Devs Coding Slick Homebrew Apps For The ZuneHD

One of the reasons why the iPhone & the iPod Touch are successful is because the platform has appealed to the developers and they’ve come up with some really amazing applications and games, Apple’s App Store is a major part of this platform. Zune 4.0 desktop is by far one of the best applications in terms of UI/UX out there. To no one’s surprise, an App store and apps were a part of the ZuneHD. Unfortunately, unlike Apple, Microsoft hasn’t opened the Marketplace for third party developers. That however, hasn’t stopped enthusiast developers from coming out with some good looking applications and games for the ZuneHD.

Of course it isn’t as easy to install these apps like in case of the iPhone or iPod Touch. C# developer @RougeMat has been working on the XNA platform and has come out with a couple of apps that showing the ZuneHD’s prowess. One of his recently released apps – Spirit Level which as the name suggests lets you use the ZuneHD to know whether the surface is level or not. The app makes use of the ZuneHD’s accelerometers and in a slick looking UI simulates a bubble like in real Spirit Levels moving around the screen as you tilt the device. Screen shot:

I mailed Matt and asked him a couple of questions regarding ZuneHD and developing apps for it, he was kind enough to answer them while on holiday. Here’s what he had to say:

Within the developer circles is there disappointment that ZuneHD doesn’t have a marketplace like the iTunes Store?

Basically, yes. Personally I think Microsoft has taken a better route than Apple has. Its been a few short months since it was released and although there are only a few apps/games they are all really high quality. If Microsoft had gone Apple’s route we would have around 100 (this number is not based on anything solid, just presumption), and more than half would be utter rubbish (Apple has proved this pretty well). Microsoft’s answer has been to have a high quality marketplace, and allowed homebrew (if you want to call it that) without any hacking or modifications.

What about the ZuneHD not being available outside US?

Yeah, this is pretty annoying. Although it doesn’t actually stop much. I live in South Africa and managed to get one a couple days after release without any problems. I think I read somewhere that it was because of licensing issues or something, and if so will probably take ages to get sorted out. I do think that at some point they will release it in other countries though – they would be stupid not to.

How easy is it to develop for the ZuneHD?

Really easy actually. Its all done in Microsoft’s C# language and the XNA framework. If you know C# then you can learn most of how to work with XNA easily in a day.

Would you be fine with Zune Marketplace like the iTunes App Store where MSFT scrutinizes all apps or an app store like the Android Marketplace where the control isn’t as much?

Well firstly, as much as they may have an approval process, it obviously is as good as their prices, i.e. Atrocious. Most of the apps in the iTunes App Store aren’t worth the pixels they pollute. I have not read about or used the android market so i cant really comment, but in regards to a unmonitored iTunes App Store, that is kind of what XNA ‘homebrew’ provides (check out

Would you rather prefer to code for ZuneHD or WinMo?

Well its basically the difference between straight C# (with windows forms) and XNA. And my preference would definitely XNA. I would also love it if at some point Microsoft added XNA onto windows mobile!

Hypothetically speaking if at CES2010 MSFT announced that they’ll be releasing the ZuneHD in other countries, do you as a developer see it as a competitor to the iPod Touch?

If we don’t look at sales, then I reckon the ZuneHD is not only a competitor but is way better than the iPod Touch. In terms of sales, as much as I wish ANY other manufacturer besides apple would gain a large market share, I don’t see it happening. Apple is far too good at making people believe their products are something special. I do however think that if Microsoft plays their cards right and think carefully then they could gain some of the market. Having such an awesome product will of course make this a bit easier for them.

While it isn’t easy as of now install these apps and gets very technical, here’s a tutorial that’ll get you started. The ZuneHD is an amazing device and Microsoft themselves don’t realize that what they have can challenge the iPod Touch, with the might & muscle Microsoft has, not impossible. But Microsoft doesn’t seem to be interested and hasn’t bothered to release the device beyond US. Sad indeed.

Hoping that more developers like Matt hop over to the ZuneHD, maybe that’ll make Redmond re-think their strategy, whatever it is as of now. You can find some 3rd party games for the ZuneHD, here.

Here’s a video of Spirit Level:

You can find some more apps by @RogueMat on his blog.