New tools to help iPhone, Android developers build on Azure

Microsoft is releasing toolkits aimed at making it easier for developers to target multiple mobile platforms

Microsoft is releasing tools aimed at making it easier for developers to build iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 apps that use Windows Azure.

Groupon, the popular daily deals site, is one of the first companies to use the tools.

The tools should make it easier for developers to build applications quickly for multiple phone platforms, Jamin Spitzer, senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post.

"Today, it's not just about how quickly a developer can create an experience, but how quickly that developer can build apps that work with unique devices across a dozen platforms," he wrote.

Developers can use the cloud as a common back end for applications that run on the different mobile platforms, sharing common requirements like device notifications, authentication and storage across the various platforms, he said.

"At the same time, developers can maximize the performance of each mobile device by writing client code that exploits each platform. As more and more mobile applications rely on back-end services, the cloud can become increasingly useful and strategic for developers," he wrote.

The iPhone toolkit, available now, lets developers write iPhone apps that use Windows Azure without having "intimate knowledge" of Microsoft tools like Visual Studio, he said. The package includes iPhone code libraries for interacting with Windows Azure, documentation and a sample iOS application.

The toolkit for Windows Phone, initially released a month ago, will get new features over the next couple of weeks, including support for additional Azure features like Storage Queues, an updated user interface and integration with Azure Access Control Service, which includes a wizard and automatic setup.

The Android toolkit is currently a prototype, with a planned release for sometime in the next few months.

Groupon was one of the first companies to get access to the tools and is planning to use them to build new features into its mobile apps including real-time notification services that integrate into phone home screens, Microsoft said.

The new tools could benefit Microsoft not just because they could attract more users to Azure, but because they could encourage developers to build apps for Windows Phone 7. IPhones and Android devices are the current market leaders, with Windows phones taking up less than 10 percent of the smartphone market in the U.S. Since developers tend to target the most popular platforms where they stand to earn the most, WP7 may not be a priority for them. But the new tools could make it easier for some developers to target Windows Phone 7 users.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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