Apple's App Store won the top rankings for the best and easiest app store for consumers to use in a new study announced by ABI Research.
Google's Android Play Store came in second, while Microsoft's Windows Phone Store ranked third, according to ABI's report, which looked at how app stores implement their offerings to consumers and at their innovation in presentation and approach.
"In terms of implementation, Apple came first, ahead of Google and RIM," the report said. Apple's "superior performance in this dimension is mainly down 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."
But when it comes to innovation, Microsoft narrowly beat Apple, and Google claimed the third spot, according to the report.
"ABI Research is particularly impressed by Microsoft's fresh approach to app discovery, as well as Windows Phone store's overall solid usability," the report stated. "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."
That's an area where Apple needs to make changes, Aapo Markkanen, an ABI analyst, said in a statement.
"Although Apple has done a great job capitalizing on App Store's head start as an app distributor, it should really start rethinking the way it charts the top apps," said Markkanen. "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."
Because retention-based charts are less subject to manipulation, Microsoft can be more transparent in its approach, which is an additional plus, said Markkanen.
"Moves like this can help break the developers free from the 'tyranny of downloads,' decrease their reliance on costly marketing campaigns and thus lower the barriers to entry," said Markkanen.
Apple has been leading the mobile app store wars for some time. In November 2012, research firm App Annie reported that Apple's App Store revenues for October totaled four times the revenue brought in by Google's Android Play Store for the same period.
At the same time, Google's Play Store was making great progress, according to App Annie, with a huge 311 percent growth rate since January, setting the stage for interesting competition between the two vendors.
App Annie, which has been following the app store marketplace for the past 18 months, reported that it sees Apple and Google ultimately reaching equilibrium at some point in the future.
In its 16-page App Annie Index Report for November, the firm stated that the Play Store catch-up to the Apple App Store is under way. While Google Play paid revenue grew by 311 percent since January, Apple's paid revenue grew by only 12.9 percent, according to the study.