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Ballmer: Why should developers make apps for the Surface???

October 25th, 2012

Balmer Microsoft SurfaceRobert Gray, a reporter at Fox News, asked my thoughts about Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surface. He sent me this email:

Great seeing you and Nat at Glimpse [ie Glimpse conference in NYC and the twitter chatter about #glimpsenyc].

Hope you are well. Are you publishing for Windows 8.0 and/or Surface?

I am covering the big unveils tomorrow and the dearth of Apps is striking.
I’m trying to find out why there aren’t more, and would appreciate any insight from a developer’s perspective.

Is it the architecture, low expectations for adoption, or difficulty working with Microsoft vs other tablet and software folks?

Also is there one thing you’d love to know from Ballmer?

I am covering the event and interviewing him in the morning.

Can you remind me which platforms you are publishing on?

Thanks for any thoughts you can share on the record or for background.

As an app developer, we have a strong, informed opinion on the subject. In a nutshell, it’s distribution, distribution, distribution. Technical capabilities of the phone also matter a bit, as does monetization potential. Of course, Apple has the best of these qualities as well. And with HTML5, Tip or Skip is available on almost all platforms by supporting just one code base. (BTW, can anyone go to www.tiporskip.com and see if works on the Surface?) Here’s my elaboration on these points:

By far, the most important consideration for a platform is distribution. The platforms that reach 100MM folks with significant growth are golden, for example Facebook and ios for developers.

The secondary considerations are technical capabilities and monetization opportunities. It is hard to beat ipads and iphones in terms of capabilities. Retina displays, fast cpus, lots of memory & storage, GPS, accelerometers, batteries with long life, high quality camera , push notifications, fast internet — there isn’t much missing on iphones and ipads. And Apple has more credit cards on file than Amazon, and the app store is proven payment platform for digital goods.

The ease of development is a relatively minor issue. Apple is actually a hard platform to develop for, using a previously obscure language called Objective C. But is well worth it.

As for us, we develop for HTML5-first. Almost all devices (mobile and desktop) support it, and we can provide a near-native experience with a single code base. I bet that you can play Tip or Skip quite nicely on a surface through their web browser. You can play Tip or Skip this way on mobile Safari, android devices, modern blackberries, and desktop browsers.

As a user, you do miss some features in the HTML5 app. First, you can’t make photo tips (although Apple is opening up that up). Second, our app uses a lot more battery power in mobile safari than as a native app. Third, you can only get notifications if you have the native app. Fourth, although you can add web apps to the home screen, it is more natural to add apps to your home screen through the app store.

I think the most interesting question to ask him is: What can you do on the Surface that you *can’t* do on an iPad? Presumably, he will talk about how much better microsoft software will run on it (like Word, Excel, etc). An interesting follow up is: Will Surface sales canabilize office & window sales — how big a factor was canablization in causing Microsoft to enter the tablet market so late?

But of course, you should definitely ask him “why *should* apps (like Tip or Skip ;) develop for the surface?”

I’ll be interested to see what Steve Ballmer has to say. Why should Tip or Skip develop an app for the Surface?

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