No place for adult content in Windows Phone Marketplace

The countdown to the first Windows Phone 7 handsets is officially on. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported Microsoft will issue three GSM-based WP7 smartphones next month via AT&T, with the first CDMA-based devices not arriving until the first half of 2011. Microsoft senior product manager Greg Sullivan said the company will initially limit its focus to GSM because it is "placing high-quality customer experiences above all else." Windows Phone 7 can't arrive soon enough for Microsoft: Its current Windows Mobile operating system continues to fall out of favor among consumers, now representing 11.8 percent of the U.S. smartphone market--down from 14.0 percent just three months ago--according to new data published by digital measurement firm comScore. Windows Mobile lags far behind Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry (39.3 percent of the U.S. smartphone market), Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS (23.8 percent) and Google's Android (17.0 percent, up 5.0 percentage points over April 2010); only Palm's webOS (4.9 percent) and Symbian (not included in comScore's data) are further off the pace.

With the clock ticking, Microsoft is ramping up its efforts to attract developers to Windows Phone 7--as promised, the company released its final Windows Phone Developer Tools on Sept. 16, available for download here. Writing on the Windows Phone Developer Blog, Windows Phone 7 director Brandon Watson states developers who submit applications for the new Windows Phone Marketplace (opening next month) can expect the certification process to take about five days. He also trumpets the release of Microsoft's Mobile Advertising SDK for Windows Phone 7 and the accompanying Microsoft Advertising Exchange for Mobile, described as the industry's first real-time, bidded ad exchange for wireless devices. Nor can Watson resist taking a shot at Apple, which earlier this month finally published its App Store Review Guidelines, a document reading in part "If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you're trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour." Watson's response: "We appreciate the need to respect the wisdom of the market and not introduce arbitrary restrictions on what kind of app can be submitted. Besides, every developer has to start somewhere, and every developer deserves to have that moment where they show their friends their app running on a phone."

But Microsoft is nevertheless mirroring Apple in its hardline stance against adult-themed mobile content and applications. The new Windows Phone 7 Application Certification Requirements disallow sex and nudity, including "images that are sexually suggestive or provocative," as well as images, text or audio "that a reasonable person would consider to be adult or borderline adult content." Microsoft also says it will ban "realistic or gratuitous violence," including "guns/weapons pointed toward [the] user/audience," "exploding body parts" and "decapitation, impaling, blood splatter/blood spurting/blood pooling, or gore." In addition, the store will forbid content that is "defamatory, libelous, slanderous or threatening," content "that facilitates or promotes, whether directly or indirectly, the illegal (under applicable local law) or excessive sale or use of alcohol or tobacco products, drugs, or weapons" and content "with the excessive use of profanity or adult language." (The complete Windows Phone 7 Application Certification Requirements document is here.)

The Windows Phone 7 Application Certification Requirements read a lot like the App Store Review Guidelines, which state "We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it.' And we think that you will also know it when you cross it." Also verboten: iOS apps deemed "defamatory, offensive [or] mean-spirited," although Apple adds it will make exceptions for professional political satirists and humorists. So what are we to make of a report indicating that Apple rejected Close Range, a tongue-in-cheek mobile game "in which players repeatedly shoot people point-blank in the face"--a title developed by the satirical news outlet The Onion to lampoon the same over-the-top ultraviolence that Apple and Microsoft so strongly oppose? The incident underscores just how difficult it continues to be for gatekeepers like the App Store and Windows Phone Marketplace to accurately assess and categorize all the applications coming their way: The Onion is virtually synonymous with satire in the digital age, but not everyone always gets the joke--gamers looking for the kind of shamelessly gratuitous violence that Close Range promises may not understand or even care that the game is a direct assault on their sensibilities. The publication of defined app store guidelines is a positive step, but some applications will continue to elude definition regardless--you'll know them when you see them, but knowing how to police them is a different story. -Jason

P.S. Be sure to check back with FierceDeveloper over the next few days for live coverage and insight from the Verizon Developer Community Conference in Las Vegas. Expect new details on the operator's V Cast Apps storefront (now accepting Android app submissions) and more.