Just 18 months since launch, Windows Phone has racked up over 80,000 apps, a record pace for any modern smart phone platform. So all must be well with the Windows Phone Marketplace, right? Not even close. So this week, Microsoft outlined its plans to do almost nothing to fix the very real issues the online store faces.
Some complain that Windows Phone’s 80,000 apps figure is dramatically short of the several hundred thousand apps that are available for the iPhone and Android handsets. But that’s a faux problem, an invention by those whose only real motive is to discredit a Microsoft platform that in all other meaningful areas—innovation, design, usability, and so on—surpassed the iPhone and Android long ago.
But as Microsoft’s Todd Brix writes in the Windows Phone Developer Blog this week, Windows Phone Marketplace does have some very real issues. And amazingly, while the company is admitting that these problems do exist, it is also admitting that it will do next to nothing to prevent the most serious abuses going forward.
To be clear, these are problems that Microsoft should never have permitted in its new mobile platform. As I run down each of the issues Brix raises, ask yourself the same questions: Why was this allowed to happen in the first place? Why has it taken Microsoft a year and a half to admit to these issues? And why the frick isn’t it actually FIXING the most serious issues??
The first problem is “avoiding trademark trouble.” According to Brix, Microsoft only investigates suspected intellectual property violations when “a trademark or copyright owner contacts” the company. This means that even obviously brazen intellectual property violations have simply sailed through Microsoft’s app approval process since late 2010, with no one there even bothering to question violations like Sega Sonic’s Jewels, as reported by my Windows Secrets co-author Rafael Rivera.
In fact, Rivera has spent several months trying to stop this kind of violation, only to be thwarted repeatedly by the gatekeepers at Microsoft. He wrote about IP violations as long ago as September 2011 and has done so over time, documenting one particularly obvious and lame abuser that Microsoft repeatedly allowed to stomp all over game makers’ intellectual property.
So, almost two years later, Microsoft is finally going to clean up this mess of its own making, right?
According to Brix, Microsoft isn’t doing a thing to proactively prevent intellectual property abuse. In fact, it’s not changing its policies in the slightest. Instead, Brix is advising developers on how they can avoid IP abuse.
“[Microsoft’s IP] investigations--and the time and money they can cost--can be avoided by doing a little homework before submitting or updating your app,” he advises. “Please consult our content policy covering trademarks ... The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office also has helpful background and a trademark search tool.”
The second issue regards “high quality apps,” in that Microsoft claims making an effort to ensure that apps in Marketplace offer clear value.” This explains the dozens of farting apps that adorn my favorite mobile platform, I suppose. According to Brix, low quality apps aren’t the issue here. The issue is developers that “bulk submit” the same app to multiple categories of the Marketplace or create multiple, near-identical apps. This most likely explains “Zombie Fart” and “Farts vs. Zombies.” Actually, my bad. Nothing can explain those apps.
The third issue is “cleaning up keywords.” When compared to the problems voiced in the previous two areas, this one seems almost hilarious in its lack of importance, but it boils down to developers “violating Marketplace policy by entering more than the five allowed keywords for an app.” I’m curious. Why would Microsoft allow developers to enter more than the five allowed keywords for an app if five is in fact the limit?
Here, for once, however, Microsoft is taking a stand and actually doing something. “Starting this week,” Brix writes, “we’re going to start enforcing the five keyword rule for all current and future Marketplace apps.” Impressive and timely action.
Finally, Brix raises an issue which has also been making the rounds on the interwebs: Windows Phone’s supposedly friendly attitude towards sexual apps. Windows Phone Has A Nasty Porn Addiction from TechCrunch kicked this one off nicely, but I found that a curious claim since Microsoft announced in mid-2010 that it would not allow porn on Windows Phone.
In real life, things are a bit more nuanced. Brix says that Microsoft is “committed to offering a diverse selection of safe and quality apps that appeal to a wide range of customer interests.” So while Microsoft does not allow apps containing “sexually suggestive or provocative” images or content, it does permit “the kind of content you occasionally see on prime-time TV or the pages of a magazine’s swimsuit issue.” In other words, it allows sexually suggestive or provocative images or content.
He admits its “tricky” to monitor this kind of thing, though I have to think that the otherwise lackadaisical app approval guys at Microsoft probably perk up a bit more when an app featuring “the kind of content you occasionally see on prime-time TV or the pages of a magazine’s swimsuit issue” comes down the pike.
Anyway, going forward, with a stern wag of its finger, Microsoft will be “paying more attention to the icons, titles, and content of these apps and expect them to be more subtle and modest in the imagery and terms used.” And the company is going to “reach out to the handful of impacted developers” (with all due respect to the unintended imagery there) to help them fix the problem icons, tiles, and content. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
And that folks, is how Microsoft fixes Windows Phone Marketplace.