Will developers be the next battleground in smartphones?

Platforms need apps and apps need developers. Apple gets it, Palm gets it -- does Microsoft?

A couple of weeks ago, Gartner issued a market report indicating that Microsoft's share of the smartphone market had fallen to less than 8 percent in the last year, while Apple and RIM both made significant gains. Microsoft is at risk of falling into last place in mobile phones if it doesn't do something about it. So what's the one strength Microsoft can bring to the table? Developers, developers, developers. They're one of the factors that has made Microsoft a success on desktops, and it might well play in the mobile space.

Microsoft's not alone in recognizing the significance of having a strong developer platform. Palm last week announced Project Ares, a Web-based visual development tool for Palm WebOS. I don't know what kind of dent Ares will have in getting developers to the Palm, but it's a step in the right direction.

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What about Microsoft? If Microsoft can re-create the ease of development of Visual Basic for Windows Mobile 7, that could open up the market to a class of developer with existing Microsoft skills to target the company's mobile platform -- that is, if they can make Windows Mobile 7 more compelling than the current 6.5 version. Right now, Windows Mobile looks like it's several years behind the ease-of-use of Android or the iPhone. They still have a long way to go.

What do you think? Does Microsoft still understand developers? What would cause you to look at developing for a mobile platform?

This story, "Will developers be the next battleground in smartphones?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in open source and mobile at InfoWorld.com.

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