Windows Phone hits 145,000 apps: All eyes on the ecosystem

With more than 145,000 apps available for Windows Phone, the platform outmatches BlackBerry, but remains dwarfed by iOS and Android. Forget devices and platforms; the key to the third place race rests on what's on offer behind the scenes.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Microsoft now has 145,000 apps available for its Windows Phone platform, the company announced on Friday.

While this figure is only a fraction of what Apple and Google have in their respective application stores, at the last count, it could still be higher than that of BlackBerry's. At the very least, they're at about the same level, taking into account current estimates.

The battle for first place has no end in sight. Apple and Samsung have the duopoly at the top of the smartphone market, while BlackBerry and Microsoft battle it out for the third-place spot.

What's becoming increasingly apparent is that the battle is no longer about platform or even devices; it's about e-commerce revenue, such as app stores and the slice of revenue generated from app sales.

Microsoft's latest figures suggest that the 25,000 additional apps it's added since October show that its app store figures are plateauing out. The software giant has gained a number of high-profile app makers in recent months — Pandora and Hulu, to name just two.

BlackBerry, in the meantime, may have around the same number of apps, but has an added benefit: BlackBerry 10 has an emulation engine that can run Android apps. According to a BlackBerry executive speaking to AllThingsD, 20 percent of all BlackBerry 10 apps are in fact Android apps.

What some may consider as cheating, others may suggest is downright smart.

For smartphone makers, it's all about the platform. For platform makers, such as Microsoft and BlackBerry, it's all about the apps. Apps are a goldmine for siphoning off crucial revenue where it makes no sense to include ads.

For instance, Apple has paid $8 billion to developers since the App Store went live, according to chief executive Tim Cook, speaking at the Goldman Sachs conference in February. Considering that the iPhone and iPad maker takes a 30 percent cut of all apps sold, the company would have made around $3.42 billion just off the back of its App Store market.

Apps are a lucrative market, and both Microsoft and BlackBerry are missing out on a serious money-making venture.

BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins said at the Milken Institute on April 29 regarding tablets — though his views can be transposed almost entirely toward smartphones — that mobile devices cannot survive unless they are backed up by an e-commerce or cloud service that generates money on the back end.

Heins said, in a nutshell, that tablets are being sold on the cheap, and the razor-thin profit margins on these devices can be afforded, because the continued sales from its retail and app store offerings are keeping a steady flow of revenue flooding into these companies' coffers.

Google did this with its Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet. Amazon also did this with its Kindle devices, knowing full well that it would substitute device sales for the higher-margin sales from its online retail store.

Amazon is also expected to hit the market with its own smartphone later this year, along with a bevy of other gadgets — if the retail giant determines whether they're fit for purpose.

What's clear is that with Amazon reportedly making a punt to offer its own smartphone in an already crowded space, to fend off Amazon's advances for the third place, Microsoft and BlackBerry need to bolster their own app store offerings.

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