Three hundred eighty-five development hours, 3.5 median hours of sleep per night, 265 pounds of food, and roughly 4,000 cups of coffee. That's what it took for five teams to compete in last week's Microsoft's Mobile Incubation Week, an intense five-day hustle to create the best Windows Mobile application, from concept to finished product.
In the dark auditorium at Microsoft's modest Mountain View, Calif., offices last Friday, the breakneck development rate showed. Two bleary-eyed developers stepped onto a dark stage before a smattering of peers, press, and judges to present their showing: a Windows Mobile version of Brightkite, a location-based social network that lets you create a photo journal of your day that friends can track.
While Brightkite founder Martin May and his co-developer, Brady Becker, were the only team to take the stage without a finished application to demo, their mobile social networking application has two distinct real-world advantages over most of the other competitors--Brightkite's established user base and existing applications for iPhone, Google Android, BlackBerry, and the Web. All that's missing from the Brightkite lineup, May freely admitted, is a Windows Mobile app--even more essentially, the know-how to develop for Windows Mobile. Although Brightkite's Windows Mobile presentation consisted largely of prototype slides, the team is hoping they'll have a Windows Mobile client ready by the time Microsoft launches its Marketplace for Windows Mobile in the second half of 2009.
Brightkite wasn't the only established company in the field. Networks In Motion, the brawn behind Verizon's VZ Navigator, AAA Mobile, and Yellowpages.com, was also there, introducing a first peek at Gokivo Navigator for Windows Mobile. It's the first NIM-branded turn-by-turn navigator that is already available for a subscription fee on AT&T phones, including the BlackBerry Bold.
Much greener of horn were the companies DJ Nitrogen, VisTracks, and Motolingo, the latter formed by a pair of guys in their garage, both with full-time jobs. DJ Nitrogen demonstrated a ringtone application--which we can't wait to test out in the real world--that can cleverly get around illegalities in music sharing by selling you "recipes" to remix a song you already own into a ringtone-ready snippet that's got fades and the appropriate gain built right in.
Motolingo's MotoCarma application, still firmly in development mode, interestingly incorporates a Bluetooth dongle you plug into your car. The dongle collects data that's then relayed to the app--if you're due for an oil change or tire rotation, for example. It will also track your miles per hour and flag aggressive driving that burns costly excess fuel. Now that we consider it, a mileage tracker might be a good defense if you're wrongly pulled over for speeding.
Finally, VisTracks, the only firmly enterprise app of the bunch, took the stage with a solid value proposition for companies whose businesses rely on sending or receiving a chain of supplies. The Track & View app under development is an extension of an online service that helps flag the missing links of the supply chain, and correct the shipping errors, which in turn saves the corporate customer a bundle. From the Windows Mobile phone, the intuitive app will let professionals in the field quickly map, photograph, and note damaged or missing parcels, in addition to calling the client, the corporation, or the postal carrier.
While Microsoft's application store is expected to breathe new life into the overshadowed mobile operating system, some of these applications stand out as more clear-cut commercial winners. Brightkite, for one, can lean on its multiplatform interface in designing its Windows Mobile presence; Gokivo's core functions have been rebranded by mobile operators for years; and DJ Nitrogen is in an entertainment segment that mobile users will still continue to pay for. But if anything is going to shine a light on the small fry, it's going to be an app store that makes it easy to find niche software.