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Adventures in Nomadic Serendipity
Just because there is a beaten path, that doesn't mean you have to take it...
UPDATE: Microsoft Mobile Development Hell 
28th-Jan-2011 09:40 pm
UPDATE: I heard back from Microsoft.  Read below for the (hopeful) conclusion...

Our iOS apps 'Coverage?' (iTunes Link) and 'State Lines' (iTunes Link) are doing reasonably well in Apple's App Store. We are particularly excited to see 'Coverage?' getting featured on TUAW, Gizmodo and Boy Genius Report, and even labeled as "indispensable" by LifeHacker.com. Though our rank has dropped since, we spent some time as the #2 travel app in the entire store. Awesome!

I have been enjoying iOS development, and it feels good to know that we have created some genuinely useful tools.

We have had a lot of people ask us for Android versions, and occasionally for WebOS ports too. Our answer has always been that we are willing to work (and split profits) with any developer who wants to do a port, but it is not something we have any interest in doing ourself.

So far, we've had no takers. (But if you know of any developers interested, send them our way!)

We haven't actually had any user requests for a Windows Phone version of our apps, but we did have a developer recently ask us if he could do a port of 'State Lines' for the fun of it. We'd have to cover the upfront registration costs with Microsoft, but it seemed like a reasonable way to test the waters in the Windows market, and at the same time work out our systems for working with an outside developer. Sure, why not.

He'd be doing the hard work - all we would have to do is register with Microsoft and upload the app to Microsoft's developer portal.

How hard could it be? Really?

Well, it has been a week - and I still haven't even been able to get registered for Microsoft's $99/year Windows Phone Developer Program. Here is what I have been through so far:

1) Go to http://create.msdn.com// - click to sign up for the Windows Phone Developer Program. Create a Passport account, register as a company, fill out all the info.

2) Get forced to create a "GamerTag" as part of the process. Why on earth do I need to create an XBox Live GamerTag in order to register to develop Windows Phone apps? I'm sure enterprise developers love being forced to play guessing games to pick a unique "GamerTag". I imagine "PocketOffice223Rulez" is probably not taken...

3) Get prompted for a credit card to pay the $99/year fee. Enter credit card. Get error no error, just jumped back to the enter credit card screen again. Infinite loop.

4) Try on other browser than Safari. On IE, I get the same behavior but an error: "Your credit card could not be authorized. Please contact your credit card provider, or enter a different credit card." Try multiple times with multiple cards, always the same error.

5) Contact my bank - they have seen and approved 8+ verifications from Microsoft. They confirm that the problem is on Microsoft's end.

6) Try again with different web browsers, and on different days. The process still fails the same way - sometimes without giving any error at all. I can only hope that I don't end up charged $99 x 20 by Microsoft for all these failed attempts.

7) Read the FAQ's on the MSDN site - one refers to http://billing.microsoft.com for help with billing issues. Clicking that link gives a "You do not have permission to view this directory or page" error. Only after changing the url to use HTTPS can I log in to the billing page.

8) Billing page has all my account info, but no payment methods configured other than my zero balance of "Microsoft Points" - WTF is a Microsoft Point?!?! FAQ explains how to add new payment methods, but the button referenced in the FAQ is not on the screen. FAQ says: "Under Payment method information for this account, click Use a different payment method." These sections described do not actually exist.

9) The "Contact Support" button on the billing page jumps to a page with a huge list of URL's for departments within Microsoft. The most promising support URL is "For Windows Marketplace for Mobile developers", which sends me right back to the support page at create.msdn.com, exactly where I had found the FAQ that sent me to the billing page.

10) The support page has a link for "If you a registered App Hub member and require personal, 1:1 support with your account" - clicking it jumps back into the broken registration process that will never complete. I apparently can't get help until I finish registering, and I can't finish registering without help.

11) Digging further for help on the create.msdn.com site, I try to find a way to reach a human. The only number given is for the paid $99/per incident developer support, but I decide to call it anyway for help.

