Bobby Travis

Bobby Travis

This is a post by Bobby Travis, who wrote with me at 40Tech from 2009 through 2012. Bobby has since moved on to bigger and better things, but I've left all of his great contributions up on the site. - Evan
Bobby Travis

Screaming kid destroys Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Skymarket | 40tech

 

You may think from the title that I am a bit less than enthused with Skymarket, the new Windows Marketplace for Mobile app store. You wouldn’t be wrong, either. This may come as something of a surprise to some of you, considering how much I have obviously been looking forward to the release of Skymarket, but my bitterness, and thus bitter message, is a direct result of keen disappointment. 

 

Skymarket was bundled with the release of Windows Mobile 6.5, which, itself, was greeted by a general sigh that was followed by barely contained laughter. The final version was not nearly as advanced as many had hoped and is apparently no more than a barely re-skinned Windows Mobile 6/6.1 — which is a barely re-skinned Windows Mobile 5.2/CE. In fact, ROM cooking devs from sites like PPCgeeks and XDA Developers have actually advanced Windows Mobile further than the official 6.5 version could hope to; but to take advantage of their advancements you will have to unlock your phone and learn how to flash a ROM. Considering the history of Microsoft, maybe this shouldn’t be all that surprising, but my love of Windows 7 and my excitement at finally jumping into the modern mobile app world must have skewed my judgement.

As I perused Skymarket for the first time, I was excited at the prospect of seeing the 600 or so apps that were originally promised — and when I found out that the number had been cut down to 200, I paused and then shrugged, thinking “Still 200 modern apps that I may not have seen before — apps that might compare with iPhone or Android!” Imagine my disappointment, then, when I was only able to see a grand total of 42 apps. 42! Apparently, this is due to the fact that I am in Canada and using an HTC Touch. The Windows Mobile Marketplace automatically filters apps by location and hardware. But… 42??? I am certain that a large number of the filtered apps could very likely work on my phone and in my location, as I have run many other software apps that are supposedly beyond my phone’s rating. Don’t get me started on locale filtering. Overall, I am not a fan of this “feature”. I would much rather be told by the developer what the recommended specs are for the software and give it the old college try. Big fan of making up my own mind, here. I suppose I should just be glad I’m not in Norway, where they were only able to access three apps on the marketplace.

More apps are being added daily, but this leads me to the next problem: pricing. There are some apps out there that are observing the pricing styles of iPhone and Android publishers, but many of the publishers either don’t understand the nature of a centralized app store and the concept of competition, or they do understand and are just trying to make as much money as they can before their prices are forced to lower. The most common prices I saw in the first week of Windows Mobile app-store-dom were $19.99 and $29.99. This was especially from Ye Olde Thyme Windows Mobile publishers that didn’t even bother to update the look and usability of their software to modern standards. I find it hard to believe anyone will pay these prices when they could get a free alternative, or a cheaper, prettier alternative as developers (hopefully) jump in to fill this gap.

To exacerbate the pricing problem, once again, Microsoft enters the fray. Microsoft offers Mobile Office on the marketplace for a whopping $54.99! Pick your jaw up off of the floor — and stop laughing iPhone users! — you heard me right: $54.99 for software which, incidentally, is free on any phone with Windows Mobile Professional (pretty much any touch screen WinMo phone at this point) and has an outdated, barely touch-enabled UI. This is the new version of the software that supports Office 2007, and it is supposedly free to users that already have Mobile Office — oddly though, when I tried to test this, it asked me to pay $54.99. Either way, free upgrade, no free upgrade, whatever, Microsoft offering software on their own store for that ridiculous price only invites other publishers to do the same.

What will make the difference in the price issue, over time, is more and more developers jumping onboard and publishing their software at industry standard prices — with higher price points for apps that are truly exceptional and cannot be supported any other way. Even if the smarter publishers offer subscription models, which will provide more money to them in the long term, this is more acceptable that the throat-choking prices which have classically accompanied Windows Mobile applications. I suppose it will depend entirely on whether or not the developers actually see the demand and jump onboard. There is always the possibility that they will ignore Windows Mobile outright and stick with sexier platforms.

One major issue that may interfere with Windows Mobile app demand, and the overall success of the app store, is an extremely HUGE technical flaw: Windows Marketplace for Mobile applications can only be installed to internal memory. Anyone who knows anything about Windows Mobile Phones knows that internal memory is not their strong suit. In fact, unless you have some of the fancier and ridiculously priced handsets (that are generally only available outside of North America), the most internal memory your Windows Mobile phone probably has it about 512mb. Again, stop laughing iPhone users! *shakes fist* This is a huge problem if you want to start downloading apps, especially as the price points (again, hopefully) get more enticing. My phone only has 256mb of internal storage, plus a bit for program-running memory. Not going to get me very far, is it? And I have one of the beefier versions of my handset’s model. I ask you: how do you use a service that supposedly inspires you to download a lot of applications when every application you download eats away at precious space and potentially slows down your phone’s operation? Easy answer: You don’t.

The positive thing here is that, according to their forums, Microsoft has realized their idiocy in this regard and will fix the market in future updates to allow installation to SD Cards. In the meantime, if you get a hold of software like Pocket Mechanic, you can move the app to your SD Card and it will update registry entries and everything for you. Expect to pay at least $30 bucks for this software though *sigh*, and understand that Skymarket will then display your apps as downloaded but not installed.

It is also nice that they allow apps to be installed on up to five handsets… I guess, anyway. I’m not planning on having 5 handsets in the time it will take for these apps to upgrade, so… yeah.

The crux of it all is this: in order for Windows Marketplace for Mobile (and maybe Windows Mobile itself) to survive, they need a sexy app-list on a sexy app-store, and they need the apps for sexy app-prices. This will create demand for both publishers and users and we will have a nice, balanced ecosystem of mobile computing. In order to get there, though, the problems noted above need to be addressed, and soon, before even the lacklustre shine fades away to nothingness.

 

Have you tried Skymarket? What are your thoughts on its current limitations and needs?