Well, it had to come sooner or later. As many users discovered the other day when Zune launched on their PCs, a message appeared asking users to restart the app to update the Zune client with new changes, Microsoft has officially nixed buying software apps for Windows Phone from the desktop PC Zune client. In his Windows Phone blog posting, Mazhar Mohammed stated
Until today you could shop for Windows Phone apps and games in three places: on your phone, on the web, and via the Zune software on your PC.
But we know—probably not a huge surprise here—that most Windows Phone owners browse and buy apps on their phones. The web Marketplace, which debuted last September on the Windows Phone website, has also become a popular place to shop, since it’s available from any Internet-connected PC or Mac.
Color me a Luddite, but I actually liked picking out an occasional app for my Nokia Lumia 900 from the desktop app. Admittedly, most of my shopping was done directly from the phone, but I did like the luxury of being able to check out software from the Zune app, and perhaps more telling is the fact that Apple, much larger that Microsoft in the mobile market share, still after all this time allows users to buy apps from the desktop iTunes app and not online. A curious inversion.
Second, as part of a larger Marketplace improvement effort, you’ll soon need Windows Phone 7.5 installed on your phone to buy and download new apps, or update existing ones.
The move likely helps Microsoft nip sideloading of .xap apps for unlocked Windows phones and perhaps clamp down a bit on piracy, since Microsoft has apparently been planning to encrypt the Marketplace for some time. A former Microsoft Silverlight developer that Nokia hired back in 2011 for Windows Phone development, Justin Angel was able to download the entire Windows Phone Marketplace contents via the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace developer APIs and study the Marketplace analytics as he reported here, but noted that
Starting with Mango all WP7 XAPs downloaded from the Zune Catalogue are going to be DRM encrypted. So, Mid-August was a great time to start downloading the marketplace and perform freeform analytics. In the Mango versions of the Zune Catalogue XAPs are still downloadable, but cannot be explored since they’re DRM protected.
So, it does appear that a benefit of using phone or browser-only Marketplace access will assist in making Marketplace apps a more difficult target to copy, examine and potentially pirate.
That aside, Microsoft is confident that this change will hardly be noticed, but from my perspective it seems the Zune Marketplace removal is more an impediment than a benefit for the end-user. Unlike my Android phone where I could simply plug-in and drag and drop files willy-nilly, I do need Zune to manage my music and media, convenient to do while charging the device docked on my PC. So, why not just leave Zune an all-in-one destination? I personally like the idea of using my phone, the browser or Zune to get software I need, but perhaps I’m in the minority.
One final comment. A clever chap over athas demonstrated from Zune by modifying and setting up a mini-server. Ever the curious scientist-type, I followed his instructions, and lo, it worked, “apps for windows phone 7″ reappeared after I relaunched Zune (may need to kill any currently running Zune launchers in Task Manager first, however)!
Disclaimer: This Marketplace changing I did was more to satisfy my own curiosity, and I am not advocating everyone going out and changing their Zune settings. Also, there’s a good chance Microsoft will remove this ability in future updates.