12) Phone number leads to voice menu hell. Absolutely insane options asking me confusing questions about whether or not I am a Microsoft partner, and what type of partner I am. Eventually I hit zero enough times that I end up talking to a very friendly person named Mike in Microsoft pre-sales support.

13) Mike explains that Microsoft's credit card verification is very touchy around things exactly matching the credit card bill - even to the point of "St" not matching "Street" not matching "St." not matching "ST". Yes, even capitalization might matter. I try registering again, using the exact same capitalization and punctuation as my credit card bill. Still no luck.

14) I tell Mike about the billing.microsoft.com. site. He stumbles over needing to add https, then realizes he has no way to log on there himself to even look at what the options displayed are.

15) Mike suggests that the MSDN support group might be better able to help. He gives me a direct number (800-759-5474), and then transfers me.

16) Gruff and unfriendly woman at MSDN answers - I explain I am trying to sign up for the Windows Phone developer program, and some of what I have been through. She says she has never heard of a Windows Phone, or the developer program. I tell her it is on the front page of MSDN.

17) She puts me on hold and spends some time looking, and then comes back and asks me if I want an MSDN Action Pack subscription. She explains the packages cost between $999 and $12,000. I tell her I want the $99 Windows Phone Developer program. She puts me on hold again and keeps looking.

18) She comes back and asks which carrier I have - and whether I want AT&T or T-Mobile. I explain that the program is not tied to a carrier. She says that it is, and then tell me that I should call my carrier to sign up.

19) I tell her she is on the wrong track. She gives me the number for Microsoft Pre Sales support, and suggests I call them. I tell her that Pre Sales transferred me to her in MSDN, and I ask if there is anyone else in MSDN to talk to about Windows Phone. She again says she knows nothing about a Windows Phone, and tells me to call my carrier.

20) I hang up.

21) I email the developer who is working on the Windows Phone port, and he digs around the Microsoft support forums and finds a post indicating that there is a known issue with registration: http://forums.create.msdn.com/forums/t/71836.aspx

22) The post claims that the issue has been resolved. I try again, it has not.

23) The post gives an email address to contact, and requests a lot of information, such as what is my XBox Live region, and whether or not I created my GamerTag on an XBox, via the web, or on a Windows Phone.

24) Again - what the hell does a GamerTag have to do with signing up for the Windows Phone developer program!??!

25) I send off email to Microsoft with my best guesses at all the information requested.

26) And for now, while I am awaiting a reply, I am giving up.

Compare this to the 5 minutes it took to sign up for the Apple iOS developer program.

No wonder Microsoft is failing in mobile.

UPDATE: I heard back from Microsoft today, here is how the story (hopefully) ends:

27) I got two separate emails back from Microsoft Developer Support.  I think they are unrelated because they came from different people and made no reference to each other.  The first from "Ben" started with him "sincerely apologize for the terrible experience you have had trying to register", and he then asked if I wanted some sort of "token that should help resolve the billing issue".  He explained that the token would take several business days to issue if I wanted it, and that it would then allow them to bill my credit card to activate our App Hub subscription.  Uhm, a token?  Is this a video arcade? Oh, wait...

28) Before I could reply to Ben, I got a very brief email from "Shaun" telling me to go to a page on Xbox.com and redeem a token code he had sent, with no other explanation about what the token would actually do.

29) On the Xbox.com page I read:  "Prepaid codes can be used to extend an Xbox LIVE subscription or redeemed for games, avatar items, and special offers."  There is no mention about the developer program. Maybe it will give me a magic developer Avatar, with a scimitar of debugging.  I enter the code.

30) I get a message that the code has been redeemed for "XNA Creators Club 12-month subscription."

31) I log back in to the create.msdn.com site, and this time when I try to completed the registration process I am not prompted for a credit card and am able to complete registering. I am told to wait for a verification email.

