NEWS ANALYSIS: The picture of the mobile device market is changing slightly, but it may be enough to give Microsoft the opportunity it needs to crack open the market-share door.
It's no secret that Microsoft's share of the mobile phone business is tiny. Most estimates I've seen put it at around 4 percent, which is by far the smallest market share of any of the major companies with phone operating systems.
Even beleaguered Research in Motion is running around 17 percent. The big dogs these days are Apple and Android, with Google's OS apparently getting something like half of all sales worldwide (it depends on whom you ask).
The obvious answer is the indeterminate state of the global series of Apple-Samsung mutual lawsuits, with victories going to both sides, sometimes for the same patents. It's clear that nothing will be settled with these suits for a very long time, and even if Samsung ultimately loses, the allegedly infringing products will have been long since withdrawn from the market by the time the last appeal is exhausted. The same is true if Apple ultimately loses. In other words, when these suits wrap up sometime in the next couple of decades, the results won't matter at all.
But the lawsuits, partly because of their global stage, and partly because of the inconsistent verdicts, introduce uncertainty. Uncertainty raises the perceived risk and if there are two things that large companies hate, they are risk and uncertainty.
While consumers mostly care about whether a phone is cool, or whether it fits their budget or is available from their favorite carrier, big companies are different. CFOs and CIOs are unlikely to care whether a phone is cool, which is one reason so many large enterprises still buy RIM's BlackBerry models. But they do care whether they can be assured that there will be a continued supply of the phones they choose to support in their enterprises.
Some big companies are a lot more exposed to risk in the smartphone market than others. The most exposed are wireless carriers, who are just as risk-averse as any other large enterprise. This means that if there's uncertainty in either the future supply of the devices they carry, or worse, if a court decides that their existing inventory can't be sold, then the carriers want to have a place to go for their supplies of smartphones.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.