Microsoft tempts Android devs with API guides

The powers that be at Microsoft are only too aware that the strength of a smartphone platform lies in its developer ecosystem, and to boost its following has announced new tools for those wanting to make the leap from Android to Windows Phone.

Each smartphone platform - iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and the rest - have their own sets of application programming interfaces, or APIs. These are bits of code that a programmer uses to communicate with the underlying operating system, whether it's to tell it to draw an object on the screen or to make a phone call.

The APIs are, however, unique to that platform. A developer who knows precisely what APIs to call on an iPhone would be lost when writing apps for an Android handset, and vice-versa. With the hassle of learning new APIs, many seasoned developers may be giving Windows Phone a miss, but the company argues that to do so is to make a big mistake.

"I think it is essential to be a 'polyglot' developer," Microsoft's JC Cimetiere explains in a post on the Windows Blog. "Although you might have a preferred language, opening your mind to others will bring considerable value to your abilities and your resume. It’s true that jumping from one platform or language to another can break your habits, but change can be stimulating and will ultimately expand your opportunities."

Cimetiere's comments are hardly unbiased, of course: if Windows Phone is to shine as a platform, it needs to get as many developers as possible writing new and innovative applications. Without developers, there are no apps; without apps, people will instead look towards the rich ecosystems of iOS and Android for their needs.

To help things along, Microsoft has released an update to its API mapping tool that allows Android developers to see how they could achieve the same tasks under Windows Phone. "Think of the API mapping tool as being like a translation dictionary," explains Cimetiere. "For example, let’s say that you’re planning a vacation to France. Since you don’t speak the language, you’ll bring a pocket travel dictionary.

"Having this tool will surely help you get an idea about what you are ordering from a restaurant menu, but you’ll have no idea what the actual recipe is," he admits, "nor will you be able to have a conversion in French with the [waiter]. But it’s a great learning tool to make the first steps."

The update comes along with the release of a new white paper entitled "Windows Phone 7 Guide for Android Application Developers," a 90-page tome designed to help developers with the transition from Android.

It's a clever move on Microsoft's part, but one which comes with a confession: for Windows Phone to thrive, the company needs to start poaching developers from the Android pool. With most estimates claiming that Google's popular mobile platform will account for the overwhelming majority of the smartphone and tablet markets within the next few years, Microsoft may have to do more to make such a move a tempting proposition.