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Does Windows 8 have a leg-up on app discoverability?

Microsoft has ambitious goals for its Windows 8 operating system, including making it one of the big players in the mobile space, and the company is taking big strides to achieve that with a recent overhaul of its app store, which intends to improve application discoverability.

The new features weave browsing history, social media and curated content into a collection of recommended app downloads. Microsoft's effort to ramp up app discoverability from the beginning points to the growing difficulties from marketers to make apps stand out.

?Microsoft hasn?t done much to date to truly differentiate on app discovery,? said Josh Martin, director of app research for the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, Newton, MA.

?However with the launch of Windows 8 it is offering personalized app recommendations based on a number of factors including what you?ve downloaded in the past,? he said.

?If it works and gains strong word of mouth there could be increased interest but as of now it?s still wait and see ? but any effort to improve discovery is a good effort.?

Lay of the land
Last week, Microsoft introduced an overhaul of its Windows Phone Store with features that are aimed at helping with app recommendations and discovery.

Using Microsoft?s Bing, the Picks for You feature recommends apps for users based on download history and apps already installed on Facebook. The store also uses a consumer?s location in the world to recommend content. Picks for You is only available currently in some markets.

Additionally, the Windows Phone Store recommends apps that are commonly either downloaded together or are linked by a common theme in the Collections section.

Quality apps ? meaning ones that receive high ratings and are bug-free ? will also do well, per a statement that Microsoft published on its blog.

The Store includes a Wallet feature that lets consumers store credit card information and payment information in one place and include a PIN.

To address safety, Microsoft has also included The My Family section, which lets parents manage which apps their kids can download. Additionally, the Kids' Corner section recommends kid-friendly apps.

"One improvement I could see Microsoft actually introducing would be to add some form of app recommendation aspect to its Kids? Corner concept ? having the editorial staff to pick interesting apps that would be a good fit for Kids? Corner," said Aapo Markkanen, London-based senior analyst for consumer mobility at ABI Research.

"It could make the whole concept pretty popular and convince Apple and Google to launch something similar," he said.

"It requires quite a lot of workforce once the inventory grows, but as far as I see it you can?t really have a well-functioning app storefront without some kind of editorial approach to complement the charts."

Microsoft claims that its Windows Phone Store is available in 50 languages and 191 countries. The store has 120,000 apps and games.

Despite the number of app discovery tools, Strategy Analytics' Mr. Martin believes that the Windows Phone Store will not have a strong impact on either Apple or Google.

"Apple already has genius recommendations, and despite acquiring Chomp doesn?t seem to have done much to improve recommendations and discovery and Google has done very little on that front, which is interesting since they know so much about their users," Mr. Martin said.

"I do believe discovery is the next app battleground and we?ll see the smaller ecosystems such as Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10, Tizen and Firefox all start to re-think discovery, which in the long term will probably have an impact on the market leaders."

Playing catch-up
According to Jason Armitage, London-based senior analyst at Yankee Group, Microsoft still has a ways to go with its app store and marketing compared to Apple and Google that have already cemented their places in the space.

?Our general take is that Microsoft is playing catch-up in the app market space,? Mr. Armitage said.

?Overall, these are all good moves to be adopted by users and more importantly developers, but we believe that Microsoft should not stop there when it comes to innovation,? he said.

However, there are a couple of things that make Windows' App Store stand out and could possibly be differentiating factors for the company in the future.

For example, Microsoft has positioned its app store with an emphasis on international markets. This will help give Microsoft a strong footprint right off the bat.

Microsoft is also enticing developers with more money when an app reaches a specific amount of revenue. The company will give developers 70 percent of an app?s selling price, which is similar to the rates that both Apple and Google offer. However, once an app earns more than $25,000 the percentage jumps to 80 percent.

This could potentially persuade more marketers and brands to have a presence on the platform, which would help with app discovery.

Build on downloads
When it comes to developers, app downloads and rankings are everything, according to some analysts.

Microsoft currently has far less apps than are available in either Apple?s App Store or Google Play, meaning that there is less competition for apps to stand out but also might be less appealing to consumers.

?The most important thing about discovery is ranking ? once a developer gets into any Top Ten list, the amount of publicity from app downloads is very significant,? said Kevin Boyland, analyst at IBISWorld, Santa Monica, CA.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York