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Microsoft opens Windows Marketplace for Mobile with 246 apps

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Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Microsoft’s equivalen to the Apple’s iPhone App Store, opened for business officially on October 6 with 246 applications.

Yes, that is nowhere near the more than 85,000 apps in the App Store. But Microsoft officials claimed not to be discouraged by the disparity. At Microsoft’s consumer-focused open-house showcase in New York City today, company officials noted that the company has 753 independent software vendors working on Windows Mobile ports.

Robbie Bach, the President of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Unit, told press and analysts that he was upbeat about Microsoft’s progress.

“Apple had less than 100 applications when it first launched its marketplace,” Bach said. (I did a quick search and found a story claiming that number was actually closer to 500, when Apple launched its store in 2008.)

Bach also claimed it was “kind of goofy” to focus on the absolute numbers of applications in Microsoft’s Windows Mobile store, since the real measure of success is how many of those applications get used.

Bach told press and analysts who attended a private roundtable that there are more than 20,000 applications available for Windows Mobile 6 and 6.1 phones — and even if the applications focused on specific business verticals and IT tasks are subtracted, there are still “tens of thousands” of Windows Mobile apps out there.

The newly launched Windows Marketplace for Mobile currently only works with Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, which launched today. Microsoft officials have said that the Marketplace will also be accessible to Windows Mobile 6 and 6.1 phones before the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean the current crop of Windows Mobile 6 and 6.1 apps get an automatic berth in the Windows Marketplace; they still need to go through the certification and evaluation process.

Windows Live services – other than instant messaging — aren’t are going to be available via the Marketplace. Windows Live Hotmail will be included with all Windows Mobile phones, but the some other Windows Live services will be available preloaded on select phones, since “operators are trying to monetize this space separately,” as Aaron Woodman, Director of Product Management for Windows Mobile told me today. (Note: Corrected my misunderstandings here.)

Microsoft also officially “turned on” the commercial version of its My Phone premium service for Windows Mobile users on October 6. (My Phone is the service formerly codenamed Skybox.) The final version of the service includes several new capabilities that were not part of the beta service. These are:

  • Social networking integration: Direct access to Facebook and other social-networking services is available from the My Phone cloud.
  • Windows Mobile phones set to vibrate are able to be made to ring (at a high volume) via My Phone to help users locate lost phones.
  • Windows Mobile phones may be locked and set to post a message via My Phone. (Example: “MJF’s phone. $50 bucks for its return. Call xxx.”)
  • Windows Mobile phones may be located  on a GPS map via the service (in case they are stolen or lost)
  • Windows Mobile phones may be wiped of data and reprogrammed remotely via My Phone.

Windows Mobile 6.0, 6.1 or 6.5 users can access these services, which Microsoft considers to be a “premium pack” for free until Nov. 30, 2009. After that date, seven-day access to the premium package will be available for purchase for $4.99.

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