HandMarket on Windows Mobile

The countdown is well under way for Microsoft's Windows Mobile app store, called Windows Marketplace for Mobile, which is slated to arrive in early fall alongside the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. Yet on Tuesday, mobile media company Handmark outmaneuvered Microsoft, releasing a rival application for Windows Mobile phones: HandMarket Apps for Windows Mobile.

Handmark's HandMarket app store is compatible with phones running Windows Mobile 6.0 and up. At launch there are 600 applications and games each, plus about 50,000 ringtones and wallpaper items. Prices range from $0 to about $60.

HandMarket fits what can now be recognized as the app store paradigm. It has a quick search function, browsable categories, and users' star ratings and reviews. Like the BlackBerry App World, HandMarket Apps for Windows Mobile includes a screen summarizing past downloads at a glance. If you uninstall an app for space considerations, you'll be able to reinstall through this "locker."

Tracking app store downloads goes hand-in-hand with billing. HandMarket can bill you through your cell phone carrier (your monthly bill reflects your download purchases,) or you can tack purchases onto a credit card that you associate with your account.

In addition, the app store will alert you when an app update is available. HandMarket also lets you share app details with others.

Handmark's HandMarket may well turn out to be a good interim app store for those who want to jump on board the store's centralized distribution and billing model without waiting for Microsoft. The fact that it's also available now for earlier Windows Mobile platforms means it will remain an app store option for those who don't immediately jump aboard Windows Mobile 6.5. It's likely, though, that today's HandMarket users could abandon the app tomorrow when and if they do trade up to a Windows Mobile phone featuring Microsoft's built-in app store and billing system.

To reward early adopters, Handmark is opening its app store with an 80-percent-off sale on some Windows Mobile games, which can be found in the "Specials" screen.

Handmark's free HandMarket Apps for Windows Mobile is currently only available in North America for a variety of Windows Mobile phones, but the company says that it does plan to expand support internationally.

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.