In this edition of The Midweek Download, we’ve got stories on the growing Windows Phone 8 apps market reach in China, ways to expand your app’s visibility in the Windows Phone Store and Windows Azure news including a new sign-in experience and updated pricing for SQL Reporting Services.

Windows Phone 8: first major smartphone OS to support Alipay in China. The Windows Phone team reports that Windows Phone 8 sales are beginning to ramp up in China, presenting developers with a huge reach and monetization opportunity. A wide array of Windows Phone 8 devices from Nokia, HTC and Huawei are now available for sale in China from a range of carrier and distribution partners, including China Mobile, the country’s largest carrier with over 710 million subscribers. A big aspect of this release is the introduction of new payment options available to customers in China. Find out what this means for app developers in Monday’s post of the Windows Phone Developer Blog, then check out Tips for localizing Windows Phone 8 XAML Apps.

How to get your app promoted in the Windows Phone Store. Kami LeMonds, merchandising manager for the Windows Phone Store, says her team has the awesome job of selecting the apps we promote every day in the Windows Phone Stores across the globe. Many of you have inquired about how we select the apps we promote and how to get your app considered for promotion. Starting with their Jan. 31 post, LeMonds will be sharing with you on a regular basis our guiding principles (and a few of our secrets). This is especially important for those of you participating in the Windows Phone Next App Star contest, because these principles will be used to evaluate the quality of your apps, representing 50% of your overall assessment. See what three key areas the Windows Phone team is looking at in a Jan. 31 post on the Windows Phone Developer Blog.

Simple, responsive sign-in to Microsoft services driven by Windows Azure AD. This winter, the Windows Azure AD team will launch a new sign-in experience across Office 365, Windows Azure and other Microsoft services used by organizations around the world. Our redesign goals were to create a simple experience that’s optimized for modern devices, reduces the number of times users need to sign in, and provides the best possible experience across the many devices that you want to use. Whether we’re accessing our email, collaborating on SharePoint or managing our services on Azure, it usually starts by signing in. Take a look at the design preview below and check out the rest of the story in yesterday’s post on the Windows Azure blog.

SQL Reporting Services pricing update. We are very pleased to announce that we are lowering the price of Windows Azure SQL Reporting by up to 82%! The price change took effect Feb. 1 and is applicable to everyone currently using the service as well as new customers. To ensure the service is cost effective for lower volume users, we are reducing the price for the base tier and including more granular increments. Effective Feb. 1, the price for Windows Azure SQL Reporting decreased from $0.88 per hour for every 200 reports to $0.16 per hour for every 30 reports. With this price decrease, a user who needs 30 reports per hour, for example, will pay $116.80 per month, down from our earlier price of $642.40, a reduction of 81.8%. Head over to the Feb. 1 post on the Windows Azure blog to read more about this significant update.

Microsoft to provide educational opportunities for 500,000 students and trainees in Morocco via the cloud and new IT academies. Morocco’s Office of Vocational Training and Employment Promotion (OFPPT), a public training institution that offers vocational education across 35 fields of study via 327 training institutes across Morocco, has chosen Microsoft Office 365 to help enhance its education and vocational training solutions. In addition, OFPPT will work with Microsoft Corp. to create 100 new Microsoft IT Academies across the country. This strategic partnership is designed to transform education and enable OFPPT to continue its mission to offer quality training that aligns with the needs of young Moroccans and the regional economy. To get the rest of the story, take a look at this Jan. 30 press release on Microsoft News Center.

Announcing Windows To Go Certified drive partners. We’ve talked about how Windows 8 Enterprise offers businesses the experiences people love, and the enterprise-grade solutions organizations need. Of all the new features and functionality in Windows 8 Enterprise, perhaps the most talked about is Windows To Go, which gives users new possibilities in mobile productivity. A quick refresher: Windows To Go is a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 OS image provisioned on a certified bootable USB drive that allows employees to work from anywhere. To use Windows To Go, you simply insert the provisioned USB drive into a compatible PC and boot into your personalized Windows 8 image, all while maintaining access to key security and management features of the operating system, as well as other key programs included within the corporate image, such as: Group Policy, BitLocker, BranchCache, App-V, UE-V and DirectAccess. For more on this story, head on over to the Feb. 1 post of the Windows for your Business blog.

Voter enablement: using technology to strengthen the democratic process. Voting and elections. When you first think of election “technology,” you probably picture curtained booths with mechanical levers, or paper ballots and pencils. If that’s what first comes to mind, keep thinking because in this last U.S. Presidential election, 10 states demonstrated real technical modernization. Innovative election commissions in more than 10 states and counties used Windows Azure in the 2012 Presidential Election to support worldwide voter enablement, election administration, or reporting. Windows Azure General Manager Bill Hilf provides a quick walk-through of those three solutions in this Jan. 31 post the Windows Azure blog. The image below shows the Windows Azure-based location widget in use on Facebook.

On Helium and Chocolate: Powerful research tools shared at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting. The folks at Microsoft Research love physics and technology. And chocolate. Consider: if you place helium in a (well-made) bag and let it go, there is nothing to prevent it from ascending to the very edge of outer space; a free ride for a small payload using nothing more exotic than a canister of helium available for $39.95 at your local party supply store. The payload in MSR’s case is a GPS and a radio built on .NET Gadgeteer, the purpose is atmospheric research, and the underlying technology is from Microsoft. Find out where the chocolate comes in on the Microsoft Research Connections Blog, Feb. 1 post. The photo below shows a Microsoft Research-hosted fireside chat at the event.

And in case you missed it… ‘Skulls of the Shogun’ emerges as a cross-platform gaming pioneer and modern.IE – A new set of tools to help test web site compatibility.

That’s it for this edition of The Midweek Download. Thanks for stopping by!

Posted by Jeff Meisner
Editor, The Official Microsoft Blog