promoting and subsidising most?
  • Devices: which has the right blend of looks, usability and features?
  • Fashion: which smartphones are my friends using?
  • Price: which devices are best value?
  • Marketing: which vendor is doing the best job?
  • Enterprise: in business, security and manageability are important

The report confirms the dominance of iOS and Android and is generally down on Windows Phone while there are more optimistic remarks than I had expected about Blackberry 10 and Firefox OS (but note the sponsors).

Here is a stat that caught my eye though:

Monthly Revenue per developer per platform:

  • $5,200 iOS
  • $4,700 Android
  • $3,600 Windows Phone
  • $2,900 HTML5
  • $1,200 Blackberry 10

There is more money in iOS and Android, but Windows Phone and to some extent HTML5 is financially viable too. On niche platforms like Windows Phone, I guess there is a benefit in having less competition.

What’s coming from Microsoft in its next financial year: July 2013-June 2014

Noticed this slide shown by COO Kevin Turner at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference under way in Houston.


What caught my eye in particular?

  • Common app platform between Windows and Windows Phone
  • Skype integration with and Office 365
  • Update to Surface RT and Surface Pro – does this mean updated hardware? That seems likely, given that both models will soon look obsolete without, especially the older Surface RT.

Real-world cloud computing adoption: pretty slow according to IDG Connect survey

A survey by IDG Connect, sponsored by Dell, asked European IT “decision makers” in organisations with 500 or more employees about their migration plans. The survey took place at the end of 2012 and in early 2013.

Here are the cloud migration plans for email:

  • Migrate email to Office 365: 13%
  • Migrate email to Google Apps: 8%

Unfortunately the survey does not cover other cloud providers for email.

What about usage of cloud servers?

  • Plan to use Amazon virtual servers: 2%
  • Plan to use Microsoft Azure virtual servers: 1%
  • Plan to use other cloud providers for virtual servers: 9%
  • No plans to use cloud servers: 88%

Surveys are (very) imperfect, and plans can change. Nevertheless, these figures suggest that migration to the cloud remains in an early phase.

A couple of further observations. One is that while the benefits of cloud computing are real – including multi-tenancy, scalability, lower maintenance cost, and arguably better security and resiliency – there are also downsides, in particular loss of control, and vulnerability to interference by outside agencies.

Costs might or might not be lower. There is sometimes an assumption that lower maintenance costs and greater elasticity must mean lower cost overall, but it does not always stack up that way.

On the other hand, I also wonder whether IT administrators protecting their internal organisations is a factor. If you ask an IT admin to assess the benefit of outsourcing a chunk of his work, will you get an objective result? Maybe not.

You can see the whole survey (which also has some eye-opening statistics about usage of Windows XP) here (registration required).

DTS Headphone X surround sound from stereo is astonishing though Z+ music app disappoints

I first heard the DTS surround sound from stereo demo at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The technology is called Headphone X. It was astonishing. You went into the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 theatre – it was in association with Qualcomm become some DTS technology is baked into the latest Snapdragon chipset – sat in a plush armchair, and donned stereo headphones.


The next thing you knew, sound was coming from front left. Then front right. Then rear left. The illusion was amazing, and I was not the only one who removed their headphones temporarily to check that they really were the sole source of the sound.

I interviewed the DTS folk about the technology, and also spoke to the guys at Dolby. Nothing new, said the Dolby folk, we’ve had virtual surround sound for years. Yet, the demo at the Dolby stand fell far short of what DTS was showing.

Now you can try it, if you have an Android or iOS device. Download the Z+ app and listen to the demo.


I tried this on someone today, and his “Wow!” reaction showed that the demo is still astonishing. You know it is an illusion, but it sounds as if you are seated in the middle of a room with five or more speakers.

If DTS has proved that surround sound from stereo is possible, what are the implications? Surround sound has not failed exactly, but its inconvenience has limited take-up. Many surround mixes of music albums are now hard to find, because they were made for long out of print SACD or DVD-Audio releases. What if you could easily download all these mixes and enjoy them with stereo headphones or earbuds?

An enticing thought, but there are caveats. The Z+ app, for example, is disappointing once you get beyond the demo. The only album it plays is the Hans Zimmer soundtrack to the Superman film, Man of Steel. One track is included for free, and the others are in-app purchases. It sounds good, but the surround effect is less convincing than it is in the demo. I heard better music demos in Barcelona. I also get superior sound on the iPhone than on the iPad (it is an iPhone app), though I might be imagining it, and in both cases I get occasional stuttering, though that may be because I am not testing on the latest generation Apple hardware.


An app that only plays one album is not a revolution in sound, and if this is to go mainstream, DTS needs to sell its technology to one of the major music download or streaming services and have it built-in to the client app. It has made a start, with its Qualcomm deal which is meant to be in shipping chipsets from “the second half of 2013” according to the information in Barcelona. My guess is that any problems with stuttering will be removed when there is hardware support.

