Few disagree that Google's Android operating system is becoming the Microsoft Windows of the mobile operating system world.
Analysts from both IDC and ABI Research estimate Android, which lives on more than 100 phones and just hit 33 percent U.S. market share, will top 45 percent share over the next five years. It's the No. 2 and No. 3 operating system positions that require some steely, long-haul prognostication.
ABI said Apple's iOS will follow Android's plot to take 19 percent share by 2016, with Research In Motion's BlackBerry in third with 14 percent. Samsung's Bada will garner 10 percent share, while Windows Phone 7 (WP7) will round out the top 5 at 7 percent.
IDC took some flak last week for suggesting that by 2015, WP7 will assume Nokia Symbian's No. 2 position on the mobile platform food chain by 2015. iOS will garner the third spot at 15 percent, with BlackBerry not far behind in fourth at 14 percent, IDC believes.
A quick perusal of the current Windows Phone 7 news cycle will shed light on details ugly enough to doubt the IDC report. Sources say carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have sold only a few million WP7 phones, while Microsoft continues to stumble in upgrading them. Some analysts see trouble on the horizon for the young platform.
Not IDC analyst Kevin Restivo, who told eWEEK there are a number of factors that will enable WP7 to sit under Android in the mobile food chain later this decade.
Start with Microsoft's pact with Nokia in which the hardware maker will build Windows Phones for the next several years. Restivo believes WP7 will assume Symbian's place in the market outside the United States. That is, very successful.
"You have to look at the geographic strength of Symbian and Nokia. You're looking at many high-growth countries as far as smartphone volume goes in the future," Restivo said. "These are countries where Nokia has very strong brand presence, including Western Europe and Asia. This provides a springboard for [Windows Phone 7]."
Restivo also said the WP7 application ecosystem is rich in the early going, topping 10,000 applications in its first four months of existence.
Industry analyst Jack Gold is skeptical of WP7's potential given all the turmoil and transitions that need to take place in the next four years to make this happen, and the fact both Nokia and Microsoft need to execute flawlessly-something they have not been known for in the past.
"The question is, can the sheer weight of Nokia drive that much market share for WP7, given that Symbian smartphones will likely be around for at least two more years?" Gold wondered.
"I'm skeptical the WP7 share can grow that quickly, and I believe Nokia may be in for some difficult times [in smartphones]. It also depends on how fast the WP7 ecosystem can grow, and right now I think it will take some time for the ecosystem to mature-probably one to two more years anyway."
Gold also isn't sure we can assume current Symbian smartphone owners will just jump on the WP7 bandwagon, with Android, iOS and BlackBerry offering solid alternatives. "It's not clear the Nokia smartphone brand loyalty will win the day."
Yet industry analyst Rob Enderle sees merit in Restivo's research and agrees the differences between high-end and low-end smartphone pricing will impact market share. He believes Apple will lock up the premium smartphone market, with Android and WP7 fighting it out in the low end.
"Apple will lock in the premium side and hold margins but likely lose out on volume as a result, suggesting that [IDC's] positioning of Android and Microsoft/Nokia at the top is well founded."
Restivo believes iOS is limited largely to developed countries because it's a high-end feature phone. In China, the iPhone is priced at about $1,000 U.S. Like Android, WP7 will include low-cost smartphones all over the world.