Developers weigh in on Marketplace plans

We've been digesting the news surrounding Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile as the details trickle out. Developers keep 70 percent of the profits, same with Apple's App Store. Standards must be met, but Microsoft will be there to guide developers.

And recently there's been a bit of debate as we learned that updates to an application count the same as submitting a new app. [I Started Something via jkontherun]

Here's how it works: For the initial $99 application fee, devs can submit up to five apps. Any additional submission beyond the first five will cost another $99. So you could submit one application, then update it four times in a year without paying more. Or you can submit five different apps. Dealer's choice.  Counting app updates against the 5-a-year free limit sounds downright crazy wrong to us, but we're not developers.

So before we get all outraged, let's take a deep breath and think things through. More to the point, we asked developers. After the break, we talk with a few well-known developers and see how they feel about Marketplace.

Probably the biggest difference between Microsoft's Marketplace and Apple's App Store is that, initially, writing programs for the iPhone was brand new. Everyone starts from zero, and at the same time. Apple runs the ship and has everything on lockdown. If you want to (officially) release an app for the iPhone, you do it on Apple's terms.

Obviously, developers have been writing and releasing applications for Windows Mobile for quite some time now. Sure, you follow the parameters of the Software Development Kit (SDK) in the actual programming. But distributing the app has been entirely up to the developer. Some have their own Web sites from which they give away their app for free. Others are purchased from sites such as Handango or Mobihand (which we use for the WMExperts Software Store).

Product visibility

If you're a Windows Mobile smartphone user for, say, longer than 2 weeks, chances are you've tried something from SPB Software House. They make Mobile Shell, one of our favorites, business, weather and productivity apps ... you name it.

So you might think that a popular and well-established software company, which already has a strong outlet for its products through Handango, might not want or need Windows Marketplace.

Not so, said Victoria Krasilshikova, the corporate communications manager for SPB. Having the full might of Microsoft behind a product would be an advantage.

"We are very excited to see [Marketplace] go live," she wrote by e-mail. "The reasons are clear – still a relatively small percentage of smartphone owners (including Windows phone owners) actually purchase software for their handsets, the reason being the complexity of the process itself, the uncertainty of success — will the ... paid-for application actually launch on your phone?

"There are problems with credibility for all developers, even SPB. And still even today, most users don’t even suspect that their phones can do more and can perform better. So, we really hope that the [Marketplace] will combat this problem."

Another major developer, Resco Mobile Solutions, also plans to hop on board the Marketplace from the beginning.

Writes Resco's Marcel Saffa: "I think Windows Mobile Marketplace is a good idea. Resco really appreciates Microsoft's step. Such a system surely will shorten the way in which a user can download and buy applications.

"We plan to update all our applications as soon as we're able."

So if you're selling something, product visibility is key. If more people who know about your app, then more people will buy it. Makes sense. But what about free apps? Take a look at your phone. Of all the programs you use, how many did you pay for? OK, how many paid apps did you pay for? The Windows Mobile developer community is as strong as any, and stronger than most, we'd argue.

Upside to the Update situation: Separating the wheat from the chaff

Putting a monetary ceiling over developers might seem at face value like a quick money grab by Microsoft, but there are advantages to doing it. What comes to mind first is this: If developers have to pay to have their app in the Marketplace, they'll take more time and develop better applications.

Vince Koser is the author of the popular Windows Mobile Twitter client ceTwit, which he distributes free from his blog, Kosertech.com. More often than not, you'll see smaller, more independent developers release updates more frequently. So does the $99 for five apps (or updates) bother him?

"I think the 5 application submissions a year is realistic," Koser writes. "I think it

will cut down somewhat on the "2-hours-to-develop, try-to-turn-a-quick-buck type applications that we are seeing in the iPhone AppStore, which isn't a bad thing.

"On the down side, it might deter someone from making an application they wanted to give away free that might be really good if they have already released 5 items for the year."

Marketplace for life?

It's easy to get all up in arms these days whenever a company seems to be (gasp!) trying to make money. But as we mentioned from the outset, there's a very strong developer community surrounding Windows Mobile that has been putting out quality applications for year, and many of them for free. And that isn't likely to disappear with the advent of the Marketplace.

"I think that we need to realize that the distribution model as I understand it isn't going to prevent me from continuing to distribute my application as I do now," ceTwit's Koser said. "So if I want to release some free software, I think I will still have the option to just put it up on the web as I do now."

