Apple Top Ranked App Store, But Loses to Microsoft in Innovation

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Apple’s App Store ranked best overall in 2012 according to research released Wednesday by ABI Research and reported by Computerworld. Apple’s mobile storefront effort scored the highest under the report’s criteria, with Google and Microsoft storefronts trailing behind, although Microsoft beat its competitors in the important “innovation” category.

ABI ranked mobile stores on both overall size, which the firm refers to as “implementation,” and “innovation.” Implementation was determined by examining revenues, market share, and the total number of apps, although the apps had to be subject to a “reasonably strict” level of quality control.

Innovation examined discovery, quality control, ease of use, breadth of ecosystem (the variety of content, including music, video, and multi-device applications), and hosting and deployment (items such as file size limits and download methods).

Combining both implementation and innovation scores, Apple took first place with a total score of 80.8 out of 100. Google was a few points behind with a total of 72.2, followed by Microsoft at 63.9.

It is not surprising to see Apple at the top of the list; the iOS App Store contains hundreds of thousands of apps and generated nearly $5 billion in revenue last year. Google’s Play store offers only about one quarter of the number of apps as Apple, generating substantially less revenue, and Microsoft’s relatively new mobile store effort pulls in a minuscule fraction of Apple’s numbers.

What is interesting, however, is the “innovation” ranking, where ABI determined that Microsoft narrowly beat Apple to take first place with a score of 77 to Apple’s 76. Aapo Markkanen, senior researcher for ABI, justified the ranking by commending Microsoft’s “fresh approach to app discovery.”

Although Apple has done a great job capitalizing on App Store’s head start as an app distributor, it should really start re-thinking the way it charts the top apps. Microsoft should be lauded for its initiative to extend its ranking algorithm beyond raw download figures, by including factors that can actually measure the customer satisfaction and retention. Retention-based charts are less prone to manipulation, so as an additional plus Microsoft can also afford being more transparent about its approach. Moves like this can help break the developers free from the ‘tyranny of downloads’, decrease their reliance on costly marketing campaigns, and thus lower the barriers to entry.

Despite this praise for Microsoft’s approach, Mr. Markkanen was still realistic, citing poor sales figures for Windows-based devices as a major hurdle. Microsoft’s “fresh approach” and the benefits it brings to consumers and developers “won’t really matter if the devices powered by Windows Phone end up selling badly,” he added.

While Apple’s iOS App Store currently remains firmly in first place, advancements and innovations in other mobile platforms do not guarantee Apple’s dominance going forward, especially in the light recent surges in Android-based device purchases and mixed reviews of Apple’s changes to the App Store in iOS 6.

Teaser graphic made with help from Shutterstock.