IDC’s Five-Year Smartphone Forecast Could Totally Maybe Happen

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Consider the smartphone market in March 2006, five years ago this month: the iPhone hadn’t been announced. Android was a lukewarm rumor based on the premise that Andy Rubin’s team had to be doing something for Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Symbian, Windows Mobile, Palm (NYSE: HPQ), and RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) were forces of nature, and more people in the U.S. were using PDAs (remember those?) than smartphones.

Yet market research companies are in the prediction business, and therefore bound to produce 5-year forecasts for an industry that according to a recent Bloomberg article on Nokia is operating with product cycles that are just six months long. IDC’s latest forecast, released Tuesday, makes several assumptions about vendor positioning in 2015 that there’s simply no way to either support or refute based on the speed at which this market is developing.

IDC’s 2011 predictions are more reliable. During this year the firm expects smartphone vendors to ship 450 million smartphones, up 49.5 percent from the 303.4 million units shipped in 2010. IDC expects Android to extend its current-market share lead at the expense of Symbian, which is being ignored by consumers and developers alike as Nokia reboots around Windows Phone 7. It thinks Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and RIM will remain neck-and-neck as Windows Phone 7 gains a bit of share.

But you have to shrug your shoulders at the 2015 predictions. IDC said that Android will grow faster than the overall market and remain the overall leader, but that Apple and RIM will grow slower than the overall market while Windows Phone 7 essentially surges into the second-place spot on the back of its deal with Nokia (NYSE: NOK). HP’s WebOS did not rate a mention, lumped into the “Others” category.

It’s not that IDC is patently wrong: all of those things could certainly happen. But the entire market has been flipped on its head in the last five years. It’s a bit of an assumption to predict there are still going to be four distinct mobile operating systems in 2015, let alone handicap their chances. And as Engadget points out, just a year ago IDC predicted that Symbian would still be the market leader in 2013, citing “the strength of Nokia in markets outside of the United States.” Whoops: they’ve now got them declining to 0.2 percent by 2015 as Nokia embraces a U.S.-designed operating system.

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