Windows Store apps get the App Annie treatment

App developers for Windows Phone, Surface and other Microsoft devices can now turn to App Annie's widely used analytics tools, but can this help to fix the app gap?

Microsoft's Windows Store gets apps, on average, 200 days after they're released for Apple's iOS mobile operating system. CNET

At least someone in the industry is taking Windows Phone seriously.

App Annie, the analytics firm that tracks app rankings, downloads and other metrics, now includes Microsoft's Windows Store platform, App Annie announced Tuesday. Its analytics tools will monitor performance of apps for Microsoft's smartphones alongside its Surface and other Windows-powered tablets and PCs.

App developers "appreciate dependable, high-quality tools and resources," Microsoft General Manager Todd Brix said in a statement.

Prior to Tuesday's announcement, App Annie tracked only Apple's iOS and Mac stores, the Google Play Store for Android apps, and Amazon's app store.

For Microsoft, inclusion in App Annie's platform is a sign that it's making progress in the mobile world, albeit slowly. The company has struggled over the years to convince developers to prioritize building apps for its Windows Phone software. It's gotten so bad that there is, on average, a 200-day lag between releases for iOS and Windows Phone, according to a report this month from Jackdaw Research. The Windows Phone OS has likewise struggled with abysmal market share, which fell to 2.9 percent of devices worldwide in the third quarter from 3.6 percent a year ago, according to market researcher IDC.

In some high profile cases, Microsoft been unable to convince top-tier app makers to offer their programs on Windows Phone at all. For example, photo-sharing app Instagram wasn't available on Windows Phone until November 2013, three years after its release for the iPhone. Meanwhile, Snapchat has yet to release its app for Windows devices and Google is withholding its Google Apps suite, which includes the official YouTube app, after the two companies publicly fought over the video service's terms of use in August 2013.

Microsoft has attempted to revitalize its handset division with the $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia earlier this year. The division continues to drag on the company's quarterly profits due to restructuring costs, though Microsoft is selling more smartphones than ever before with the Nokia unit notching a record 9.3 million Lumia units sold in the fiscal first quarter of 2015. Surface tablets, too, are doing better than ever, with sales up 127 percent that quarter.

Microsoft has historically taken these challenges in stride. Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's vice president of operating systems and the current public face of Windows and Windows Phone design and development, tweeted in Noveber 2013: "We're all gonna look back on the end of 2014 as the ending of the app-gap for Windows Phone. The 3rd ecosystem is decidedly here!"

One year later, Windows Phone is definitely still the third ecosystem. How far it will continue to trail behind No. 1 Android and No. 2 iOS -- and whether 2014 will mark a turning point -- remains to be seen.

Update at 8:45 a.m. PT: Clarified timing on a tweet from Microsoft''s Joe Belfiore; it was November 2013, not November 2014.