Windows Marketplace for Mobile to charge developers for application updates (Update: Microsoft changes decision, updates free)


I’m beginning to question if Microsoft’s motivation to open a centralized app store for Windows Mobile is more so for profit rather than the growth of its application platform. What I expected was a distribution platform that welcomes developers with open doors, warm cookies and fresh milk, not an exclusive downtown club with former boxers for bouncers and overcharges for food and beverages.

Following the confirmation that developers submitting free applications are not given exceptions to the cost of submission, I’ve also received word from Microsoft “application updates will count as new application submissions, and therefore will count towards the first 5 free submissions, or will cost $99 each after the that”. That is, every new binary is treated as a new application.

I understand that in the perspective of a reviewer who has to qualify these applications, every new binary could be an entire rewrite of the application, but then on the other hand it could just be a simple typo correction. An expensive typo at that.

What this means to developers is that if they submit one application to the marketplace, they have only 4 opportunities to update that application a year. Whilst most commercial applications do not update as frequently as 4 times per year, much of the gem that’s in the iPhone App Store and on hobbyist WM development sites like XDA-developers are casual projects and receive a flood of updates during its early days as bugs are squashed and polish added.

What both of these requirements (charging for free applications and application updates) on the Windows Marketplace for Mobile imply to me is that Microsoft is more concerned about recouping (and/or profiting from) the cost of its submission approval process rather than supporting free applications and regularly updated applications on its mobile platform.

On a lighter note, imagine if the tables were flipped, instead, Microsoft paid developers to improve their applications. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Update: I’ve also learnt that Microsoft will charge developers for resubmitting applications if their prior submissions were rejected.

Update 2: Microsoft has told that application updates within 7-days of last certification are considered free. Weird they would leave that detail out when they were answering my question, but this is a better model which allows for some room for errors.

Update 3: Microsoft has since changed the Marketplace pricing structure and application updates are now free. Yay.

43 insightful thoughts

  1. I think what’s going on is Microsoft is trying to close the store to hobbyists and tinkerers. The WM store is for big name developers. Its for people writing business applications that will net them millions of dollars of profit. Its not for people writing iFarts.
    What they seem to be missing (and I’m rather shocked that a huge corporation like that doesn’t have a voice in the wilderness crying out against this internally) is that blocking iFarts and the millions of apps like it also blocks the truely awesome applications that make the platform worthwile.

  2. The notion that large shops power mobile development is a delusion that has held WM back for years, and is derived purely from Microsoft’s Enterprise fixation (which also prevented them grasping that mobile devices are inherently personal). I think some people in the organisation get this, but as a company Microsoft seems to reflexively gravitate towards this sort of stance.
    This unfortunately is entirely consistent with the fact that mobile development tools are conspicuously absent from the otherwise excellent Express versions of Visual Studio (this contrasts unfavourably with the early days of Pocket PC, when the admittedly crappy Embedded Visual Tools were freely available and prompted a thriving cottage industry in mobile software).
    It would be helpful if Microsoft would make up their minds whether they think the Marketplace is supposed to be a profit centre (dumb idea), or whether they want to do the smart thing and encourage the creation of a software ecosystem that might prevent developers from defecting to Android and iPhone in droves and grab them some mindshare.

  3. With MS doing QA on each release, I can see the need to either charge for or discourage overly frequent updates but charging full price for each one is going too far and discourages small developers from fixing bugs at all.

    At the same time, it’s much less of a big deal if developers and users are still free to release/obtain apps through other stores or their own websites. Then it’s a bit like Windows Update for drivers: You can go to the manufacturer’s website for more frequent driver updates if you need them but every so often they put a driver through WHQL and put it on Windows Update for everyone else. (And some organisations won’t bother to put stuff on Windows Update at all, just like some won’t bother with the official app store.)

    That is assuming I haven’t missed something and MS aren’t planning to do an Apple-style lock-down of the platform, which would be an incredibly dumb move, IMO.

  4. Still seems like a good idea to me. I’m not sure if charging developers for updates is the best strategy, but everything seems focused on keeping hobbyists and iFart garbage out of the Marketplace, which sounds like a great idea. There are plenty of alternative WinMo ‘marketplaces’ for that sort of stuff, but no single place where I can find quality applications without having to wade through hundreds of crappy applications. WinMo Marketplace seems to be filling that void without killing off the alternatives for people who do want awful Bejeweled clones and crappy calculators, so I don’t know what you’re complaining about.

