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Microsoft can, and will, buy app developer love for the Windows Phone platform

money heartAt SXSW, one of the questions I asked every app developer I met with was what they thought of Windows Phone. And I received generally the same feedback from all of them: really interested by the platform, love the UI, want to see where it’s going. Pretty positive feedback for what’s mostly been considered the dark horse candidate of the mobile market.

Microsoft has been busy – really busy – unifying its platform, which in turn will strengthen what’s behind Windows Phone. Hardware has also been a sticking point, and we’re witnessing the development of the company’s partnership with Nokia. But getting app developers on board has become priority number one in Redmond.

According to a New York Times article, Microsoft is even completely financing the development of some apps – including Foursquare for Windows Phone, which the app’s head of business development Holger Leudorf says probably wouldn’t have happened without that financial backing. Microsoft also had to write the Facebook app itself. And the company has offered other incentives, like free phones, to lure developers to its platform.

And it seems to be working — to a degree. The Windows Phone marketplace now has 70,000 apps available, which still falls well short of its major competitors. But if buying developer love is how it plans to pave the road to success, then there’s little stopping it: Microsoft has plenty of cash to throw around, especially if it sees that its efforts are gaining traction.

Microsoft also has further Android fragmentation in its corner. Rumors of another non-Google device that’s using the Android platform, but not the app store, could make it difficult for Android developers to stay loyal. A recent report also claimed that developing for the Amazon Appstore is more lucrative. Microsoft’s offers of phones and cash are just icing on the cake for those already interested in defecting.

The problem that Windows Phone could run into is the quality of the apps. Getting quantity – plus 100,000 apps, really – is a milestone, but there’s a risk of filling the marketplace with substandard software. The focus needs to remain on recruiting apps with the right stuff.

And everyone knows what that means. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of apps many of us would need Windows Phone to support if we were to defect: Instagram, Pulse, Flipboard, Words with Friends, Path, Draw Something, Pandora, Urbanspoon, and Mirror’s Edge are just a few apps that have enough weight with users to make them think twice before buying a Windows Phone.

There’s also this group think mentality with developers. Once a few more big names throw their hat into the Windows Phone ring, maybe it will have an opening of the floodgates effect. Sure, it might sound a little bit like buying friends or offering to do their homework for them so they’ll come to your birthday party next weekend, but from the sounds of it they already sort of liked you to begin with. So it could turn out to be one of those stories where you were meant to pals all along. 

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