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How will Microsoft do in the smartphone space? Featured

Microsoft is now a major smartphone player, offering an increasingly viable alternative to Apple’s iPhone and the fragmented Android world. Will it ever move out of third spot?

Apple fanboys and Andruids have long dismissed Windows smartphones as also rans. Microsoft just didn’t get it, they said.

They were right then, but they are wrong now. And they are starting to change their tune. Windows Phone is a sill a distant third to iOS and Android in the operating system race, but it is becoming very competitive and in some markets is now coming second (to Android, not Apple). In most other markets it is growing strongly, taking market share mostly off Android while Apple’s stands still (see below).

The reasons people give for not buying a Windows Phone are fast disappearing. The Windows Phone store now has ’only’ 240,000 apps, compared to the million plus for Apple's App Store and Google Play, but there is a lot of rubbish in all of these, and Windows has all the major apps.

Windows is also moving towards total platform portability. The same apps will run on all Microsoft operating systems on all devices – phone, tablet, PCs.

Microsoft Office, the business software suite that powers the corporate world, may now run on iPhone, but it is much better on Windows Phone.

Personally, I moved from an iPhone to a Windows Phone powered Nokia two months ago, and I’m very happy. And I’m starting to notice more people with them.

The global market share of Windows Phone currently stands at just 3.9%, according to research company IDC. Glass half full, or glass half empty?

“Windows Phone stands to grow the fastest among the leading smartphone operating systems, with continued support from Nokia as well as the addition of nine new Windows Phone partners,” says IDC

Worldwide Smartphone Forecast by OS, Shipments, and Market Share, 2014-2018
(Units in Millions)

Operating System

2014 Shipment Volumes*

2014 Market Share

2018 Shipment Volumes*

2018 Market Share

2014-2018 CAGR

Android

950.5

78.9%

1,321.1

76.0%

10.7%

iOS

179.9

14.9%

249.6

14.4%

10.2%

Windows Phone

47.0

3.9%

121.8

7.0%

29.5%

BlackBerry

11.9

1.0%

5.3

0.3%

-22.6%

Others

15.1

1.3%

40.7

2.3%

32.7%

Total

1,204.4

100.0%

1,738.5

100.0%

11.5%

IDC has Windows Phone growing at nearly 30% a year, three times the rate of Android and iOS, but only sufficient to reach 7.0% market share by 2018. This is only around half the 15% target that Microsoft set itself when it was mentioned as part of its justification for buying the Nokia devices business.

I think the IDC number is a conservative figure. I think that Microsoft’s target, dismissed by many as fantasy at the time, now seems eminently achievable. All the momentum is running Microsoft’s way. These sorts of predictions are notoriously difficult (as part punishment for my many sins I spent a few years as a Gartner analyst). But someone has to make them.

Microsoft is late to mobile, but we need to remember that it was also late to word processing and spreadsheets 20 years ago. Microsoft is till the world’s largest software company, it still rules the desktop, and it is a very powerful player in enterprise computing.

It has an irritating habit of mucking things up at first but getting it right eventually, and then dominating markets. It will not knock off the iPhone or Android, but it has already made the smartphone world a three horse race.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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