Microsoft’s Anand Krishnan on the UK app economy and the Windows 8 ecosystem

DeveloperTech (DT) took the opportunity to speak to Microsoft’s Anand Krishnan (AK), General Manager of the Developer and Platform Group, about new research commissioned by the Redmond-based firm; plus a discussion around the Windows 8 ecosystem (including Xbox One) and the first major update.

The research, released today, looks at how Multichannel platforms, Pace-of-Change, and Skills Gap are Impacting UK Application and Software Development Sector.

One of the main highlights is how 86% of developers believe the skills required are completely different from five to ten years ago. Despite this, 48% claim to have begun their development journey in the past five years.

The biggest take-away from this is; although pace is changing rapidly; the strength of new developers shows how increasingly important the field is becoming. In fact, 95% are optimistic about the future of the industry.

Anand Krishnan says: “It’s a world of opportunity – and harsh new challenges. The days of developing for a single platform, a single form factor, even a single kind of device are over. However, this study has revealed how in the face of uncertainty, ‘brave developers’ are forging a path ahead and see significant possibilities for growth and prosperity.”

The customer of Microsoft’s “Developer and Platform Group” is anyone who is building an app; which tends to span a broad spread. Most large B2C companies today are in the digital software business (e.g. BBC, ITV, Tesco) but also independent developers; hobbyists, students, entrepreneurs, start-ups… We took the opportunity of Anand’s vast experience in the group to answer both industry questions and those about the Windows 8 ecosystem.

DT: What do you think is driving the strong growth of developers at the moment?

AK: This goes back about 5 – 6 years when the world of developers started to change in terms of competition and who made up that space; because the web became big, and the web became a channel for a whole lot of companies.

They felt they had to go digital, and ‘digital’ became part of their vocabulary.

I think the rise of tablets multiplied that by a factor. Anecdotally, when I do an event, and we talk about design or ‘how do you write?’ or ‘how do you launch a company?’ or any topic which is related to application development – the composition of the room is largely new.

I came from the start-up world of bootstrap software; distribution used to be a big barrier to entry. Now distribution is available to anybody that can register themselves and get an [app] store account.

The other big one is the convenience of putting anything you want on a Cloud platform – ten years ago you would’ve spent a billion dollars just buying hardware. Today you sign up for a pay as you go contract with us on Azure, if you’re a high-potential start-up we actually sponsor you, and give you $60k worth of free access just to scrape dollars off your bottom-line.

DT: You briefly mentioned tablets, do you see mobile development overtaking desktop? Or will it coincide? Of course Windows 8 was a response to tablets and bringing in a new era of ‘Hybrids’…

AK: I think what will take-over the world is device development. Today we talk about three form factors; PC’s, Smartphones, and Tablets – but every one of those has enough computing power to do what you want to do in a day-to-day kind of setup.

Increasingly you see the lines between phones and tablets be ‘blurred’ as phones get bigger, or tablets get smaller, and you see the lines between tablets and PC’s get blurred as you come up with convertibles, or detachables.

You’re going to get computing wrapped in a whole-range of form factors; some of which you will wear, some of which you’ll hold in your hand, some of which you’ll have on your desk… what we call them then becomes almost irrelevant – what becomes important is ‘can you write applications that make user’s lives come together in ways that span that web of devices?’.

For the first time, I have seen someone write an article which captures the essence of Bing - and why it is so important to Microsoft. What Bing lets us do is it builds an index of most of the world’s information, and by extension, it allows you to pull intelligence out of it.

Here’s an example; I have a phone, a tablet, and a laptop – this is today’s world. I have a friend of mine that texts me and says “I’m in London next week, do you want to go out for dinner?”

My phone knows I’ve got the text, it knows who the person is – because that person is also connected to me on LinkedIn and Facebook – so does my tablet and my laptop.

My phone has my calendar; it knows where I’m going to be in London next week. It knows which two days of the week I’m going to be in London for the full-day; so an evening would be a sensible thing to organize. Bing can actually look at traffic patterns and let me know Tuesday’s maybe the best day to go for dinner, and the best places to go are “here” and “here”… it could then book a table.

So, from my text which said “do you want to get dinner next week?” I could actually have my web of devices come back to me with “do you want to book a table at ‘this’ place on Tuesday at 8pm?”

I think everything we’re seeing today; it’s the first 10 minutes of a football game.

DT: When you were talking about the different form factors, there is of course, the console as well - is Windows 8’s plan to tie-in all these as one platform?

AK: You probably kept pace of the Xbox announcements; the fact we have a Windows 8 component in effect – the same way we do for phone. Our goal is definitely a platform world where there is convergence; now this may not mean the same OS running on all of them; but at least on the developer standpoint you want to get to a place where you can write once and run it across platforms.

You might write a game for phone which can be played on Xbox; you might write a game on Xbox which can use the phone as a companion device. That is possible today.

I think every one of our competitors probably wants to do the same thing. We’re probably the furthest along in being able to tie-together form factors.

DT: Windows 8 didn’t have the best reception at launch. With the release of Windows 8.1 last Friday, what were your reflections?

AK: We do an incredible amount of instrumentation around Windows, and a lot of what changes feature-to-feature is driven off the process of seeing people use it. What 8.1 has is the combination things that told is we needed to fix, couple with our ongoing research around how do you make Windows better and fix the areas people have most talked about.

DT: Where do you see the “Internet of Things” heading?

AK: In many ways it’s that scenario I was giving you earlier about two friends having dinner. It’s part of an extended world where your washing machine could switch on based-on your calendar and knowing you’re going to be out for the full-day… there’s no shortage of brilliant ideas.

Where we play in this today, primarily, we’re going to have devices which we own - and that our partners own. One thing we think is missing is the Cloud platform; that inevitably has to be the backbone for this infrastructure. That’s definitely a space where we are actively partnered up.

We spend a lot of time in the start-up space. Any time anyone asks what kind of start-up we look at in the acquisition space, the Internet of Things is one of those areas.

Azure, and ‘Satori’ (the intelligence part of Bing) - makes for a pretty compelling world.

DT: What are you speaking about at AppsWorld?

AK: We’ll be speaking mainly about what we’ve spoken about here in more detail – ‘how do you go from intent, to action?’

Opportunity, underscoring the fact we very much feel this battle; this entire playing field is just in the process of being laid – with more details on the specific challenges.

What do you think about the future of app development, the Internet of Things, and the Windows 8 ecosystem?

At Apps World Europe (22nd to 23rd October), Microsoft will be running a series of keynotes, talk tracks and demonstrations designed to offer ‘Brave Developers’ advice, guidance and training on how to get started building for Windows.

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