How does it work? The DTS guys told that it “it’s psychoacoustics. You’re triggering the brain with responses that induce it to say, this is from here. It’s a combination of timing and frequency. That’s traditional virtualisation.” After that, they explained, they apply room acoustics that take the illusion to another level. This could be the room acoustic of the studio, achieving a holy grail for audio engineers, or that of the listener’s own room or a concert hall, for example. The room acoustic can be user-selectable, though this is not a feature of the current Z+ app.

There is a caveat that might upset hi-fi enthusiasts. Think about it. Virtual surround sound is delivered in stereo, which seems impossible, but then again we only have two ears. Our ears are designed to hear sounds more clearly if they are in front of us. Therefore, to simulate a sound coming from behind you, do you need to make it less clear?

I put this point to a guy from DTS, that parts of the music are in a sense deliberately distorted or muffled. “That occurs naturally by our head,” I was told. So is the fidelity of the sound reduced in order to achieve the surround illusion? “No differently than speakers in a surround system would do anyway,” he said.

Another caveat is that, by design, the system only works with headphones. Of course, if you have a full surround system in your room, you can play surround mixes in the normal way, turning to the DTS technology only for headphone listening. Headphones are also unable to recreate the effect of a sub-woofer which you can feel in your chest. “It’s a physical element. We’re not going to be able to replicate it,” said DTS.

Headphones are unbeatable though if you want to recreate the acoustic of a different room, such as the studio where the music was mixed. Further, for a mass market, delivering surround sound through a mobile device and standard earphones is the right approach.

The Z+ app is disappointing, but I would nevertheless encourage anyone with an interest in audio technology to download it and try the demo. Headphone X has huge potential and I shall follow its progress with interest.

Review: Acer Iconia W3 with Windows 8.1 Preview

Attendees at Microsoft’s Build conference last month were given an Acer Iconia W3 tablet, presumably because it is the earliest examples of Windows 8 on an 8″ tablet. I find it hard to assess; it seems good value but is a frustrating device.

The specs in summary:

  • Processor: Intel Atom Z2760 1.50 GHz Dual-core
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB SSD
  • Card slot: MicroSD up to 64 GB
  • Display: 8.1″ Active Matrix TFT Colour LCD WXGA 1280 x 800
  • Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD, shared memory
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth
  • Ports: HDMI, Micro USB, headset/speaker jack
  • Cameras: Front and rear
  • Microphone: Yes
  • Battery: 2-cell Li-Polymer 6800 mAh
  • Size and weight: 11.4 x 134.9 x 219 mm, 500g
  • Price: Around £350 or $430

Since this is an x86 device, it comes with full Windows 8.x, not the locked-down Windows RT edition. My guess is that Acer did this because Windows RT has been a hard sell, thanks to the poor selection of Windows Store apps on offer, indifferent performance, and confusion among customers when they discover that none of their existing Windows apps will run.

On the other had, do you really want full desktop Windows on an 8.1″ device? I view it with mixed feelings. Technically it runs well, and means that you have amazing capability in a small and highly portable device. The case against is that desktop Windows is designed neither for touch, nor to run on such a small screen. In order to use it, you need good eyesight and ideally a keyboard and mouse. The mouse is especially important, since targeting small desktop icons with fingers (at which I have become quite adept on larger Windows slates) is a real challenge on this tiny display.


There is a matching Bluetooth keyboard/dock (included in the picture above) which is available for around $80 and which was also handed out at Build. The underside of the keyboard forms a kind of case.


I am typing this review, naturally, on this very keyboard, and I am would not want to tackle it with only the on-screen keyboard. It feels cheap and plastic though, and I saw one Build delegate struggling with a broken key after only a day of use. Keyboards are quite delicate (some more than others), and arguably it would make more sense to protect the keyboard with the tablet, than the tablet with the keyboard.

Another issue is that the Bluetooth keyboard does not include a trackpad, perhaps because it would require a docking connector rather than just Bluetooth. However as mentioned above, the lack of a mouse is equally troublesome in desktop Windows. Therefore I have plugged in a USB mouse in order to work on this review.

Of course, once you have loaded your bag with keyboard and mouse as well as tablet, you begin to wonder whether a conventional laptop would have been easier. I admire Microsoft’s Surface design, where the keyboard cover does include a trackpad, and where the keys on the Type cover are folded inside the cover and therefore protected in your bag. The Surface Pro is far more expensive, but Surface RT not so much, and I suggest that Surface RT is a more satisfying product despite its locked-down desktop, especially with Windows 8.1 which includes Outlook.

