Microsoft's Phone Marketplace Could Risk Apple Pitfalls

Microsoft is using its TechEd Conference in New Orleans to outline the developer policies for its Windows Phone Marketplace, which will tie heavily into its upcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system. While a Microsoft executive in a blog posting made nods to transparent and uniform policies surrounding app submission, Apple's recent controversies over applications in its own App Store suggests that Microsoft will need to tread carefully as it attempts to use developers' apps to increase its appeal in the smartphone space.

Microsoft is outlining the policies for Windows Phone Marketplace at its TechEd Conference in New Orleans, hoping that third-party developers will be encouraged to build mobile applications for the platform when it debuts on a variety of devices later in 2010. Those policies include the inevitable bans on controversial content, similar to those enacted by Apple with its popular App Store, and which could cause Microsoft similar headaches if the controversy erupts over what constitutes an "appropriate" app.

Windows Phone Marketplace will tie heavily into Windows Phone 7, the upcoming smartphone operating system that Microsoft is positioning as a total revamp of its mobile franchise. Over the past several quarters, Microsoft has been losing ground to fierce competitors in the space, including Google Android and the Apple iPhone; Windows Phone 7, which forgoes those rivals' "pages of mobile apps" user interface in favor of subject-specific "Hubs" that aggregate Web content and applications, is being designed to wrest back market share through a slick design and wide variety of functions.

But as Apple has proven with the iPhone, a vital component in a smartphone's success with businesses and consumers is its third-party apps. Apple's App Store is considered a key attractant for both users in need of ever-new games and applications, and developers seeking to sell those programs.

Microsoft seems intent on making applications-and, by extension, third-party developers-front and center of its Windows Phone Marketplace and Windows Phone 7 paradigm, according to the news filtering from TechEd.

"We introduced our first Marketplace eight months ago and have already shown that there is demand for an app store that is both customer-centric and developer friendly," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote in a June 7 posting on The Windows Blog. "Marketplace is evolving to give people a great selection of beautiful apps for Windows Phone 7."

The blog posting seems to offer a not-so-subtle dig at Apple, which has encountered some controversy over its review and approval policies for apps: "At the same time, we're giving developers the respect they deserve in our use of transparent and uniform policies that still give developers the necessary information and flexibility to explore creative sales and marketing models."

In sum, the new Windows Phone Marketplace policies include an annual $99 registration fee, the ability to submit five free apps per registration (rising to $19.99 each, after that) along with an unlimited number of paid apps, a revenue share of 70/30, and an ability to publish to all available Marketplace markets.

Policies also include an optional push notification service for developers, the ability to manage Marketplace business via a self-service portal, and a new optional Trial API. "Trials mean more customers try your app," Watson wrote, "and less likelihood that they return it. The length or type of trial is fully controlled by the developer."

A full list of policies can be found here, on Microsoft's Windows Phone for Developers Website.