updateWindows Mobile will finally get an app store, allowing users to download and purchase mobile apps over-the-air, Microsoft has announced.
The software giant will launch its new marketplace on Windows Mobile 6.5 devices Wednesday, following in the footsteps of Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market and Nokia's Ovi Store.
Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a phone interview Tuesday, Chris Chin, Microsoft's Asia developer marketing director, said the mobile app store will debut with a initial pool of 246 apps, with more on the way from 753 independent developers and companies that have signed up to build apps for Windows Mobile.
At launch, users in 26 countries including five in the Asia-Pacific region--Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan--will be able to purchase apps with their credit cards. Users elsewhere will have to contend with the free apps, for now, till Microsoft works out the kinks in regulatory approval in each country, according to Chin.
Microsoft hopes the mobile app store will appeal to the "non-geeks" who are not familiar with the process of downloading apps on their PCs to install on devices, he said. The mobile store aims to simplify the process of buying apps by circumventing the PC in the equation, allowing the apps to be browsed and downloaded directly within the device.
Users will also be able to buy apps over the PC and have it synced over-the-air to their phones, he said.
When asked why Microsoft debuted its mobile marketplace later than the competition, Chin said: "We are not a late entrant.
"We have had 'app stores' like Handango for a long time," he said, referring to an unaffiliated online store that carries third-party apps.
The Windows Mobile app store was created in response to user demand for an in-device store, he said.
Sites such as Handango and MobiHand, also offer on-device "stores" that allow users to buy apps via their mobile devices without a PC.
Nonetheless, Chin said such sites will still be able to "co-exist" with the Windows Mobile marketplace by differentiating their offerings.
Leading up to the Windows Mobile marketplace launch, Microsoft started canvassing for developers to create and port apps to populate its list, he said, adding that the first app was approved for listing in July.
According to Chin, some of the 246 apps were newly created, while others were existing apps from what Microsoft has estimated to be some 20,000 Windows Mobile apps in the wild, and resubmitted to the store via its app approval process.
Some of the apps were ported over from other platforms such as the iPhone, he added. Microsoft has also been courting iPhone developers, and in July published a case study on porting an iPhone app over to Windows Mobile 6.5.
App approval process
Chin said every app listed in the marketplace is subjected to a "vigorous" three-step approval process.
First, an app must be deemed technically-sound. Next, it is screened for inappropriate content. Third, Microsoft ensures the software does not violate app behavior policies such as broadcasting user information without first notifying the device owner.
Apps are also subjected to localized policies. For example, a Chinese-language app will not likely get approved for listing for users in France, he said.
Apple last month detailed its iPhone app store approval process, in response to a Federal Communications Commission inquiry. Most of its review process involves weeding out software bugs, it said.
Google's Android Market, on the other hand, involves no approval process. According to reports online, it allows developers to freely submit apps to the store, and relies on user voting to weed out the gems from the rest of the pile.