Windows Mobile Will Open Up Its App Store To Developers Soon. Will They Bite?

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Today at the 2009 Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft is expected to announce that it will soon be opening up its mobile app development program to developers from around the world in preparation for the public launch of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile platform later this year. Starting July 27, developers from 29 countries will gain access to the program and be encouraged to start working on a range of mobile applications for Microsoft’s very own app store on both the Windows Mobile 6, 6.1 and 6.5 operating system.

So how does Microsoft intend to convince developers to flock to the program? Well according to Todd Brix, Senior Director of Mobile Platform Services at Microsoft, the company’s reach should already be enough to pique developer interest, especially now that it turns out Marketplace for Mobile will support any phone powered by Windows Mobile 6.x.

WinMo’s reach comes from the existing ecosystem of partners and ISVs (independent software vendors) that developers can tap into, as well as the not-to-be-underestimated market share of Windows Mobile phones. Whether you think Microsoft’s operating system for handheld devices is a dog compared to the iPhone, Palm WebOS or Android platform—I know I do after years of camp fights with a Windows Mobile 6-powered HTC S710—over 30 million phones equipped with the software have been sold to date.

Microsoft is today announcing a number of other things also. The company is touting a new category in the store that it hopes will become a strong unique selling proposition: Business apps. The enterprise market has long been Redmond’s bread and butter, so it makes sense for them to put a lot of focus on that category. Other than that, the company is launching a developer contest and has detailed pricing for certification of applications. In short: there will be an annual application fee of $99 per app, but the first five ones (per developer) that find their way to the store are free of charge if submitted before the end of 2009. Microsoft will take a 30% cut of revenues generated by paid applications, which is the same that Apple charges for paid iPhone apps.

Microsoft is stepping into this game ridiculously late. While there are already an estimated 20,000 applications for the Windows Mobile platform out there, the application store isn’t launching until the end of this year (likely in December, I’m told) Marketplace will only be available to WinMo 6.5 users next Fall and to 6.0 and 6.1 users by the end of this year. Microsoft is essentially acknowledging Apple got it right with its App Store years ago and is only now trying to follow in its footsteps. Earlier, Microsoft had said that it expects to launch this Fall with an estimated 600 certified applications.

In the meantime, Google has already gone live with the Android Market, while RIM has its App World for BlackBerry, Palm has introduced its App Catalog store and Nokia recently took the wraps off its Ovi Store. Heck, even handset maker LG beat Microsoft by launching its own application store with about 1,400 apps for Windows Mobile-powered phones just yesterday.

I wonder if by the time Microsoft finally gets around to pushing Marketplace for Mobile live, people are going to have a problem looking at it as a differentiating product rather than as a late catch-up play by Redmond. What do you think?

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