Why would Microsoft limit the Windows Phone 8 Preview Program SDK?
Microsoft's plan to only let a few key developers into the Windows Phone 8 Preview Program SDK, understandably upsets many developers. For a plaform with only about 3 percent market share, Microsoft needs all the supporters it can get, or so the presumption goes.
Why lock out most of the people needed to develop apps that take advantage of your new platform? I think there could be two possible answers: (1) a new marketplace strategy based on the quality of apps, and (2) major unannounced features.
So what if (that's a big if) Microsoft is trying to go for quality by opening it up to a few key developers who will build some well-designed apps. I don't think that's a bad strategy especially since Windows Phone Marketplace, App Store and Google Play are filled with some horribly designed apps. Plus, this gives Microsoft a way to change the conversation from "number of apps" to "quality of apps".
Ultimately I think this boils down to some unannounced features and here's why:
1. Related to the marketplace strategy, perhaps these new features will be included in those apps so that they stand out from the same apps on other platforms.
2. WPCentral wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how the Windows Phone team is intricately involved in the release of the new and updated Kinect SDK. No other site I can think of commented on this, and I thought it was hugely significant.
3. Adding on to #2, if the Windows Phone team is deeply involved in the Kinect SDK, perhaps the big unannounced feature is Kinect/NUI integration. Microsoft has already demoed Xbox to Phone Kinect gaming capabilities. See this video it's not vaporware, Microsoft could be really close to finalizing it's real-time multi-player gaming platform between Windows 8 devices (PC/Phone) and Xbox. I've already seen some of this in Windows 8 with certain games announcing upcoming updates that include pause/resume across devices.
4. It was suspected from leaked early builds of Windows 8 that there would be some sort of Kinect/NUI integration as someone found DLLs in the build indicating such. Also a document leaked years ago outlining some NUI features Microsoft was planning for Windows 8. NUI is one of the most curiously missing features of Windows 8.
5. Microsoft also has a video floating around that demos TellMe doing some pretty amazing things.
6. BUILD. Microsoft implied that BUILD will have some surprises. It makes a lot of sense if NUI is an upcoming add-on (project Blue perhaps?).
7. The Surface factor. No one can get close to this thing let alone touch it. Ballmer was recently at a developer event where he showed his Surface (!!) and from the looks of it, people were not allowed to play with it. Limited use of upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices and a locked down SDK lead to more evidence that something is being intentionally hidden.
This is not the first time I've brought up the whole NUI idea. Remember my bad guess about the secret event from this past summer? I predicted that Microsoft would unveil Kinect integration into Windows and that perhaps this would be demoed on some upcoming Windows 8 device. Obviously I was wrong, but I still think Microsoft is working on this. I've long been a fan of Microsoft's approach to Natural User Interfaces.
So far, they are way ahead of the competition. Don't forget, they've been collecting tons of data from millions of Xbox machines attached to Kinect devices. I think NUI is a major way Microsoft can set their devices apart from the rest of the crowd. Many have said that Microsoft needs to follow their Xbox strategy going forward. When Kinect was released, Xbox was not the No. 1 game console here in the United States. Now it is, and Kinect may be the reason.
Regardless of how useful you may or may not think waving a hand or talking to a device actually is, the reality is that it looks cool and gets people's attention. And this is exactly what Microsoft needs in the Windows 8 era. They need to communicate that they as a company can actually do some innovative stuff that is meaningful and useful in a way that enhance people's lives.
What do you think? Is it a marketplace strategy, unannounced features or both?