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Microsoft Fires Starter Gun for WinMo Dev Contest

Microsoft has launched a competition to develop applications on the Windows Mobile platform, part of the company’s effort to follow other mobile operating system makers on the path toward a centralized storefront for all compatible mobile apps.

The prize: a Microsoft Surface, which is a tabletop multitouch computer with special software, all worth about US$20,000 at retail, according to Microsoft.

The “Race to Market Challenge,” as Microsoft calls the competition, will be open to developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) in 29 countries around the world.

The submission period for apps begins Tuesday and ends on Dec.31.

One winner each will be picked in the free and paid apps categories.

About the Competition

Microsoft is urging developers to create Windows Mobile apps, accepting both apps that the user must pay for as well as ones that can be acquired for free.

The developers of the apps that get the most downloads between the day Windows Marketplace for Mobile opens to the public and Dec. 31, 2009, will each win a prize.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile is Microsoft’s app store. The company declined to say when the marketplace will be opened to the public, but Todd Brix, its senior director for mobile platform services product management, said on the Windows Mobile blog that it would be launched with Windows Mobile 6.5 in the fall.

The marketplace will also be available for Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1 by the end of 2009, Brix said.

Saving Win Mobile

Windows Mobile lagged far behind other smartphone platforms in the first quarter of this year, noted IDC Senior Research Analyst Ramon Llamas. There were 3.9 million Windows Mobile units sold worldwide during that period, compared to 7 million units chalked up by RIM’s BlackBerry and 15.9 million by Symbian. The one consolation is that there were only 3.8 million iPhones sold worldwide in the first quarter.

That’s not much of a consolation, though.

“Windows Mobile hasn’t been growing at the same pace as the industry because Microsoft doesn’t have the same tightly coupled system of hardware and software that Apple has,” Llamas told TechNewsWorld.

“Windows Mobile 6.5 was all the rage at [the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona] in February, but Microsoft said the smartphones would be available later, whereas Apple announced the iPhone 3GS in March and launched it in June.”

Back in February, Microsoft, together with smartphone manufacturers HTC and LG, demonstrated new smartphones running Windows Mobile 6.5.

At the time, Microsoft said Windows 6.5 will feature Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Microsoft’s own app store, and claimed developers had already built more than 20,000 applications for Windows phones.

However, Windows 6.5 was a disappointment, according to IDC Senior Research Analyst Ryan Reith, who said the market is now looking to Windows Mobile 7 instead.

Getting more apps may not help save Windows Mobile, Carl Howe, a director for Yankee Group’s anywhere consumer research group, told TechNewsWorld.

“The app story is much more about marketing to consumers than to the enterprise, and there aren’t a whole lot of consumers saying, ‘Oh gee, I love that Windows Mobile handset, and I’ve got to have it.'”

The Prize

The two winners of the contest will each get a Microsoft Surface developer unit — a table with a touchscreen surface and built-in computer — and a one-year warranty.

They will also get online promotion and marketing on Windows Mobile Total Access and the Windows Mobile developer site, as well as a challenge trophy.

The prize cannot be cashed in, but any winner who lives in a country where Microsoft Surface is not distributed will receive the cash equivalent of the prize.

Individual developers planning to compete must register using Windows Live ID and provide banking information and a valid credit card number.

Cheats, hackers and fraudsters will get hammered — Microsoft warned it will seek damages from them to the fullest extent permitted by law and may ban them from participating in any future competitions it holds.

Problems With Privacy?

One aspect of the competition’s rules to which some privacy-minded devs might object is the requirement that all registrants supply banking information and credit card numbers.

“It’s always a risk to give out this kind of sensitive information,” Rebecca Jeschke, a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told TechNewsWorld. “I would be very concerned about passing this information on too early. To ask what may be hundreds of people to send in this info before they need it is a security risk.”

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