Microsoft Reveals Strategy for Mobile Developers

In a bid to entice application providers to build and distribute their wares on the recently announced Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Microsoft today revealed plans to offer tooling and guidance on its developer portal.

Developers will be able to register for the program this spring and submit applications this summer to go through a vetting process, Microsoft said. The new developer program, which will be available in 29 countries, largely mimics Apple's App Store, which was released last year and is widely regarded as setting the tone for how developers are able to distribute their applications.

Like Apple, Microsoft said that it will take a 30 percent commission on applications sold through the Windows Marketplace for Mobile.

"They are playing catch-up but they are dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's on it," said Philippe Winthrop, director of global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, a Newton, Mass.-based market research firm.

Microsoft maintains it will offer a "rigorous" and "transparent" certification process before applications can be distributed. Under the program, developers pay a $99 fee which will allow them to submit up to five applications. Additional submissions are $99 each. Microsoft is waiving the fee for student developers participating in Microsoft's DreamSpark program.

"From a developer perspective, it's a huge leap forward for the Windows Mobile platform and for Windows Mobile developers," said Daniel Bouie, senior planner for Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile. "For the first time, it creates a place for developers to go to get distribution of the products on every Windows Mobile 6.5 phone, and it's really designed to make sure that developers can maximize their revenues associated with their products."

Bouie said today's announcement kicks off Microsoft's developer outreach as the company looks to build a delivery mechanism for its effort to boost its mobile fortunes. As previously reported, developers have been critical of Microsoft's outreach to mobile application developers. "This is our process of reaching out to developers to let them know about the Windows Marketplace for Mobile opportunity," he said.

The Marketplace will require devices based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5, which are not yet available. Winthrop, who has seen the new Windows Mobile 6.5 interface, described it as an evolutionary improvement. "They've dealt with some of the user interface issues that made it less than competitive with other platforms such as the iPhone," he said. "Now, is it as polished and slick as the iPhone? No, but it's not meant to be."

Bouie said developers who have built to the current Windows Mobile 6.1 will not need a new SDK. "The current SDK meets all their needs at this time," he said, adding Microsoft will be releasing a Windows Mobile 6.5 emulator for developers well before the Marketplace opens, but the release date of that is still up in the air.

Microsoft said developers can build apps for Windows Mobile 6.5 and the Marketplace without having to learn a new programming language. Those familiar with Win32, Active Template Library and the Microsoft foundation classes such as Visual C++, Visual C#, Visual Basic .NET, as well as JavasScript, XML and AJAX can program apps for Windows Mobile 6.5 and the Marketplace, Microsoft said.

"[It supports] development under any of the Windows Mobile technologies, whether it's C++, managed .NET, Compact Framework -- all of those types of applications are able to be distributed via Windows Marketplace for Mobile," Bouie said.

The Windows Marketplace for Mobile interface will be available on the Web from a PC and is built into the Windows Mobile client, according to Bouie. It will function as another component of the OS just like Internet Explorer Mobile and Outlook Mobile. The Windows Mobile 6.5 device connects to a back-end service hosting the marketplace, where applications are rendered and transactions are conducted, he explained.

"There's a 'find' component, a 'try' process, and there's a 'buy' or 'purchase' component where you can complete the transaction on the device and the application is delivered to the device over the air," Bouie said.

Microsoft's new program could appeal to some non-Windows developers who are looking for multiple mobile platforms to deliver. Keeping pace is critical if Microsoft wants to be in the game, said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote.

"People who develop for the iPhone are not just Apple developers, they are just developers in general," Cote said. "Increasingly, mobile programming has that same appeal where you don't necessarily have to have allegiances to the traditional tribes of development."

Microsoft said tools and guidance can be found on its portal for mobile developers here.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.