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Microsoft eyes mobile app store

Skymarket to challenge iTunes?

Microsoft is looking like it may launch an application repository in response to the success of Apple's iTunes application store and Google's announcement that Android will be similarly endowed. Or is it?

Recent job adverts, grabbed by i started something, are for a Product Manager and Senior Product Manager and describe Skymarket as 'the place to be' for developers wishing to distribute and monetize their Windows Mobile applications", with a launch scheduled for "this fall", along with Windows Mobile 7.

While the existence of the adverts might seem conclusive, Microsoft Watch, with admirable cynicism, suggests the whole thing might be a cheap PR stunt from the chaps in Redmond - pointing out that the advert appeared on US Labor Day, a slow-news day when coverage would be guaranteed, and that one of the adverts disappeared within a day.

But the idea of Microsoft launching its own application portal shouldn't come as any surprise: Apple has iTunes, Nokia is still pushing Ovi, and Google has announced the Android Marketplace, so it seems each of the smartphone platforms is to have its own application store - leaving the former duopoly of Motricity and Handango in a very tenuous position.

At the beginning of 2005 Microsoft was already privately expressing concern over the power of that duopoly and the effect it was having on mobile application distribution. Motricity and Handango don't just run their own application portals - they also run those found on most network operators, so their control over the mobile-software market is considerable.

Ovi hasn't exactly got the companies quaking in their boots yet, but its early days and a launch from Microsoft would further squeeze its business model - though at least it can be confident of still having one. Neither Nokia nor Microsoft will launch anything like iTunes, with its exclusive access to punters' wallets: both companies publicly claim to embrace competition, but also want to ape the simplicity that the heavily-integrated iTunes can provide.

Only the Brew platform compares to iTunes, with its absolute control over application distribution, though for the time being at least that's under the control of the operator rather than the device manufacturer. But with the mobile phone industry mutating so swiftly, nothing should be discounted. ®

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