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The Mobile Marketplace Race Is On

This week Microsoft is officially taking submissions to begin to certify qualified apps for its upcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile. The launch of the app store will coincide with the release of Windows Mobile 6.5 phones from companies like HTC, LG and Orange later this year.

With the Apple app store operating at full throttle, Microsoft needs to get developers worldwide excited about building Windows Mobile apps, despite a platform that lags behind on key features, notably multi-touch, not expected until Windows Mobile 7. An interim release, Windows Mobile 6.5 offers a new interface with the Marketplace app built-in, IE Mobile 6 and a free My Phone sync service.

Microsoft’s mobile developers will receive 70 percent of their marketplace app sales, the same model used by Apple for its iPhone and iPod Touch apps. Mobile app developers often write their software for multiple platforms, but Apple’s marketing muscle and the gold rush mentality has tilted some dev shops in the direction of Cupertino.

On Monday, Microsoft introduced the Race to Market Challenge for developers in 29 countries, a contest that starts this week and runs through December. Apps will be judged, according to a Windows Mobile team blog posting by Todd Brix in four categories: free app with the most downloads, best value calculated by downloads x price, most useful and most playful. Winners in each category will receive a developer edition of the Microsoft Surface multi-touch table, online marketing of their app and a trophy.

Microsoft is looking for business and consumer apps with at least one phone capability (phone, contacts, accelerometer, sensors, and the like, according the contest rules) built using the Windows Mobile platform (.NET Compact Framework 3.5). If selected, Marketplace apps will be available to Windows Mobile device users, estimated by Microsoft at around 30 million worldwide, when the app store broadens its support to include Windows Mobile 6.0 and Windows Mobile 6.1 by the end of 2009.

The Microsoft app store will also feature a Windows Marketplace Business Center. Companies such as Avanade UK, Formotus, Ilium Software, Pyxis Mobile and Web IS have signed on and have business apps in the works, according to Microsoft.

Mobility apps for corporate types may be the sweet spot for developers. Outside of the Xbox, Microsoft has an age problem. Mobility is something that the young take for granted. Teens clamor for iPhones, Blackberries and iPods. I don’t know anyone under twenty-five with a Windows Mobile device. With the new phones, hopefully that will change. The still standalone Zune does not run Windows Mobile and therefore cannot support Windows Mobile apps, although Steve Ballmer has said in interviews that Zune-like functionality will be integrated into Windows Mobile at some point.

.NET developers who build for the desktop or the Web will have to start from the ground up. Even though .NET Compact Framework 3.5 is a subset of the .NET Framework, it’s more like apples and oranges, than simply porting Windows desktop apps to Windows mobile devices. Microsoft is working to address some of these platform silo issues, most visibly with desktop and Web technologies like Windows Presentation Foundation and Silverlight. The status of Silverlight for Mobile, despite the launch of Silverlight 3 earlier this month, is unknown.

Retail stores are on the way and Microsoft phone rumors persist. Can Microsoft follow Apple’s lead and get app developers jazzed about its mobile platform? Or are you waiting to see if Microsoft can deliver the goods with Windows Mobile 7? Express your views below or drop me a line at [email protected]

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 07/28/2009 at 1:15 PM

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