One of the most appealing features of Windows Mobile is the vast support for third-party applications. You name the problem and it’s a safe bet there’s a software solution out there for you. Of course, you have to find it. Aside from a Windows Mobile marketplace like those offered at Handango and PocketGear, there’s no "one-stop shopping" for WinMo apps. Obviously Apple has the App Store for the iPhone platform and even Nokia offers a small selection of apps through the Download function on their devices.
Microsoft appears poised to change that based on an open job description that offers clues to a centralized software marketplace. SkyMarket is tentatively planned to debut with Windows Mobile 7, although it’s not yet clear if older Windows Mobile devices are able to take advantage of the anticipated storefront. I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be able to, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see direct app purchase work initially with the new mobile operating system. It would be a much bigger win for Microsoft if Windows Mobile 5 and 6 were supported out of the gate, however.
What’s really interesting to me is going to be in the details of how this store will work from a developer standpoint. Will Microsoft collect revenues from software sales, much as Apple does in the iTunes App Store? The way things work now, developers can download the Windows Mobile SDK free of charge and then create, offer and sell their apps with no additional payments going to Microsoft. However, ff they sell their apps through Handango today, 40% of the sales revenue goes to Handango; the same figure applies to PocketGear That tells me that the more apps sold through SkyMarket, the more revenue will be shifted from Handango to Microsoft, and I’m betting the Handango & PocketGear folks are none to happy about that.
At the end of the day however, it’s about the customer experience. The ability to quickly search for and then purchase, download and run third-party apps on the iPhone is generally a positive experience for me. Microsoft looks to be emulating that experience and as I put my consumer hat on, that’s something I can’t wait to see.