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Apple's App Store gets top grade from research firm

Apple is applauded by ABI Research for its App Store, but Microsoft gets kudos for the "fresh approach" in its Windows Phone store.

Apple's App Store
Apple's App Store Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Apple's App Store gets the nod as the best mobile app store, at least in the eyes of research firm ABI.

Ranking app stores for both innovation and implementation, ABI dubbed Apple the overall winner, with Google in second place and Microsoft's Windows Phone app store in third.

Apple soared ahead of the pack in terms of implementation, outshining Google Play and RIM's BlackBerry App World. The App Store was cited for 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."

But Apple was narrowly beaten by Microsoft in the area of innovation, with Google Play in the third spot. In declaring Microsoft the winner here, ABI pointed to the company's "fresh approach" in helping people find new apps and the strong usability of its Windows Phone store.

People discover new apps based in part on how the store highlights its existing selection, notably by charting the most popular or most recommended apps. And this is one area where Microsoft outshines other companies, according to ABI.

"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," ABI senior analyst Aapo Markkanen said in a statement. "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."

In my own opinion, Microsoft shows creativity in promoting apps based on a variety of features, including top free, new and rising, top paid, and best rated. Such a system can give greater visibility to lesser-known apps.

Apple does offer a new and noteworthy category and editors' choices but otherwise tends to spotlight the most downloaded or top grossing apps.

Looking just at sales, Apple owns the No. 1 app store, according to a recent report from Distimo. On an average day in November, sales in the App Store rose past $15 million among the 20 countries counted, while those at Google Play were just under $3.5 million.

Apple and Google also account for the highest number of apps, with each of their stores now holding more than 700,000 different mobile programs. Microsoft's Windows Phone store is home to only around 150,000 apps.

And apps are only one element. Apple and Google still own the mobile marketplace in terms of devices, leaving Microsoft, RIM, and other vendors struggling to carve out their own pieces of the pie.