Analysis: Mobile games as Microsoft’s new weapon against iPhone

Chicago (IL) – A slew of new mobile OS features, services and initiatives unveiled today at the International CTIA WIRELESS 2009
conference running from April 1 to 3 are certainly encouraging steps in
the right direction, including major announcements by game makers who have pledged to support
Microsoft’s latest mobile OS. The future of mobile is shaping up to offer a little something for everybody’s tastes.

SLIDESHOW:
Windows Mobile 6.5
(6 pictures)


Since the Windows Mobile and related app store announcements were made at the World Mobile Congress 2009 — held this past January in Barcelona, Microsoft has been quietly working with its partners to bring forth the new Windows Mobile 6.5 OS release to catch up with its rival Android and iPhone platforms. Microsoft knows very well that the availability
of quality games, entertainment and social networking apps is key
to attracting consumers to the platform. Therefore, it shouldn’t come
as a surprise that some of the biggest game makers have pledged to create
Windows Mobile 6.5 games, and distribute them through Microsoft’s mobile
app bazaar.

Honeycomb Start screen:  Still around

Although Microsoft promised at the MIX 09 conference to ditch its honeycomb UI unveiled in early January, the latest press images still show that Windows Mobile 6.5 OS features a honeycomb Start screen.
We like the striking new lock screen that collects alerts and
notifications. Simply swipe your finger over missed calls or
text messages, and this unlocks the handset, launches appropriate app and
selects the missed event. Users of Apple’s iPhone lack such a comprehensive
notification center and are required to manually unlock the handset and
launch apps to respond to missed events.

Since personalization is everything, Microsoft promised to launch the new Theme Generator that
will let you create background images and choose colors to personalize
navigation bar, scroll bar and highlighted text. Microsoft has
partnered with several fashion designers who will create several
distinct phone themes.

In addition to the updated operating system, Microsoft also announced an impressive lineup of third-party apps scheduled for arrival in time for the launch of its App Store rival, named Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Most announced titles so far are either entertainment or social networking apps. New Microsoft-created
Facebook and MySpace apps will go live later this month, and in the summer,
respectively — both free of charge. Unlike Facebook version for iPhone,
the Windows Mobile-compatible version will enable users to upload videos to
their Facebook profiles, not just photos.

HONEYCOMB STILL THEREDespite promises that the “honeycomb” UI would be removed (due to user’s
requests), the latest Windows Mobile 6.5 build demoed at the CTIA
WIreless 2009 conferences still has this feature.
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Windows Live and games, games, games

Windows Live for Mobile will launch on April 2 in 25 languages for all Windows Mobile 6.x phones. A free online services suite brings mobile versions of Hotmail, Messenger, Contacts, Spaces, Search and improved photo upload abilities. A new beta version of Windows Live Hotmail is optimized for major mobile browsers and brings an improved UI, navigation enhancements for touch-screen devices, the
ability to see full HTML content and pages within email messages, and a new
email search feature. Previously announced MyPhone cloud service that allows users to back up and restore entire phone is now live and running.

Taking a cue from Apple’s success with games on their App Store, Microsoft has signed up a number of well-known mobile game developers. EA Mobile, Gameloft, Magmic Games and Namco Network all pledged to create games for the platform. AccuWeather.com, The Associated Press, CNBC, Developer
One Mobile Software
, Glu Mobile,
Handmark, Ilium Software, Jeyo, Kinoma, LiteScape, Melodis, Netflix, Pandora,
PhatWare, Resco, ShoZu, Sling Media, SBSH Mobile
Software
, Spb Software, Web Information Solutions and Zagat
Survey
all round out an impressive list of developers who pledged to distribute their titles via Microsoft’s application bazaar.

Strong support from game developers is all but surprising to Jack E. Gold of J. Gold Associates. “One of the primary drivers of the iPhone has been entertainment (just like with the iPod),” Gold told TG Daily in an email interview. “So
it is not at all surprising that gaming is doing well with the App
Store. I don’t think the competitors are neglecting it as much as
focusing on what they think their strengths are, which is business and
personal productivity. Having said that, I believe you will see games
for the competing platforms in the next few months,”
the analyst said.

THE NEW FACEBOOK APPA Microsoft-created Facebook program will be among the initial batch of apps delivered through the Windows Marketplace for Mobile when it launches later this year. Unlike the iPhone version, the Windows Facebook app packs a video upload feature.
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Read on the next page:  Microsoft’s app bazaar, Final thoughts…

Windows Mobile app store flexes its muscles

The Windows Marketplace for Mobile will open for business later this
year. Unlike Apple’s App Store, Microsoft’s app bazaar will also pack a
branded section where carrier partners will be able to market their own
applications and services. Storefront will come as an integral
part of the Windows Mobile 6.5, carrying programs written in C/C++, .NET and widgets (written in
both JavaScript and HTML). Microsoft expects most developers of the
20,000 Windows Mobile apps that have thus far been
pushed individually by their respective developers (or through the
Handango mobile store) will switch to its app bazaar.

Besides what we know so far, Microsoft said users will be able to purchase programs on its
store using their credit cards, or have charges appear
directly on their phone bills. Interestingly, the store will let users
return a software application and get a full refund within 24 hours of
purchase — Apple’s App Store does not offer refunds and Apple, not
carriers, charges users for all purchases.

Mirroring Apple’s deal for
iPhone developers, Microsoft allows developers to pick the price for
their apps or offer them free of charge. Microsoft will keep 30% of revenue to cover hosting, payments and other costs associated with
running the store. Developers will be able to
deliver updates to their applications for free throughout the
application lifecycle.

Conclusion:  So far, so good

While Apple’s App Store and
iPhone OS still lead in terms of usability, features and developers
support, it’s nice to see Microsoft finally waking up. Since the Windows Mobile 6.5
announcement early January, the software maker has been relentlessly
tweaking its mobile OS and has gone to great lengths to ensure broad
support from carriers, handset makers and software developers.

While Windows
Mobile may not be the coolest mobile OS around, make no mistake — it’s
certainly the largest ecosystem out there and it’s here to stay. Yes,
the UI overhaul and cosmetic changes barely bridge the gap between the more
substantial release 7 — slated for next year, but it’s exactly what
Microsoft needed at this point.

Speaking of app stores, it’s hard comparing
Microsoft’s and Apple’s mobile stores. Instead of directly competing,
the two mobile stores serve as distribution channels for their
respective platforms. “The App Store is Apple-oriented and the throngs of Apple devotees will still shop there,” Jack Gold told TG Daily. “But if you have a Windows Mobile device, you are not going to find any apps there and you will have to go elsewhere.” The analyst thinks that so-called “battle of the app stores” being hyped by the media has no merit in real life. “The
ultimate decision will come down to what type of phone you have,” the
analyst said. “If iPhones continue to be popular and/or consumers buy
lots of apps for their phones, App Store will thrive. If not, it will
see sales fall. Very simple economics.”

WINDOWS MOBILE APP BAZAARDubbed “Windows Marketplace for Mobile”, Microsoft’s take on the App Store will launch later this year. Unlike the app store, Microsoft’s store will let you return your purchase within 24 hours for a full refund.
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