Microsoft’s app store expands access

Microsoft Corp. has extended the availability of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile app store to include Windows Mobile 6.0 and Windows Mobile 6.1 devices. The broader availability is a benefit for both users and developers, but it may not do much to help the Windows Mobile platform capture market share.

While Microsoft claims there are over 18,000 apps available for the Windows Mobile platform, the vast majority of those are only available from the third-party vendors that developed them. The Windows Marketplace for Mobile inventory is restricted to the relative handful of apps that have passed Microsoft’s rigorous testing to validate that they work well on the intended devices.

The result is that the Windows Marketplace for Mobile only has around 800 apps right now, and depending on the device you are using you may only see a smaller subset of those apps. Windows Mobile is available on a diverse collection of hardware. The features–such as cameras, GPS functionality, etc.–vary from device to device and the Windows Marketplace for Mobile attempts to cater the apps displayed to show only those that are compatible with the given hardware.

App stores have become a ‘must have’ feature for mobile device platforms–at least for smartphones. The apps let users customize the device to fit their needs and extend its capabilities. The apps provide developers with a platform for generating revenue. The mobile platform vendor, such as Apple or Microsoft, also benefits from the revenue generated by a successful app store, as well as the increase in perceived value of the devices when.

App store bragging rights seem to hinge on volume. Apple is the reigning king of app stores with an inventory that currently tops 100,000 different apps. Android has quietly amassed a respectable 10,000 plus apps for the Android Market. I don’t think anyone really needs 100,000 apps. I am not sure what the magic number is to provide sufficient value and incentive for customers, but I am pretty sure that Microsoft’s 800 isn’t it.

Expanding the scope of the devices that the app store is available to makes sense because the larger volume of potential devices provides developers with an incentive to create apps for the platform. Logically, a developer is more likely to write software for an app market that reaches 10 million users rather than investing time writing software for a market of 10,000.

There is a chicken and egg paradox at work when it comes to the success of the app store as well, though. The more apps a platform has, the more likely it is to appeal to customers, but the more customers a platform has, the more likely it is to appeal to the developers that create the apps. Without one or the other in place its hard to jumpstart the other.

Earlier this year Microsoft was actively working to lure iPhone app developers to port applications and begin developing for the Windows Mobile platform. With 100,000 apps compared to 800 it would seem those efforts haven’t really panned out.

Microsoft is moving in the right direction by opening the Windows Marketplace for Mobile app store to a wider audience of Windows Mobile users. It wouldn’t hurt if Windows Mobile had more market share in the industry as a whole, either. Perhaps Windows Mobile 7 can get the Windows Mobile platform back on the right track. If not, the value of Windows Marketplace for Mobile may become a moot point.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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