Microsoft's only just announced its months-off revamp to WinMo, now Windows Phone 7, and the SDK release is ages away too. But someone's just leaked the app developer agreement documentation...and revealed it's a lot like Apple's.
As we knew, the code behind WinPhone7 is a radical departure from earlier Windows Mobile efforts, and like the Zune it uses XNA, with some Silverlight and .NET thrown in. And there's also a marked departure from the more free-form rules for developing for earlier smartphone Windows versions, because this time MS notes in several places the need for apps to "extend" the user experience and notes that the UI is designed to "put the focus on consumers and the information and experiences they care about. The consumer's data and information should be personal, relevant, and connected." This looks very much like MS is taking much note of Apple's app design rules—which are famously strict in order to preserve the high-quality usability that's exhibited by the core OS into individual apps themselves: Apple won't, as a rule let awkward, clumsy, UI-obfuscating activities to go on inside Apps. And now MS is trying the same trick, which would seem sensible given the high degree of polish it's given to WinPhone7's own UI.
MS is also implementing a standard "application submission and provisioning process" which means that while developers will be free to write whatever code they like, it'll only get into the MS app marketplace once its been vetted and approved by MS's team. And that's a carbon copy of the way Apple manages the App Store of course—for pretty much the same reasons as there are restrictions on the look and feel of the Apps that are sol there, which all have to somehow add to the user's experience. Of course by following so closely in Apple's footsteps, MS is also exposing itself to the same sort of app approval/denial controversies, though it may well have learned from some of Apple's mistakes.
We can expect the MS approval process to be pretty strict though—this is exposed by some of the rules about the kind of app that Apple has so far resisted: Pre-loaded OEM or cell phone vendor-dedicated apps. Apple shies away from these as they're akin to product spam, and since it controls pretty much the entire iPhone experience it can get away from this. MS is, on the other hand, going to let vendor apps aboard, but it notes that while vendors may get access to restricted APIs that normal developers won't (things like "camera mode extensibility") these are subject to MS approval only, and the final apps must run in the same sort of security sandbox as every other app, and go through the same approval system before they're pre-packaged onto WinPhone 7 phones. That's pretty strict, and suggests we won't see the sort of heavy-branded, intrusive and user-unfriendly apps/skins that companies like Vodafone love to slap onto their smartphones. It also suggests MS is placing a high regard on user data security, as the sandbox rule suggests cell phone networks won't be able to play fast and loose with user data acquired through their own apps (again, an Apple parallel.)
Most of this makes it seem that Apple inspiration lies behind much of Microsoft's WinPhone 7 development experience. But are there hints of MS individuality? Sure. One of the most intriguing aspects is the use of XNA—which also lies at the heart of Xbox Live games. Microsoft has already demonstrated that there will be a degree of interactivity between the two platforms...leaving us wondering how this will actually get use in practice, and how much it'll add to the gaming experience.
We'll learn more as time goes on, of course. But it's clear that MS sees that to follow along the path that Apple's successfully beaten, one of the best ways to do it is to actually copy Apple.