The Iconia W3 also has a grainy screen. It is usable, but the worst screen I have seen for a while, and not helped by a high-gloss reflective surface.

Annoyance number three is the micro USB port. Few devices expect to find micro USB on the PC side, so you will need an adaptor. The Build handout included one, but I suspect this is not in the box by default. Even with an adaptor though, it is a nuisance, though I appreciate the difficulty in including a USB A port on a slim device like this.

Performance is no more than so-so, which is what you would expect from the Atom CPU. On SunSpider 1.0, for example, with IE11, the W3 scores 671.5ms, better than Surface RT at 1029.2ms but behind Surface Pro at 209ms. I think it is good enough for a device of this kind.

The device does get uncomfortably hot though, in an area at back right which I presume is close to the CPU.

The W3 does have its plus points. Battery life is good, Office Home Premium is included in the price, and it is what it claims to be: a small tablet capable of running full desktop Windows. That means you can use VLC to watch videos on a flight, or Live Writer for writing blog posts, or FileZilla for FTP, or Putty for SSH, to mention a few utilities that I miss on Windows RT.

Making sense of this device means reversing your thinking about Windows. You should plan to spend most of your time in the “Modern” tablet user interface, while occasionally dipping into the desktop. If that mode of working makes sense for you, and you want an 8.1″ device, the Iconia W3 is a reasonable purchase. Take note of all the caveats though. A close look at this device makes you realise why Microsoft embarked on the Surface project.

Bing Maps app on Windows 8: rubbish compared to Bing Maps on the web

I have been looking at the Bing Maps app on Windows 8 and 8.1 (it is the same).

It is surprising how poor it is. The web version is better, which is odd because you would have thought they used the same data.

Here is what I get from the app if I search for public transport between Derby and Birmingham (on a direct rail route):


Bing Maps on the web has no problem with this:


Here is another random example. Bing maps app cannot find Dubrovnik airport. A search only finds Dubrovnik.


Oddly, if you know where the airport is, it is in fact marked on the map.


Web app: no problem:


If Microsoft wants Windows 8 tablets to succeed, glaring problems like this need fixing. Before the release of Windows 8.1 later this year.

Adobe Creative Cloud giveaway at Microsoft Build: sign of a new alliance?

At Microsoft’s Build conference last week, one among a number of giveaways to all attendees was a year’s subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. This was announced by Developer and Platform Evangelism VP Steven Guggenheimer during the day 2 keynote.


Creative Cloud costs $49.99 (or £39 + VAT) per month for an individual subscription.

Guggenheimer in effect said that the gift came from Adobe; he suggested that “you guys should send them a nice email”.

The stated purpose of the giveaway is to promote the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS). Creative Cloud comes with DPS Single Edition, which lets you create rich, interactive magazine content and publish it to the iPad and Android. Announced at Build was DPS support for Windows 8.1 in “late 2013”; a sign if nothing else that Adobe is taking Microsoft’s tablet platform seriously.

The odd aspect though is that Build is a developer conference and not quite the right target audience for DPS. On the other hand, there are numerous tools in Creative Cloud that are well suited to developers, including the Edge web content tools, PhoneGap Build, and of course the mighty Photoshop for image editing.

Adobe’s Adam Lehman was interviewed at Build about the Creative Cloud tools, especially Edge, here.

Microsoft is no longer trying to compete with Adobe on design tools. Expression Web and Expression Design have been discontinued. The Flash versus Silverlight wars are also consigned to history, making it easier for these two companies to work together.

Microsoft Build 2013: Love the platform?

The paradox of Microsoft: record revenue and profits, but yes, Windows 8 has been a disaster so far, and the company has lost developer and consumer mind share.

That might explain why there was no lack of availability for tickets to Build in San Francisco. With a smart PR move, Microsoft “sold out” of a limited first allocation, then made more available, and you could register right up to the day before. Attendance estimates are around 4,500.


The atmosphere was good though, and someone remarked to me that it felt a bit like an early Mix event, Microsoft’s web and design conference back in Silverlight days.

Blue was the colour; and for me Build 2013 was a Windows 8.1 event, though attention was also given to Windows Azure and Windows Phone.

Microsoft has two goals with Windows 8.1.

One is to placate users who essentially want Windows 7.1 and have been wary, confused, or worse, in their reaction to the Windows 8 Modern (or Metro, or Windows Store) user interface.

The other is to establish a new tablet platform, something which has yet to happen despite significant numbers of Windows 8 installations out there since the launch.

There was solid progress on both these fronts at Build, though whether it was enough is of course open to debate. Windows 8.1 is a nicer experience, especially for desktop users, and the user interface feels more elegant and refined than Windows 8.0.

No matter what you may have read elsewhere though, Microsoft is not backtracking. The focus at Build was on the new app platform and its improvements. Developers I spoke to were generally happy with these. “It’s caught up with Silverlight”, one told me.

