More on Microsoft’s Incoherent Mobile Strategy

Yesterday we ran an editorial about Microsoft’s failing policies in the mobile space, and today, we have an assorted collection of stories that only strengthen this perception. The upcoming Marketplace for Windows Mobile has a number of rigorous restrictions, the Zune lives in a bubble of its own, and free applications for the Zune come with full-screen video advertisements. There are also a few things Microsoft seems to be doing right, however. Instant update: Another Windows-based mobile phone platform. I actually want that one, though.

Let’s start with the Zune applications first. The Zune HD was launched earlier this week, andreviewers more or less agreed that while the hardware is very well built and looks pretty good,t he software leaves some things to be desired. On top of that, it has been revealed that quite intrusive ads are being shown on the Zune HD when you launch some of the free applications Microsoft has available for it.

Microsoft launched a batch of free applications for the Zune HD as it had promised. These are mostly games, but also a few utilities like a weather application and a calculator. When launching these applications, you’ll sometimes be confronted with an ad, either a static image or… A full-screen video. Ars notes that the ads only show when launching the games, and not when loading the utilities.

This seems like a rather counter-productive strategy. The Zune HD is not a cheap device, and a selection of basic applications like this should be part of the package deal. I don’t think people are going to like watching ads on their devices when waiting an agonising 30 seconds for the Chess game to load.

The Zune HD, of course, has bigger issues. Applications for the Zune will only come out of Redmond – the device is closed for 3rd party development for now. For such a powerful device, it seems counter-productive not to let 3rd parties go all-out.

A bigger problem also exists: the Zune HD is an island. It has its own Marketplace, which is completely separate from the upcoming Marketplace for Windows Mobile 6.5. This means that Microsoft will have two marketplaces for applications, both named exactly the same, with one limited to Windows Mobile 6.5, and the other to the Zune.

Moving on to the Marketplace for Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft has placed quite some restrictions on what you can and cannot do with your applications if you want them to be distributed via Microsoft’s channel. For instance, Microsoft disallows “VoIP services over a mobile operator network” and applications which “replace, remove or modify the default dialler, SMS, or MMS interface”. In addition, no applications in the Marketplace may change the default browser, search client, or media player on the device.

Another, very welcome restriction is that no application may “publish a user’s location information to any other person without first having received the user’s express permission (opt-in) to do so”. This is a very welcome ‘restriction’ which makes sure your privacy is protected.

There’s also good news. Microsoft has made it very clear that the Marketplace does not demand exclusivity. In other words, developers are still free to offer their application in whatever other, non-Marketplace way they deem fit. This means that the existing software distribution model of Windows Mobile (i.e., download and install from wherever you want) remains intact.

This last point makes all the other points about the Marketplace rather moot. Microsoft is clearly following Palm’s model of allowing users to install whatever applications they want via whatever means they want on their own phones.

The certification process for the Marketplace is not as cheap as that of Apple’s App Store. Apple requires its iPhone developers to pay 99 USD per year, and for the Marketplace, Microsoft demands the same. However, on top of that, they also ask 99 USD per submitted application; luckily, developers do not need to pay 99 USD for mere application updates.

Probably the biggest, err, unfriendly move here is what happens when your application gets rejected. While Microsoft promises to do good by being very clear and specific about the how and why of the rejection, you will have to repay the 99 USD when you resubmit your application. Bummer.

Add into all this the prospect having both Windows Mobile 6.5 and 7 on the market at the same time with different feature sets, and you get the picture of a very fragmented and incoherent mobile strategy from Microsoft. It is hard to imagine all this working out very well: Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Mobile 7, Zune HD. That’s three different mobile platforms with three different feature sets.


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