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The Evolution of Online Mobile App Storefronts

Mobile app stores have become strategic assets that are the focal point of a forward-looking independent software developer ecosystem. Any company that can lead in this market has a competitive advantage that their peers will want to try and replicate.

That being said, Apple recently won the ABI Research competitive assessment of mobile application storefronts, with Google finishing second and Microsoft third.

In the ABI assessment, the leading app distributors were ranked by two dimensions -- implementation and innovation.

In terms of implementation, Apple came first, ahead of Google and RIM.

The company’s superior performance in this dimension is mainly due to its effective approach to monetization, large market share over the app industry, and the ability to achieve a large inventory of titles while maintaining a reasonably strict quality control.

However, in the innovation dimension Apple is narrowly beaten by Microsoft, with Google claiming the third spot.

ABI Research is particularly impressed by Microsoft’s fresh approach to app discovery, as well as Windows Phone store’s overall solid usability.

Discovery is an area that has been given significant importance, because when a customer arrives at an app storefront much of the following download activity is based on how the vendor presents and highlights its inventory, especially through various charts.

"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," said Aapo Markkanen, senior analyst at ABI Research.

ABI believes that 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.

Evolutionary moves like this can help the independent software developers to break free from the narrow focus on download ranking, decrease their reliance on costly marketing campaigns, and thus lower the barriers to market entry.

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