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Microsoft Readies an App Store Competitor?

Microsoft could have been a little more subtle in its job posting for a product manager, but perhaps it wanted to set tongues wagging. A now-expired help wanted ad tipped Microsoft's hand on plans for an upcoming competitor to Apple's App Store.

App Store is an online service for iPhone users that works right from the phone, a major departure from traditional carrier services, which usually sell applications from their home page. Google recently countered with its own planned service, called Android Market, for when its partners launch the first wave of Android-based phones.

Now Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is getting into the game. The advertisement on ComputerJobs.com, which has since expired, would indicate the company has an App Store-like service of its own in the works. 'The service, called SkyMarket in the ad, is an App Store-like service for Windows Mobile 7, which Microsoft has up to now not formally discussed or disclosed. The duties included the usual product manager-types of responsibilities, such as preparing for the launch of Mobile 7 and building a developer community.

The candidate would also have to define the product offering, pricing, business model and policies that will make the Windows Mobile marketplace "the place to be" for developers wishing to sell and distribute their Windows Mobile applications.

The new Skymarket could go online "as soon as 2009," along with Windows Mobile 7, according to the ad.

Contacted for comment, Microsoft chose not to. "Microsoft is always innovating on Windows Mobile and as such we’re always working on future versions and projects, however we have nothing to announce today," said Scott Rockfeld, group product manager for Windows Mobile, in an e-mailed statement to InternetNews.com.

As recently as last month, there was speculation Microsoft would launch such a service. Gartner Analyst Van Baker said he would be very surprised if the carriers allowed Microsoft to do what Apple did with the App Store; namely, take their add-on sales business.

"A lot of us were astounded that AT&T let Apple have the App Store," he told InternetNews.com. "That's a valuable customer link between carriers and customers and a good touch point, a good way to get information on the customer, and carriers will be reticent to give that up."

Microsoft has a pretty good relationship with the carriers and would not want to do anything to seriously alienate the carriers, Baker added. Its presence is pretty big, too. IDC research projects over 44 million Windows Mobile devices will ship to individuals and over 27 million units to enterprises worldwide by 2012.

Learning from the Xbox?

The key to a successful launch would be execution, and Microsoft has a spotty record when it comes to launching new products. However, the company is not totally new to this kind of concept. Its Xbox Live marketplace for the Xbox console is hugely successful and considered far better than any online offering from Sony or Nintendo, its rivals in the videogame console space.

"Microsoft has done a few things very well, Xbox Live is one of them," said Baker. "They certainly stand to gain a lot. The fact that mobile is under Robbie [Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices division at Microsoft] bodes well. He's got the assets to do well."

If Microsoft is able to leverage the Windows Mobile installed base, it could make Microsoft a huge factor in this emerging Internet-enabled device market," said Baker.

"This could put them right in the middle of that, which could be a big deal because we think that could be enormous. Not right away, it will take a few years. Done well, it's an enormous market opportunity," he said.