What Microsoft can learn from the Apple Application store

With today being the iPhone 2.0 launch, there’s a lot of chat about the new Applications Store and Apple touting the 500 third party applications available initially. Ina Fried already questioned Microsoft about how this compares to Windows Mobile, with the response being that “Microsoft has nearly 18,000” applications” and the implication that this is just the Apple Reality Distortion Field at work. I’m not convinced however.

For starters Apple has a much improved experience, from finding the applications, paying and then through to downloading and installation. Apple offers one main store that is integrated into the devices themselves, with payment made easy via the regular iTunes account. Compare this to Windows Mobile users who typically have to find the programs via a search engine, see if it meets their requirements and and then pay the developer direct.

In addition, a large number of the applications offered now in the Apple store are “official” and by that I mean the developers of the service are the ones who made the iPhone app. Comparing to Windows Mobile, this isn’t always the case. Facebook, MySpace or Ebay developed applications? No such luck. Even Blackberry devices have native applications support from some of these services, which begs the question why is Windows Mobile is being omitted. (Aside, where is the Zune Windows Mobile application for controlling your PC playlist or Media Center application?) Windows Mobile 7 has a lot of catching up to do with the iPhone, and not just in the UI, browsing and attractive hardware arena that are the most obvious improvements Apple has pushed.

Ina also picked up that Microsoft are offering no iPhone applications for their products, and in her interview they downplayed any knowledge of these being in development. Given Activesync has already been licensed, I’d be surprised to see no official applications coming out this year. The Live Search Windows Mobile application is extremely good, why not give the benefits to iPhone users too? After all, Ray Ozzie has a Mesh application for Mac being developed, so offering an iPhone application isn’t such a large leap. With forecast sales of 10million in 2008, it won’t be long until it the iPhone catches up to the 20million Windows Mobile are predicting – with mobile usage rapidly increasing why drive these users away from using other Microsoft products and services such as Windows Live.