CTIA: Microsoft Details iPhone-Smacking Apps Market

We’ve known since Mobile World Congress that Microsoft Corp. is planning to launch a mobile widget market, with the goal of creating an Apple App Store-like strategy for Windows Mobile 6.5 devices. But details have been precious few until now: At CTIA this week, the software giant fleshed out the concept by announcing its initial partners for the market.

Windows Marketplace users will be able to download a version of the customizable Internet radio service Pandora, games from Electronic Arts Inc. and Gameloft SA, and not surprisingly, Facebook and MySpace. Also, Isaac Mizrahi-branded themes will be available to customize the look and feel of the user interface.

The Facebook app will be the first mobile version that lets consumers upload video they’ve taken on their phones directly to Facebook. And MySpace said LG Electronics Inc. will preload the Windows application on its handsets in the second half of the year.

These all will be available along with applications from a pool of 20,000 existing Windows Mobile software developers. Developers will keep 70 percent of the revenue from downloads.

In one differentiating move, Microsoft is also giving carrier partners – none of which has been announced – the opportunity to have their own mini-stores within the overall Marketplace, according to Reuters, so purchases will show up on the end user’s wireless phone bill and operators can gain a piece of the branding action.

The iPhone put every other smartphone-maker on notice with its smart and no doubt wildly lucrative strategy of providing a range of cool, fun and useful applications to end users. Whether Microsoft will be able to leverage the idea to make Windows Mobile devices just as attractive – and revenue-generating – as the iPhone remains to be seen, but it’s clear that some kind of third-party applications market strategy has become table stakes. Google Android, Palm Inc. and Nokia have all waded in with their own storefronts, and Research in Motion Ltd. will unveil its app strategy for the BlackBerry platform at CTIA this week as well.

Microsoft apparently wants to avoid some of the issues Apple Inc. has had with scaling the App Store; iPhone developers have been unhappy with the slow application approval process and the rejection of certain apps. In contrast, Microsoft developers will get detailed feedback throughout the entire process.

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