32) I get a verification email a few minutes later with a link to verify my account.  I click the link and get: "we’re sorry. an error has occurred. We have detected an error while processing the page you were looking for. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again."

33) I try again, and get this: "Your account is now pending activation as we validate your identity. When that process is complete, we’ll set up your publisher ID and send you an e-mail once it has been activated."

34) I go back to the developer portal, and see that now (in theory) I am seemingly able to submit apps for approval.  

35) But - according to the email from Shaun, only once I upload our first app will Microsoft begin the process to confirm my business identity - which they say may take several days.  Hopefully there won't be any problems that delay the app being released.  You'd think they could/should verify my identity before the first app upload.  But anyway...  

So - it looks like Microsoft might have comped me a year's subscription to their developer program, though the email initially offering the "token" implied that my credit card will be charged later, so I'm not actually sure.  

I hope this is the end of the story. Finger crossed...
28th-Jan-2011 02:32 am (UTC)
Yikes, that sounds extremely irritating--sorry to hear that!

I am currently developing a map-driven Android app, and I'd be interested in your project (after I finish this one).
28th-Jan-2011 02:43 pm (UTC)
Sounds like fun. Are you enjoying Android?

What is the app you are working on now?
28th-Jan-2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
Its been a good learning experience, I'm excited about what I've learned and I am definitely planning to do more. I'm not so excited about Java, but it's at least something I'm familiar with.

My current project is for pinpointpickup.com. They have an iPhone app out already, and are getting ready to release for other platforms as well. I'm basically implementing the same basic functionality of the iPhone app.
29th-Jan-2011 02:05 am (UTC)
Looks nifty. Let me know when you are ready to talk more about 'Coverage?' and 'State Lines'.
28th-Jan-2011 04:26 am (UTC)
I suggest restarting at Step 16 on a different day.

You're right though, that's ABSOLUTELY F'ING INSANE.
29th-Jan-2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
See the update for the end of the story. It did end up taking another day...
28th-Jan-2011 04:47 am (UTC)
Wow. That is all I've got
28th-Jan-2011 06:42 am (UTC)
FAQ explains how to add new payment methods, but the button referenced in the FAQ is not on the screen. FAQ says: "Under Payment method information for this account, click Use a different payment method." These sections described do not actually exist.

How is this different from any other Microsoft help file?
28th-Jan-2011 02:44 pm (UTC)

Every time I venture even slightly back towards anything Windows related, I get reminded why I left and never looked back.
28th-Jan-2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
Never looked back? I think it's more like 'would prefer to never look back' :)
28th-Jan-2011 11:36 pm (UTC)
Zarquon! Are those guys still in business?
28th-Jan-2011 08:41 am (UTC)
And can I just say: Randy kept me utterly entertained all the way home from work in a sort of "OMFG for real?!" kind of way by reading your post out loud in the car while I was driving.
28th-Jan-2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
Exactly why I shared this - I figured some people at least would be entertained reading this. *laugh*
29th-Jan-2011 02:06 am (UTC)
The end of the story has been added as an update - I'm sure Randy will enjoy it. *grin*
28th-Jan-2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Beyond belief!
The only good thing about this is its humor value.
28th-Jan-2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
Just shared this story with the Palm developer relations people... we've had occasional glitches in our Developer Portal, but nothing quite like this. Wow.
29th-Jan-2011 02:09 am (UTC)
The end of the story has been added as an update to this post, make sure that the Palm Dev folks see how it ends.

And I'd love to find a developer to work with on WebOS ports. If you ever run across someone looking for a project, send them my way.
1st-Feb-2011 05:36 am (UTC)
I would actually be interested in porting at least State Lines (and maybe Coverage? if the first port goes well) - check out my existing webOS apps. Drop me an email at greg.stoll@gmail.com if you're interested!
3rd-Feb-2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
Hey Greg - sounds great! Dropping you an email now.
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