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Proliferating mobile app stores polish their windows

Qualcomm opens up, Microsoft shares, Nokia gears up

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Qualcomm is to support alternative platforms in its application store, Plaza Retail, while details of Microsoft's Marketplace emerge and Nokia's Ovi starts acting suspiciously.

Qualcomm is to allow apps for competing platforms to be sold through its store in a move that acknowledges Brew's failure to conquer the world, while Microsoft has revealed that apps purchased through its Marketplace can be installed on multiple devices as well as returned within 24 hours. Meanwhile, Nokia users are reporting the disappearance of the company's Download! Service along with changes to the Ovi site that could indicate an imminent launch of the much-awaited Ovi Store.

Qualcomm has long provided an app store to network operators who've deployed handsets based on its Brew platform, managing every part of the application life cycle in a process that's as popular with developers as it is hated by users. Brew handsets are locked down - rather more effectively than Apple's iPhone - so applications can't be delivered by any other means. However, they can take advantage of Brew APIs that provide access to device and network features including micro-charging and communications.

Brew has had some success, but it has also annoyed users who found themselves unable to change a ringtone or background graphic without their operator's approval. With even American operators now forced to support a range of handsets, it makes sense for Qualcomm to expand the Plaza.

Java and BlackBerry apps will come first, followed by native platforms including Windows Mobile, Android and Symbian, and applications won't be locked to a specific device (as Brew demands), allowing users to migrate applications as they buy new devices.

Microsoft's Marketplace will also allow applications to be moved between handsets, as long as those devices (up to five of them) have been registered with the Marketplace. This should address a problem comprehensively solved by the original Palm OS (which linked app registrations to the identity of the user rather than the device) of having to re-purchase applications each time one buys a new phone.

The news comes from a presentation at the Tech Ed conference, as reported by Computerworld. Microsoft Product Planner Daniel Bouie admitted that such flexibility could allow a group of friends to share applications, but it's hard to see that as a significant risk.

Bouie also said that device registration would be managed by Microsoft's LiveID (the service formally known as "Passport"), which should be up to the task.

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated launch of Nokia's Ovi Store could be imminent, as All About Symbian is reporting that the Download! on-handset application-store client is inoperable for a "maintenance break", and that the Ovi site has started asking for registration details. The Ovi Store is expected to launch before the end of the month, so it could be any day now, but it's going to have to be pretty spectacular to stand out in what has become such a crowded industry. ®

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