Vodafone's branding campaign focuses on Microsoft

We have been examining the bid by major operators like Vodafone and China Mobile to assert control over the Android platform, imposing their own user interfaces and branding rather than sticking with the current Google dominated designs. And some carriers have similar issues with Apple, resenting the iron control the iPhone maker exerts over its App Store branding.

Their attempts to gain the upper hand in the mobile user experience do not stop there. Now Microsoft is coming under similar pressure as it prepares to go live with Windows Marketplace for Mobile, its answer to App Store.

Microsoft is reported to be in talks with Vodafone, Telefonica O2 and other European cellcos, which want to use their own look and feel and branding on the Windows store. Microsoft is fighting a rearguard action to keep WinMo a major player as most of the mobile world goes open source. While stopping short of adopting operators’ look and feel, it may be forced to be more flexible in other areas like user experience.

It has already made major concessions to handset partners, allowing Sony Ericsson and others to create their own user interface layers on top of WinMo – a similar and long running debate with carmakers over the branding of Windows-based in-car systems also resulted in recent climb-downs by the Redmond giant.

If it shows similar pliability around its store and will probably allow WinMo handsets to be modified by each operator so that the storefront would appear under the cellco brand, or have dual branding. According to Tweakers.net, the first handsets to support the new release of WinMo, 6.5, which will introduce the Marketplace, will be the TC Touch Diamond2 and the HTC Touch Pro2, plus the Toshiba TG01.

Microsoft is also eager to set out the rules governing its store clearly and avoid the constant confusion that reigns around Apple's inconsistent regulations. The firm has released a list of 12 application types that will be barred, and betrayed its closed-world roots in the process – or perhaps its approach should be interpreted as a bid to get closer to cellcos and so boost WinMo.

Top of the list is mobile VoIP, along with programs that allow users to buy from competing app stores from a Windows phone, or that change the phone's default browser, search engine and media player. The store restriction is predictable, though companies like Microsoft and Apple may have to rethink this in future as cross-store platforms appear from the likes of Symbian and Adobe.

Mobile VoIP is a threat to cellcos, and many have been aggressive in blocking Skype, Google Voice and others – a strategy that Microsoft seems to be supporting, at the cost of its open internet credentials. The same goes for the browser, search and media player – partly a move to keep Microsoft's own products at the fore, but since so many operators change these defaults, this rule could also be part of a campaign to make WinMo and its shop front the most cellco-friendly in the game.

More conventionally, developers will also be barred from writing apps that change the default phone dialler, SMS or MMS interface.

Rethink Wireless