Microsoft kicks off Windows Mobile app store challenge

At long last, Microsoft is publicly getting its Windows Mobile application storefront under way. Redmond is welcoming software submissions, and offering prizes for four top developers.

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At long last, Microsoft is publicly getting its Windows Mobile application storefront under way. On Monday, Microsoft opened the door to submissions from developers in 29 countries. To sweeten the deal and to drum up excitement, Microsoft has also announced the Race to Market Challenge, a contest of superlatives that will end with Redmond doling out four touch-screen Microsoft Surface tables to four winning developers.

All applications, games, and widgets certified in the Windows Marketplace for Mobile before December 31 will be eligible to win one of four categories: most downloaded freeware, most moneymaking app (calculated by the number of downloads times price), the most useful product, and the most playful. Microsoft will determine the last two subjective awards by a panel decision.

The winners' spoils are paltry in terms of quantity and heft when compared to Google's first Android Developer Challenge, which gave 10 teams a $275,000 award, 10 teams a $100,000 check, and each of the top 50 finalists $25,000 as an incentive to program the "best" of the first-ever Android applications.

Indeed, we were hoping to see more lucrative prizes from a company whose mobile operating system long ago lost its gleam to the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and now even the Palm Pre. With such a modest purse, it's doubtful that the contest will lure important developers more than the promise of sustained profit and saturating the mobile market on all platforms would. It might attract the smaller fish, whose success could likely be eclipsed by fast-acting bigger players.

Still, for the hopeful winners, odds clearly favor the free and premium applications that are promoted in the app store the longest, and among them, apps already popular on earlier Windows Mobile builds and on other mobile and desktop platforms (Google Mobile App might be one example).

The backdrop to Microsoft's challenge is its submission process, which Microsoft estimates will take 10 business days from start to finish. Developers will be able to chart their apps' progress on a dashboard, and access a report if Microsoft denies the submission for breaching content policies (PDF), prohibitions (PDF), and submission guidelines (PDF).

Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile application storefront will premier on Windows Mobile phones running the upcoming version 6.5 of the mobile operating system. It will be the distribution nexus for free and premium Windows Mobile applications that is similar in concept--and likely in form--to Apple's iTunes App Store, Google's Android Market, and RIM's BlackBerry App World.

Windows Mobile 6.5 phones are expected to hit shelves in early autumn.

Interested developers can access everything from the developer toolkit to the marketplace registration here.

Microsoft is accepting submissions from developers 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.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.