Microsoft has announced that it is streamlining the Windows Phone Marketplace, “paving the way for new features.” If you’ve launched the Zune software client in the last 24 hours, you may have noticed that the Windows Phone Marketplace is no longer accessible under “apps.” Furthermore, Microsoft will soon require devices to be running Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” in order to access the Marketplace. These changes might sound drastic on the surface, but there is a very logical reason behind it.
When Windows Phone launched in October 2010, the only way to download apps was through the device itself or via the Zune software client. The latter solution was very familiar to Zune HD owners, but it wasn’t as flexible as customers would have liked. This changed with the launch of the Windows Phone Web Marketplace last September, which allowed customers to browse and download apps through a traditional web browser. Customers quickly transitioned over to this version of the Marketplace, leaving Zune’s portal to the Windows Phone Marketplace relatively unused. As a result, Microsoft has removed this feature from Zune, allowing the company to focus its efforts elsewhere. This does not, however, mean that the Zune software client is obsolete. It’s still critical for managing media stored on the device, such as music, videos, and photos, as well as updating or backing up the OS. Interestingly, the removal of the Windows Phone Marketplace from the Zune software client was made without requiring users to update their software.
The other major change–but one that should only affect a small number of users–is Microsoft’s new requirement that all Windows Phones be running the latest major revision of the OS, which was released last September, in order to access the Marketplace. The update is available for all devices, but a limited number of users still have yet to update their OS. And frankly, why would you wait? The features included in Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” are completely worth it. If you haven’t already updated your device, stop reading and do so now. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. Done? Good. If you’re still on the fence, be aware that you’ll begin receiving errors when Microsoft flips the switch in a few weeks.
While we’re somewhat sad to see the Zune software client lose a feature–even one that was only used by a small number of people–the changes to the Marketplace make sense overall. Zune is a great piece of software, but people don’t want to have their smartphone tied to their local machine. And Windows Phone owners with a Mac–yes, they exist–are forced to use the Windows Phone Connector for Mac, which isn’t nearly as full-featured as the Zune software. Microsoft is slowly positioning Windows Phone to be a completely standalone device, thanks to the addition of the Web Marketplace, on-device podcast support, etc. It will be interesting to see if Windows Phone 8 takes things a step further.