Updated at 8:05 am PDT with a slideshow and some first impressions of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile app store, at 4:25 pm PT with a correction about Marketplace reviews, and at 12:10 am PT on 10/7/09 with an update about the availability of Marketplace on other Windows Mobile platforms, and details on the My Phone service.
On Tuesday morning, as Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5 phones hit the market, two of its mobile services are officially launching.
Brand new to 6.5 phones are Windows Marketplace for Mobile--an application storefront like that found on iPhone, BlackBerry, and every other major mobile OS--and a Web-based backup and sharing service called My Phone.
We've heard plenty about both services in the days and months leading up to this release. The much-anticipated Windows Marketplace for Mobile has a well-thought out model that will eventually include both a Web and on-phone storefront, and a flexible billing system that lets you purchase apps using either a credit card or your monthly phone bill (depending on the carrier). According to Microsoft, the PC catalog isn't available now but is planned to be released before the year's end.
There's also a self-service return policy that gives you a full refund from unwanted apps within a 24-hour period. There's a caveat, of course. You'll be limited to one refund per month to avoid abusing the system. The app store launches in 29 countries on Tuesday.
In our pre-release demo, we found the app store to be a little visually boring, though serviceable. Following a proven app store model, Windows Marketplace for Mobile has a search bar, a featured apps showcase, and a list of browseable categories. In them, you'll only see applications that work on your phone model and in your country. There's also an personalized screen that helps you manage the apps you have. As with iPhones and BlackBerrys, if you switch devices, you can easily re-download the apps you installed through the Marketplace. You'll sign on with your Windows Live ID. We heard before the launch that you won't be able to create your own reviews until the second phase, but in truth, rating and reviews are fully functional today.
Microsoft didn't tell us how many apps were expected in the app store Tuesday morning, but with 82 games ready to download, there are at least 100 apps altogether. We already see Facebook, Netflix Mobile, Zagat to Go, Windows Live, and the Midomi music app. Most app prices range so far from free to about $10, though the most expensive one we spotted so far is a $25 golf calculator. We saw quite a few $20 games as well.
If you're not planning to pick up a Windows 6.5 phone yet, Marketplace should also be available to download to 6.0 and 6.1 phones before the end of 2009. That's been the official word, but at least one of our readers has gotten it to work on a 6.1 phone. Download at your own risk.
Unlike the application Marketplace, the My Phone backup and media sharing service is well known from its public beta. Through its online dashboard, you can access and manage contacts, calendar, texts, and photos and videos (no e-mail or apps). At launch, you'll be able to post photos to Windows Live, Flickr, Facebook, and MySpace, with bulk uploads and captioning to come later on.
The new features are mostly premium, and center on remotely finding and securing your phone. If you're in the U.S., you can force your phone to ring even when it's turned to silent or vibrate. You can remotely lock the phone, map it--this wakes up the phone and plots it on a map--and can erase the contents remotely, the most extreme measure. My Phone will show you the handset's last known location for free.
My Phone is treated like application package and can be downloaded in the Marketplace for Mobile. The premium features can be purchased through the online dashboard. Until November 30, Microsoft is offering a free trial of My Phone's commercial capabilities.
As in the beta, My Phone limits you to 200MB in media storage. According to Microsoft, fewer than 5 percent of the current users hit that ceiling.
Who gets it?
Windows Marketplace for Mobile launches on Tuesday in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong SAR, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The premium My Phone features are available at launch in the Unites States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands, Greece, Poland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. The Map Current Location feature is U.S.-only right now.