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Apple falls behind in innovating app distribution, discovery: report

In an assessment of leading application distributors, Apple came out on top for its effective approach to monetization, large market share, large inventory and strict quality control. However, in terms of innovation, especially as it relates to app discovery, Microsoft bests Apple.

Microsoft?s strong showing is based on its fresh approach to app discovery and the overall solid usability of the Windows Phone store. The findings, which are based on ABI Research?s Mobile Application Markets Research Service, found that overall, Google finished in second place behind Apple, followed by Microsoft.

? My first recommendation [for Apple] would be to put more thought into the discovery aspect of App Store, and try to minimize the impact that paid marketing campaigns can have on the discovery,? said Aapo Markkanen, London-based senior analyst for consumer mobility at ABI Research.

?There?s a genuine risk that especially smaller developers start debuting their apps on other platforms if getting discovered on App Store requires an unsustainably high marketing spend versus the actual development budget,? he said.

?Apple needs to start measuring less of the download momentum, which is easier to generate through in-app ads and other forms of paid marketing, and more of the customer retention, which is harder to create by throwing money at something.?

Discovery channel
Apple was an early leader in driving app discovery and downloads with its Apple App Store.

However, as apps have gained in popularity, other platforms are increasingly focusing on their own app distribution storefronts. While Apple remains the leader, the ABI Research report underscores the advances being made by Microsoft and Google in this area.

For the report, app distributors were ranked by ABI Research based on implementation and innovation.

When it comes to implementation alone, Google comes in second behind Apple, followed by RIM.

On the innovation front, Apple is narrowly beaten by Microsoft, with Google claiming the third spot.

ABI gave significant importance to discovery innovation since much of the download activity that follows a customer arriving at an app storefront is based on how app inventory is presented and highlighted.

In particular, ABI applauds Microsoft for its initiative to extend its ranking algorithm beyond raw download figures by including factors that measure customer satisfaction and retention.

Since retention-based charts are less prone to manipulation, per ABI Research, this means Microsoft can be more transparent about its approach. As a result, developers are less reliant on downloads and costly marketing campaigns, which can lower the barriers to entry.

Google gains strength
Per ABI, Apple should not rest on its laurels in terms of app distribution and needs to rethink the way it charts top apps.

The report also shows that Google?s role as an app distributor gained significantly during a year in which it launched the Google Play market for Android.

?Apple has retained App Store?s lead as an app storefront, but Google had a successful year of catching up,? Mr. Markkanen said.  ?Google?s proposition as a distributor of mobile apps is now much stronger that it was a year ago.

?The most surprising finding was the innovation displayed by Microsoft,? he said. ?The new Windows Phone Store can?t be fully appreciated before it has more apps in it, but I do like the approach Microsoft has taken when it comes, for example, to recommending and presenting apps.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York