    “On a lighter note, imagine if the tables were flipped, instead, Microsoft paid developers to improve their applications. Wouldn’t that be nice.”

    Yeah, and judging from the amount of horrible applications out there that desperately need updates, it’d be a sure way to bankrupt Microsoft within a month.

    I don’t know, I just think you’re off the mark on this one. All I’m hearing is hobbyists complaining that they’re not getting a toy.

  5. @Leo, that sounds reasonable.

    Devs are free to use their own hosting, update, shopping, etc mechanism(s) if they wish, after all.

  6. I don’t think Microsoft is being unreasonable. The cost to submit an application covers app testing by Microsoft, it also puts your app in front of millions of customers. If you are a small time developer, and you want to provide all your apps for free, than maybe this isn’t the place to do it.

  7. Personally they should do two things
    1-Use the same type of system that is being used for XBOX community games.
    2-Use a point system that uses the same system as the XBOX and Zune.

  8. A developer will use a token or $99 to release their first app, then release all future updates on their own websites.

    So 5 new apps per year can be released for free, and you get traffic from that to your website, where you can update or sell additional apps, including free or cheap ones.

  9. @Coffee,

    That’s hardly intuitive or easy for the average mobile user. I think that’s why Apple has had so much success with the their AppStore. it’s a simply one click process to purchase an install a new app… no smoke no mirrors.

    @Kevin Daily,

    I think historically Windows Mobile apps were the domain of big business because Mobile data traffic was prohibitively expensive for the average consumer. There are plenty of WinMobile apps running inside of companies that you never saw being sold on the open market.

    Which brings me to my second point, when you are dealing with a controlled audience you can purchase 100x the same phone and make sure the app works as intended. Once you open up to the larger WinMobile market things are getting a little bit more complicated.

    In generally I am starting to wonder if Microsoft as a company actually understands the consumer space at all. They tried to capture that market with the Zune with very mixed results. Their biggest problem is making the Windows mobile platform interesting for the general consumer. Their problem with that is that many consumers see the iPhone as a sooped up iPod, a product they had already come to love and that already had the “cool factor”.

  10. Additional point: if developers have to pay to apply bug fixes (which in themselves are unlikely to attract additional customers), the chances of even recovering expenses diminish with each fix or enhancement.
    This is brainless.

  11. To get your app on the iPhone App Store you do have to pay for the $99/year developer connection account (which is separate and above any of the Mac paid developer accounts). Free iPhone developers cannot submit to the Store.

    While I think Microsoft is out of their mind, saying “trying to close the store to hobbyists and tinkerers. The WM store is for big name developers” is patently false because the cost is clearly not a true limiter.

  12. Jim, Jim, Jim…Nobody is arguing with the $99 p/a charge. But anyone taking this seriously won’t take long to exceed the 5 submissions p/a that buys them, after which they’re paying $99 per submission – including fixes and updates, which is the issue here. That’s *very* different from what Apple are doing and it clearly *does* disadvantage the small developer, and I think it is perfectly legitimate to see that as evidence that Microsoft either does not understand or does not give a hoot about that section of their developer basis (actual or potential).
    The situation is obviously different for students, but students are in any case the larval stage of Enterprise developers.

  13. Perhaps Microsoft see it this way: $99 per application submitted to the store which includes 4 bug fixes. They just don’t want to call it that.

  14. The way I view it (from having been on the inside at MS at one point) is this.

    This is almost exactly the same way they handle 360 Games.

    The submission process and all.

    I think this is the type of move that will be beneficial…it doesn’t stop any apps from being installed, or even being sold as they currently are. This store is merely meant to be the cream of the crop.

    Applications that receive a higher level of work, more polish, and stricter testing requirements before release.

    This means all apps sold through the Marketplace will work, and will work well.

    I personally am all for this type of setup.

  15. Shane,
    Explain how charging developers extra to apply fixes and updates will contribute to apps in the Marketplace receiving more polish.
    The truth is that *all* complex software is subject to bugs that need to be fixed, since among other things it is impossible to predict and test for in advance all the scenarios that will occur out in the real world, especially with an OS such as Windows Mobile that is available on a wide range of machines with different characteristics. And polish and features can only be improved by responding to user feedback…but hey, we won’t do that because that would be another submission.

  16. Blackberry and Android suddenly started to look a lot more profitable for any small developer (or group). Why waste time and money on something that will profit Microsoft alone, when they could be developing something that will profit a bunch of people themselves included?

  17. Should probably update the title of this to reflect the last update. I definitely had the wrong impression the first time I passed by this article.

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