At this year’s Mix conference, Microsoft has begun to lay out the details of its forthcoming Windows Phone Marketplace, which aims to extend the capabilities of the company’s existing Zune Marketplace by providing a platform for developers to sell applications for its forthcoming WIndows Phone 7 series devices. But here’s the kicker: the Windows Phone Marketplace will be the only place for Windows Phone 7 users to get applications: Microsoft won’t be permitting third parties to sell applications for Windows Phone 7 series devices. The only exception mentioned so far has been enterprise customers: Microsoft says it will offer a way for enterprises to distribute and manage applications for their users without going through the consumer-oriented Marketplace.
One frequently-levied criticism of the Apple iPhone ecosystem is that Apple’s iTunes App Store is the only authorized source for iPhone applications: that single-supplier model means that applications that application developers have no choice but to try to conform to Apple’s ever-vague-and-shifting approval process in order to sell their apps at all—and this process is now being extended to the forthcoming Apple iPad. Microsoft now seems to be walking down the same path for Windows Phone 7 series, with its own store set up as the only valid source for applications.
Microsoft does say its application process will be transparent and predictable, so developers will have a good idea beforehand whether their apps will be approved. Microsoft also says it will have guidelines for how applications may handle in-program advertisements. Apple has yet to set down concrete guidelines for iPhone application approval.
According to Microsoft, Windows Phone 7 application purchases will be linked to users Windows Live accounts, rather than to a particular device, so users will be able to uninstall purchased applications and re-download them to a different device. Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace will also enable developer to create trial versions of their applications that customers can download before buying: developers will be able to set the conditions under which the trial stops working, and enabling the application will just require a payment, not a new download. The Windows Phone Marketplace will also take one-time credit card payments: apparently Microsoft does not plan to deal in Zune- or Xbox Live-style points.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 series platform is expected to be on the market in time for the 2010 end-of-year holiday buying season.