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Should developers support Windows Phone 8? Odds are in its favor

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Mike Dano

If you're a successful mobile developer, you're probably already supporting both iOS and Android. After all, the two platforms will account for roughly 81 percent of the global smartphone market this year (61 percent Android and 20 percent iOS), according to research firm IDC.

But if you have reached the point where your revenues are stagnating or you're looking for expansion opportunities beyond those of the geographical nature, the pending launch of Windows Phone 8 might represent a good bet.

This may seem like a bit of a stretch. Research In Motion's BlackBerry platform is currently the No. 3 smartphone operating system behind iOS and Android, so why target that platform? Moreover, Microsoft's current progress with Windows Phone leaves something to be desired: Nokia reported selling just 600,000 Lumia phones in North America during the three months of the second quarter; and Microsoft's current global OS market share sits at just 5.2 percent (and a notable portion of that share is due to Microsoft's legacy Windows Mobile platform.)

So why bet on Windows Phone 8? First, it appears poised to receive significant carrier support. According to PC Magazine, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) all said they would back Windows Phone 8 after Microsoft unveiled the platform in June. Indeed, Verizon previously has said it wants to do for Windows Phone what it did for Android several years ago in terms of sparking consumer desire.

Such carrier support is critical for any smartphone launch, and U.S. carriers likely are keen to promote Windows Phone as an alternative to the tightening grip that Apple and Google are enjoying via iOS and Android, respectively.

On the handset side, Windows Phone 8 has the support of Nokia, HTC, Huawei and Samsung. Of those four, Nokia is the only company that has bet its future on Windows Phone, so it's reasonable to assume that Nokia will put a significant amount of marketing behind sales of its Windows Phone 8 devices. But, Samsung could also prove critical to Windows Phone 8 if it turns its focus to the platform. In the second quarter, Samsung blew away the rest of the world's smartphone and handset companies with a net profit of $4.55 billion and sales of an estimated 93 million handsets (of which an estimated 50 million were smartphones). Samsung may well use Windows Phone 8 to broaden its reach and maintain its lead.

But perhaps the most notable supporter of Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft itself, which is gearing up for a simultaneous launch of both Windows Phone 8 for phones and Windows 8 for PCs and tablets. Though the company has lost much of its luster among consumers, Microsoft is still a major force in consumer technology, and this fall's launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 could well be the company's biggest play yet. Underscoring Microsoft's seriousness is its plan to sell its own Windows 8 devices, dubbed Surface.

For developers, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 both run the Microsoft NT kernel, and they also share code for file systems, security infrastructure and other areas. This shared code could help boost the interest in, and applications for, both platforms.

In fact, development for Windows Phone is already on the rise. According to Flurry, Windows Phone accounted for 4 percent of all Flurry partner projects in the second quarter, up from 1 percent the previous quarter. "If we look at just Android and Microsoft in the month of June, for every Windows Phone new project started, four have been started for Android," wrote Flurry VP of Marketing Peter Farago. "Considering the much smaller Windows Phone installed base compared to Android, Microsoft is currently over-indexing."

Meantime, developer interest in RIM's forthcoming BlackBerry 10 platform, scheduled to drop early next year, is on the decline. According to a new survey from Baird Equity Research, developer optimism for BlackBerry 10 slipped to a 3.8 rating in the second quarter, down from 4.6 in the first quarter. By comparison, developers rated their belief in the long-term viability of Apple's iOS at 9.3, trailed at 8.7 by Google's Android. 

To be clear, Windows Phone 8 is not a slam dunk. Some, such as IDC, believe Windows Phone will eclipse iOS by 2016. Others though believe the trajectories of Android and iOS can't be slowed in the next few years. Nonetheless, I think a bet on Windows Phone 8 is justifiable, even wise, since anyone who purchases a new Windows Phone 8 device likely will want to load it with the latest and greatest apps. +Mike Dano