Google, Microsoft give the App Store a run for its money

From the minute Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the computing giant's App Store virtual retail effort sold in excess of 60 million mobile application downloads in just its first month of existence, it seemed inevitable that rival application storefronts would sprout up like weeds. The first official me-too confirmation: Google, which announced last week the pending launch of Android Market, an open content distribution system for consumers to find, purchase, download and install various types of content to devices powered by its fledgling Android mobile operating system. According to Google, Android Market will be set up less like the App Store and more like its YouTube user-generated video service, complete with consumer feedback and ratings systems: "We chose the term ‘market' rather than ‘store' because we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available," writes Google's mobile platform program manager Eric Chu on the Android Developers Blog, tweaking the App Store with all the subtlety of a lead pipe to the face. "Similar to YouTube, content can debut in the marketplace after only three simple steps: register as a merchant, upload and describe your content and publish it. We also intend to provide developers with a useful dashboard and analytics to help drive their business and ultimately improve their offerings."

Next up: Microsoft. An online job advertisement first spotted by blogger Long Zheng suggests Microsoft is poised to launch its own centralized app resource, dubbed Skymarket, in conjunction with the debut of Windows Mobile 7. The ad, which calls for a Skymarket senior product manager, reads "This is a unique opportunity and time of rapid change in the mobile industry for a Senior Product Manager in the Mobile Communications Services team to drive the launch of a v1 marketplace service for Windows Mobile," and lists responsibilities including "Definition of the product offering, pricing, business model and policies that will make the Windows Mobile marketplace ‘the place to be' for developers wishing to distribute and monetize their Windows Mobile applications" as well as "Support business development on engagements with mobile operators and integration of the marketplace offering into broader Microsoft services offerings or discussions." In addition, the successful candidate will take charge of "preparation and driving the cross group collaboration for the initial launch of the marketplace offering to the developer community this fall."

While third-party development of Windows Mobile applications is nothing new--there are more than 18,000 WinMo apps at last count, compared to roughly 2,000 created for the iPhone platform--the notion of a centralized Microsoft mobile app repository is a different story. The closest antecedent to Skymarket is Microsoft's Windows Mobile Catalog website, which connects users to application vendors like Handango, Pocketland and MobiHand; otherwise, WinMo apps retailers are scattered across the web. Presuming Skymarket operates in a manner similar to the App Store, Microsoft would now market apps directly to consumers and split the resulting revenues with developers, removing vendors from the equation--and making Windows Mobile a more inviting and profitable platform for the development community depending on the percentage of Microsoft's cut. And with any luck Microsoft will learn from Apple's mistakes, fostering a Skymarket development environment defined by clear-cut internal review processes, a consistent software update protocol and open lines of communication--combine those elements with the scale and scope of the WinMo platform, and Skymarket can become "the place to be" that Microsoft wants it to be. -Jason