Blog Post

IDC pegs Windows Phone to pass iOS by 2016. (Really!)

Research firm IDC offers up its look at smartphone market share through 2016 and suggests several surprising trends: Android may peak this year while Windows Phone will jump past iOS in 2016. The market for BlackBerry(s rimm) phones won’t disappear either says IDC, as emerging markets will look to RIM for messaging phones. I don’t own a crystal ball, but I have to wonder about some of IDC’s reason for optimism here, particularly for Windows Phone(s msft).

Too far of a look

One of the problems here is the range of the forecast. To predict anything more than a year out in the smartphone market is like throwing darts: You might hit the bullseye, but more than likely you’ll simply hit the board.

The market for both mobile hardware and software is simply changing too quickly to predict beyond 12 to 15 months. My own end of year prediction in 2011 is already in jeopardy: I said Windows Phone would surpass BlackBerry sales in 2012 with just a single digit share. We’re nearly halfway through the year and my prognostication doesn’t look good, even as the Windows Marketplace has built momentum with 100,000 apps.

Why will Windows Phone beat out iOS according to IDC?

IDC suggests that Microsoft will see success because of Nokia(s nok):

“Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will be aided by Nokia’s strength in key emerging markets. IDC expects it to be the number 2 OS with more than 19% share in 2016, assuming Nokia’s foothold in emerging markets is maintained.”

The entire assumption is based on Nokia’s brand in these emerging markets. But that contradicts IDC’s claim that these areas want BlackBerry devices. And it totally overlooks a real, visible trend: The market is getting flooded with cheap Android phones in some of these emerging markets today. Add in the fact that nobody outside of Apple(s aapl) knows the iOS strategy over the next four years — which is already starting to shift and boost the addressable market with pre-paid iPhones in the U.S. — and IDC’s logic falls apart.

If Windows Phone does jump, here’s why

Given that I like choice and using the right tool for the task, I want IDC’s vision of a more competitive smartphone market to be right. But its forecast hasn’t explained to me how it will be right. Windows Phone could very well be a success, but not for the reasons IDC named. The platform has impressed me in usage, but here some actual reasons it could yet take off:

Again, I don’t have a crystal ball that looks into 2016, so my guess is as good as IDC’s. Then again, about a year ago, IDC forecasted the same results it did today, with one exception: It said Windows Phone would surpass iOS by 2015. What a difference a year makes!

23 Responses to “IDC pegs Windows Phone to pass iOS by 2016. (Really!)”

  1. sraina

    Good news for WindowsPhone and Microsoft. I think the WindowsPhone marketing team finally seems to be getting some traction. I am impressed with the WindowsPhone platform and would say that it is a refreshing change for Android and iPhone users.

  2. “The use of a consistent interface, the Metro UI, on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 computers.”

    This is actually a disadvantage, not a benefit.

    As many people have pointed out, by trying to make a desktop computer OS and a mobile OS use the same UI, certain compromises must be made to both.

    You end up with a desktop OS and a mobile OS that are not as effective as they could have been if the UI had been designed specifically for each category of computer.

    Tablets and smartphones are computers, but they are NOT desktop PCs.

  3. Michael W. Perry

    I’m afraid I disagree about the value of “a consistent interface, the Metro UI, on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 computers.” When I’m interacting with a device in the same way, having a consistent interface is handy. But when one device uses a tiny touch screen and the other a larger screen with a more efficient keyboard and mouse/trackpad, that consistency becomes an enormous irritation. Adapt the UI for one means of interaction and it becomes clumsy for the other. That’s one reason why so many find the new UI in the latest Office irritating. It’s a touch interface foisted off on a keyboard/mouse device.

    In fact, it’s not only better to have each UI adapted for its input/display, it’s better for the two interfaces to be different enough that our minds shift into a different mode with each. Otherwise, users find themselves making the wrong motions.

    You see this with the well-established interfaces for cars, airplanes and sailboats. A steering wheel, a stick, handlebar and a tiller are not only best for their particular device, they keep a driver/pilot/biker/sailor better informed about what they’re doing. That’s why the stable UI for each settled on something different. It’s why the early cars that tried to be like carriages quickly faded away.

    • Michael, I completely understand your point; there’s something to be said for specific interfaces in different use cases. My thought was one of familiarity, but your point is well taken; thanks!

    • Yogesh Pandeya

      Hi Michal,
      I am no UI expert but nowadays after using touch phones (both Android and iPhone) many a times a feel like touching the laptop screen to do interact with my laptop while working. I guess future laptops will with either morph into pad devices or vice-verse. I know mouse still gives some finer control but I don’t think days are far off when laptops will start having touch interface. That point of time a unified UI may prove handy.

    • focher

      Exactly, if “consistency” was inherently beneficial across form factors then Microsoft would have had a successful tablet platform years ago. Apple has succeeded because they understood they needed different user interfaces for different types of form factors and usage scenarios (and Google smartly copied that with Android). While Microsoft is to be applauded for trying something – anything – to get traction in the market, history doesn’t suggest their strategy will work.

  4. Seems like maybe the research firm wanted some press coverage from making a controversial prediction… Either that or their research efforts were ‘encouraged’ by Microsoft. Either way, I don’t see this happening. Windows may have a big market in other countries but I think a large part of that is due to availability and pricing. As the iPhone becomes more available and more affordable, its market share will climb in coming years. That is, provided that the quality of their hardware/software integration doesn’t decline with the lack of Steve Jobs at the helm.

    I do have to agree with the author though, the ability to predict the smartphone market two years out is as reliable as the ability to predict next week’s weather. Who knows how the Google-Motorola Mobility merger will play out-they could take the place of Blackberry’s in corporate use or release a ‘future compatible’ device that can be used for 5 years before being replaced. Its never a good idea to count Google out, that’s when they goose you.

  5. Oliver Hoffmann

    As long as I haven’t seen a single Windows phone used in public I have a hard time believing this. Where are Windows phones? Who uses them? I live in Ottawa, lots of government jobs here so I keep seeing large amounts of people with Blackberries, tons of iPhones and Android devices as well, but I never saw a single Windows phone being used somewhere so far.

    • I’m pretty sure they are basing this prediction off the fact that Windows phone just became the dominant phone in the largest smartphone market in the world-China. Otherwise, i agree with you. I have seen exactly ONE Windows Phone in public (and it was owned by a person who likes smartphones b/c the are cool – not b/c they use, or know of, all of their capabilities).

      • I don’t think they’re basing their forecast on that report – which was HIGHLY questionable – because they basically said the same thing last year. Check the last link in the post for a laugh. ;)

      • Sagar

        People are expecting a “prediction” to be 100% true. Problem is with those who expect that. Why should they call it a prediction then ? . But if you take the last year prediction nothing had changed. Remove Symbian and Windows Mobile from equation , remove RIM.. replace it with Windows Phone and they may grab some market share from Android and iPhone too. Picture is clear. No one needs to study rocket science to learn about this. Go to a remote location in India and China and show me an iPhone or Android. You cant ..But Nokia is a household name there. Without knowing basics if somebody comments, thats ignorance.

  6. RandyRP

    I think Windows has the possibility to gain traction via the tablet market and from there into phones, but that is likely to erode Android market share, not Ios

    • focher

      Actually, iOS (in the smartphone space) is on three platforms. There is a low-end (3GS), a mid-range (4), and a top-end (4S). In October, the iPhone 4 is going to become their low-end device. Just consider that point. A phone which is still considered one of the best smartphones after almost 2 years is going to become Apple’s low-end offering.