Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 App Market Off to Healthy Start: Analyst

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Marketplace is off to a strong start, according to a new analyst report, suggesting a solid future for the smartphone platform.

Microsoft may be reluctant to reveal early sales numbers for Windows Phone 7, but at least one analyst believes the new smartphone platform has a solid chance of establishing itself in the marketplace.

"The Windows Phone 7 Marketplace reaching 4,000 apps two months after launch has to be one of the most rapid ramp-ups in recent times, reaching this milestone faster than Android, which took from October 2008 to March 2009 to reach about the same level," Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC, wrote in a Dec. 19 research note.

In the months leading up to Windows Phone 7's release, Microsoft aggressively courted third-party developers to build games and apps for the platform. In addition, the company struck deals with multiple manufacturers to create devices that hew to minimum hardware requirements. "We can say that for a company that just a few months ago was an also-ran in mobile, having 10 smartphones released in 30 countries is not a trivial achievement," Hilwa wrote. "I would not be surprised if Microsoft had the third largest app portfolio in the industry by the middle of next year."

Microsoft hopes that a successful Windows Phone 7 will allow it to reverse several quarters of smartphone market share declines, and blunt criticism that the company has fallen behind Google and Apple in mobile. Unlike Google Android and the Apple iPhone, which offer users grid-like screens of individual apps, Windows Phone 7's user interface aggregates Web content and applications into six subject-specific "Hubs" such as "Games" and "Office."

While Microsoft has offered no hard numbers on early Windows Phone 7 sales, previously suggested that some 40,000 devices had sold on Nov. 8, the platform's first day of U.S. release on AT&T and T-Mobile. That number supposedly came from an unnamed "market research source who tracks phone sales."

International news outlets such as DigiTimes have hinted at strong Windows Phone 7 sales in parts of Europe and Australia, although a separate report from U.K. retailer MobilesPlease suggested that the smartphones were being significantly outsold by their Google Android and Symbian counterparts in that country.

As with its Xbox franchise, though, Microsoft could very well be willing to take years' worth of massive financial losses in order to eventually create a robust and profitable product line. "They have really strong application development tools and a strong developer ecosystem from their PC universe and they have been putting in a lot of effort to bring them over," Hilwa added in his research note. "No one expected WP7 to take the market by a storm, but the role of the first release was to [put] Microsoft in the game. To be clear this is a long term battle that will be pivotal for Microsoft's long-term relevance."