Facebook, app return policy to come to Windows Mobile

Microsoft plans to discuss more details of its new mobile application store at CTIA.

Users of the forthcoming Windows Marketplace for Mobile will be able to return applications within 24 hours, and they'll finally get an official Facebook app.

Microsoft plans to make those announcements and others related to the Marketplace on Tuesday at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas.

Some of the features of the Marketplace match those of existing mobile application stores from Apple and Google, but Microsoft -- and any other company that launches a new mobile app store -- will have to add exciting capabilities in order to match the popularity of the iPhone's App Store.

Microsoft plans to announce that people who buy an application from the Marketplace will have 24 hours to return the application for a full refund. The setup is similar to one adopted by Google when it launched its Android store last year, but different from Apple, which doesn't allow returns of iPhone apps. If a user returns an application, Microsoft will refund its 30 percent share of the sales price and the developer will return its 70 percent share.

Marketplace users will also have more options on how to pay for applications than do users of the competitive stores, said Aaron Woodman, director of consumer product management for mobile communications at Microsoft. Windows Mobile 6.5 users will be able to pay with a credit card or put the purchase on their mobile service bill. iPhone users pay for apps through Apple's iTunes content platform, and Android phone users can only pay for applications through the fledgling Google Checkout payment service, a limitation that some developers blame for slow sales.

Microsoft will also let mobile operators create stores within the Marketplace, Woodman said. The operator stores will appear among categories such as games and productivity applications in the store.

Windows Mobile users are likely to be most interested in some of the name-brand applications that Microsoft plans to announce at the conference. Despite Microsoft's financial stake in Facebook, there is not yet an official Facebook application for Windows Mobile phones. That will change in four to six weeks, when a Facebook application will become available for current Windows Mobile users. Facebook also plans to release an application for the future Windows Mobile 6.5 software, Woodman said.

Microsoft will announce a list of other companies that have committed to contributing applications to the Marketplace, including EA Sports, Zagat, Namco and Accuweather.

MySpace expects to release an application in a few months for the existing platform, and will also offer one for Windows Mobile 6.5, he said.

Woodman also commented on some of the buzz among developers over fees they'll be required to pay to contribute to the Windows Mobile Marketplace. Developers must register for US$99, and that will cover the submission of five applications to the store. Additional applications or application upgrades will cost $99 each, Woodman said.

"We're trying to make sure the equity involved is fair between the ISVs and us," he said. When independent software vendors submit applications for the store, Microsoft will test them to make sure they meet the requirements of the store, and that process takes resources, he said. iPhone and Android developers pay a one-time $99 or $25 fee, respectively, and can submit or upload as many applications and updates as they want.

The company first unveiled plans for the Marketplace, an application store for users of the next version of Windows Mobile, in February and has slowly been releasing details of how the store will work. Windows Mobile 6.5 and the Marketplace are expected to be available on phones in the second half of this year.

In launching an application store, Microsoft is catching up to Apple and Google and potentially Research In Motion, which is rumored to be launching its store at CTIA. Palm and Nokia are also developing application markets.

They all will have to work hard if they want to compete with Apple, which popularized the idea of buying mobile applications with its iPhone App Store. According to research from ComScore, 59.2 percent of iPhone users have download apps. That's 511 percent more than the average mobile user and 133 percent more than Windows Mobile users, ComScore found.

In addition to the Marketplace and application news, Microsoft also plans to showcase some new customization options that will be available in Windows Mobile 6.5. Some were designed by Isaac Mizrahi, a celebrity fashion designer. He has created some "themes" for the phones, including wallpaper and scroll-bar designs, Woodman said.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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