Windows Phone may be struggling to find an audience, and it remains to be seen whether Microsoft's planned marketing surge in the first half of 2012 will change that. But the platform can claim at least one major victory over mobile industry rivals: It's raced to the 50,000 apps milestone faster than did Android before it.

The first version of Windows Phone--called Windows Phone 7 to align it with Windows 7 and differentiate it from the Windows Mobile 6.x products that preceded it--arrived in late October 2010. So it has taken the platform just 14 months to obtain over 50,000 apps from third party developers.

According to the site All About Windows Phone, which tracks apps availability on the Windows Phone Marketplace, Microsoft surpassed the 50,000 app plateau on December 27, 2011, far sooner than expected. It took the platform just over a year to arrive at 40,000 available apps, but only 40 days for the next 10,000. 

Microsoft was adding over 165 apps to the store each day in October 2011, but that number has jumped to over 265 today, further highlighting the recent growth. All About Windows Phone credits two factors for this increase: broader availability of the Windows Phone Marketplace geographically (now in 35 countries, up from 16) and  the release of Nokia's first Windows Phone devices, which have been enthusiastically received.

(Note that apps availability varies by region. So in the United States, you'll see over 42,600 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace whereas French users will see over 39,000.)

Intriguingly, the breakdown of free-to-paid apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace sits exactly between that of Android and iOS; this parallels the broader strategy of Microsoft in the mobile market, as it is positioning Windows Phone between Android and the iPhone. 68 percent of Windows Phone apps are free, while 43 percent are paid. This compares to 69 percent free/31 percent paid on Android and 43 percent free/57 percent paid on iOS. (My, do Apple users love to pay.)

Windows Phone offers a number of apps features that are available on the other platforms, one of which is a trial capability for paid apps. If you breakdown the paid apps sold through Windows Phone Marketplace, you'll find that 14 percent of all apps are paid with a trial version available and 29 percent are paid with no trial.

Where Android and iOS still come out ahead, of course, is in total number of apps; Both boast well over 500,000 apps. Of course, Windows Phone partisans would tell you that these apps are required on those platforms, which don't feature the integrated experience of Windows Phone.

More important for the future of Windows Phone is the speed at which it arrived at the 50,000 app milestone. While it took Windows Phone 14 months to do so, Apple's iOS took 12 months, a figure that must be marked with an asterisk since the iPhone had been the market, app-less, for over a year before the App Store opened; Apple's voracious fans were clearly champing at the bit for apps by the time the store did belatedly open. Meanwhile, it took Android 19 months to hit the 50,000 app mark, a more relevant comparison. (Symbian and Blackberry both needed over 26 months to hit 50,000 apps. And I don't believe webOS even came close.)

For better or worse, apps availability is a key metric for the success of a mobile platform, and even with 50,000 apps, this is seen as a weak spot for Microsoft relative to the competition. In the first half of 2012, then, Microsoft will engage in a campaign to bridge the tops apps gap between Windows Phone and iOS/Android. Key apps like Pandora, Instagram, Skype, Audible, and others are still missing in action and Microsoft will work to close this gap by mid-2012. In cases where a popular service simply won't develop for Windows Phone, Microsoft will invest in competitors.

Microsoft will also speed up its acquisition of key exclusive apps, a strategy that's paid off handsomely on the Xbox 360 console. I'm told you can expect at least one exclusive Windows Phone app per month throughout 2012. And of course, individual handsets from Nokia and others will continue to ship with exclusive apps, free app preloads, and pre-paid cards which can be redeemed for apps of the customer's choosing.

Microsoft will announce its plans for a harder-than-expected 2012 Windows Phone push at the Consumer Electronics Show, and its partners--particularly--Nokia will reveal their plans for bridging the gap with Android by announcing  LTE devices and other initiatives. While it's not clear whether the plans I've viewed will make a huge difference, I can tell you that they represent a significant leap over the paltry Windows Phone marketing schemes tried so far. 2012 is going to be an interesting year.