Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS will maintain their dominance of the mobile application market in 2012, more than holding off challenges from the likes of Microsoft and other mobile tech industry players, according to a new ABI Research report.

Android and iOS will account for 83% of some 36 billion mobile app downloads in 2012, while only 2% will be attributed to Windows Phone, according to ABI’s latest “Mobile Applications Market Data” report.

“Although Windows Phone lags behind RIM’s BlackBerry and even Nokia’s Symbian, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the two percent that we forecast for 2012 would be twice the share the platform achieved last year. Microsoft is gaining momentum, but its starting point is frustratingly low,” commented ABI research associate Lim Shiyang. “Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t really a chicken-and-egg problem of low device sales holding back the app business and the slow app business holding back the device sales. It’s more complicated than that.”

Four factors are undermining Windows Phone’s mobile app growth, according to ABI’s analysis, the most obvious of which is Windows Phone’s small device market share.

The second factor hindering growth for Microsoft’s mobile app download business is that the roll-out of the Microsoft Exchange marketplace has taken a long time, which has been limiting the number of potential customers. “Third, Microsoft has been slow to enable in-app purchasing, meaning that most of the quality apps remain behind an upfront paywall,” ABI said.  Fourth and last, a Windows Phone-based media tablet is yet to be released.

“One message we hear from many developers is that, purely technically speaking, Windows Phone is actually a rather appealing platform,” senior analyst Aapo Markkanen explained. “And if it turns out to be a platform for relatively high-end devices, avoiding the fragmentation pitfalls of Android, it won’t even need to achieve a remarkably large market share to attract a vibrant app scene. The arrival of the first Windows 8 tablets, as well as Windows Phone’s upgrade to the Apollo iteration, should also give it a boost, since developers can reuse their code to launch on various screen sizes.”

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