Microsoft plans to open its Windows Marketplace to mobile-application developers at the end of July 2009, as it seeks to gain traction against competitors such as Apple and Research In Motion in the ever-more-contentious mobile app space.
The announcement comes as Microsoft prepares to gear up Windows Mobile 6.5, the next version of its mobile interface due in the second half of 2009. Windows Mobile 6.5 will offer a full Web browser with built-in Flash support and on-screen icons designed to be manipulated with a finger as opposed to a stylus.
"I'm pleased to report that Windows Marketplace is on schedule to open for submissions in 29 supported countries on July 27," Todd Brix, senior director for Microsoft's mobile platform services product management, wrote in a corporate blog posting on July 14. "We're already working with a wide range of leading developers for both business and consumer applications."
The products those developers create will be "ready for download when Windows Marketplace launches with Windows Mobile 6.5 in the fall," Brix added. "To make things a little more interesting, later this month we'll also be announcing the details of a developer contest that will kick off at launch."
Windows Marketplace will be available for devices equipped with older versions of Windows Mobile, specifically Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1, by the end of 2009. This move in particular opens another 30 million devices to developers' applications.
The upcoming Windows Mobile ecosystem will include Windows Marketplace Business Center, which will contain business applications from companies such as Avanade UK, Formotus, Ilium Software, Pyxis Mobile and WebIS.
According to a report by Juniper Research, the number of mobile application downloads will approach nearly 20 billion per year by 2014. In addition to Microsoft, Palm, RIM and Google have all been developing their own mobile-application ecosystems: Palm's App Catalogue passed the 1 million downloads mark on June 24, 19 days after the debut of the Palm Pre, while Google has its Android Market, RIM has the BlackBerry App World, and Nokia recently launched the Ovi Store.
All of these companies, in their different ways, are trying to catch the Apple App Store, from which users have downloaded over 1.5 billion apps, according to Apple. The App Store currently has over 65,000 apps and more than 100,000 developers enrolled in Apple's iPhone Developer Program.