What should be interesting to see is how Microsoft might handle a sort of symbiotic relationship with developers outside the Marketplace. Could a dev sell an application in the Marketplace, and then release updates for free on his or her own Web site? In-app updates are already available (though for the most part under-used), so that might be an option.

Regardless, Microsoft's going to need to clarify its position on the difference between submitting an application and issuing updates, or things might get ugly. Or they might not. Resco's Saffa is optimistic that Microsoft will revisit the issue before the Marketplace launches later this year.

"This is not positive message for us, but I believe that Microsoft will re-evaluate this strategy."

Update: BirdSoft, makers of excellent WinMo goodness like Extreme Agenda, chimes in in the comments below.

Phil Nickinson

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!

12 Comments
  • My own take: I really REALLY hope that MS doesn't count update against the 5-per-year. If they do, I expect that a lot of developers will forego using the marketplace for free apps and instead offer them for download directly. It's wonderful that that option exists (and crazy that it doesn't on Apple), but I was hoping that Marketplace would be a one-stop-shop for everything, not a shop that just has the apps from developers who can afford it.
  • Why is everyone getting bent out of shape about the 5 App update/submission thing? Just build in an auto update feature into your app!
  • Wouldn't that require your own server for the app? It also takes a bit away from the Marketplace being a complete app/package manager for your device.
  • yeah, but it's better for the end user and easier on the developer.
  • I agree with Matt, just have your own Auto Update system. Most people have a web site and with a simple XML and a CAB file on your website you have Auto Update. You get exporser to your application through marketplace and then people get all the updates they want from your server. It is a win win in my opinion. You can also get updates to people faster if your updates need to go back through approval, if you had your own auto-update then you can get updates to critical issues out faster. I hope Microsoft doesn't block this kind of system, as I am pretty sure we would use it for our products.
  • How is each application implementing a different application update/upgrade mechanism better for the end user? It may be ok for a subset of application purchasers who are technically savvy, but I think there is value in having a consistent story about how, when and why updates will be accessed. As some of the comments from people in the blog post mentioned, some people hardly know that they can add additional applications to their phones. Having each app implementing updating in a slightly different manor may lead to confusion (i.e. one app automatically updates, in another you need to select a menu option to explicitly check for updates, and in yet another you need to check the support website). In my mind that doesn't benefit the end user. Especially if (as a developer) one of the attractions of placing my app in the market place may be finding consumers who found the existing mechanisms for purchasing applications too complex or non obvious.
  • Like Ive said before on this, I hope they re-look at this too if updates do count. If that is the case then Standard vs. Pro versions probably each count as one submission token as well. Meaning I can basically submit 2.5 apps to the store before Im charged per submission. Something like $100 more (or even $250) for each additional 5 tokens would still be better than this and accomplish the same benefits without choking out some very good apps and updates from their store. The cost of reviewing the applications should be included in the 30% to start with and updates should be a much less stringant process than the initial application submission. There needs to be some level of trust there like the other distributors use once you have determined the developer and the applications are legit. And they can be easily policed and can not pay the developer, pull the app, etc... if they find something later that was put through that isnt allowed or is bad. I did 7 updates to Extreme Agenda last year, and that was a slow year for the product, I would have trouble paying the $99 each time to get those features in your hands sooner. I do have an in app update system and maybe that will be allowed but as was mentioned it does get away from what they are ultimately trying to do. Ill have to build it into more of my applications if need be. I have just re-done a few of my applications like FairwayWatch, Metal Euchre, and ListWatch with the last 2 being now generously priced and still of higher quality but I likely would not submit those until I see how the Marketplace performs. Essentially, it will likely choke out a lot of good applications on launch. It hurts the guys with a little bigger catalogs and will hold back updates. Not necessarily what you want to do to make the store successful. But ultimately I am still very excited for its launch...
  • Thanks for chiming in, Birdsoft. Glad to hear that we're not off base in thinking that we need a bit more clarity but that it's also not time to break out the pitchforks and torches. :D
  • well i like the idea of the last paragraph.
    just release all apps with AppToDate support, to give the updated for free without marketplace.
    would be interesting what ms is doing about it?
  • im confused, so Apple does the same 70% to the dev, but MS is charging the dev to make it back? Who invented this horrible business model? the 30% MS take should cover operational fees, why charge ANOTHER $99 for 5 submissions, which is low at that for a whole year. All this model is going to do is to deter developers from participating in the app store.
  • I guess that's the price devs pay for freedom.
  • As long as developers support big chargers, they will be paying more and more, look at Mobihand that started with a press release that stated about being on deveopers side and see how much they charge you nowadays to sell through them.