At Build 2011 and 2012 there was some disappointment among developers, that Microsoft seemed to be pushing HTML and JavaScript above C# and .NET, for its new app platform. There was a perception at Build 2013 that this is no longer the case, though C# architect Anders Hejlsberg spoke on TypeScript (which compiles to JavaScript) rather than C# at his session; and a Microsoft engineer I spoke to denied that there had been any change of direction internally; the official line is that this is developer choice.

In practice, the developer choice tends to be C#, which dominated the session examples, and there was no more gossip about Microsoft abandoning .NET.

Windows seems to be on a one-year refresh cycle now. No date has been announced, but the signs are that Windows 8.1 will follow one year after Windows 8.0, which means RTM (the release build) no later than August and machines on sale in time for the winter season.

Much was already known about Windows 8.1, so were there any surprises? The main one was the evolution of Bing. The key phrase is “Bing as a platform”.

Bing is much more than just a search engine. We’re always a platform company. As we’ve been building this great search experience, we’ve actually been building this rich platform.

said Program Manager David Robinson in this session. Bing services are not just search, but also speech recognition (as seen on Xbox) so that developers can create “natural user interfaces” with voice control, text to speech, and 2D and 3D mapping with driving directions.

The other twist on this is the new search app in Windows 8.1. The way search works in Windows 8.1 has changed quite a bit. Search within an app should no longer rely on the Charms menu, and developers are expected to put a search box into their user interface. Search in the Charms menu is a system search, that integrates local and web results. Thus, if I search for Build, I get the Build apps, local documents mentioning Build, my own photos, web results relating to the building industry, word definitions, and so on. If I search for “Event viewer”, I get the control panel applet, a Wikipedia entry, a couple of Microsoft support articles, and then a general web search with infinite scrolling to the right. If I search for a celebrity, I get a rich multimedia view.


The search engine here is not pluggable; only Bing will work. This is smart strategic thinking, since it is at once a compelling app, an easy way to navigate Windows, and a way of building search share for Bing.

There are some details of search yet to be revealed. In particular, I asked how an app can integrate its own content into an “Everywhere” search, and was told it has yet to be announced (even though Windows 8.0 has a search contract that you would have thought would fit perfectly here).

My own experience of Windows 8.1 is positive, though since I have little difficulty with Windows 8.0 I am not a good test case as to whether it will win over those sticking with Windows 7. The Start button is mostly cosmetic, but I suspect I will find myself right-clicking it frequently to bring up the Win-X menu, now complete with Shutdown option.

Surface RT is greatly improved by the update. There is some performance gain, and the addition of Outlook to the RT desktop makes it twice as useful for businesses using Exchange or Office 365. Windows 8.1 also comes with Internet Explorer 11 with WebGL and some user interface improvements.

Microsoft does feel somewhat diminished these days, thanks to the decline of the PC and its smaller area of dominance, despite its continuing healthy financials. Can the company recover any of that ground? To do so it has to drive adoption of the tablet personality in Windows 8. Microsoft has made a poor start, but it may yet come together.

At a sparsely attended session on The Story of Bringing Nokia Music from Windows Phone to Windows 8 the Nokia Design Principles caught my attention:


The speakers conveyed real enthusiasm for the last of these, “Love the platform”, which is something I have not often encountered in the context of Windows 8.0, especially as the first release felt rough and not-quite-ready from a developer perspective. There is no doubting its potential though, and if Microsoft can win a bit more developer love with the 8.1 release, then we may see growth. 

Virtual Reality with Oculus Rift

I tried these on during Microsoft’s Build conference, at the Xamarin party. No, it is not me in the picture.


No, it’s not Microsoft’s answer to Google Glass. Rather, it is the Oculus Rift, a Virtual Reality headset funded by a Kickstarter project that achieved nearly 10 times its original goal.

Unfortunately it is hard to photograph, but what you get is a view of a 3D virtual world which responds to the turn of your head. The added realism is extraordinary, even though the current model shows a slightly pixelated screen; this will apparently be fixed for the first commercial release.

There is one snag with the Rift, which is the urge to move around by walking. Not too good in as you will soon hit the wall. The developers have thought of this, and I saw a picture of a walking platform, where you walk on the spot and sensors pick up your direction of virtual travel. Unfortunately my guess is that such a platform will fail the “conveniently fits in the living room” test.

It will not necessarily be the Oculus Rift; but virtual reality is so compelling that its time must surely come. It would be utterly great with more movement sensors so that you could climb walls, engage in sword fights and so on.

Wearing a great big headset is unsocial though as the point is to immerse yourself in a virtual world. Looking like an idiot also comes with the territory. Hit or miss? Not sure.