Microsoft's Windows Phone is going to trample Apple's iOS by 2015, according to a new estimate by research firm IDC. However, Google Android will continue to command the lion's share of the smartphone market.
"Until Nokia begins introducing Windows Phone-powered smartphones in large volumes in 2012, Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will only capture a small share of the market," reads the firm's June 9 research note, "as the release of Mango-powered smartphones are not expected to reach the market until late 2011."
Should the Nokia transition proceed smoothly, IDC expects that Windows Phone will take some 20 percent of the smartphone market by 2015. That surpasses its market-share estimates for Apple's iOS (16.9 percent), Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS (13.4 percent), undefined "Others" (5.5 percent), and Nokia's soon-to-be-defunct Symbian (0.1 percent). Google Android will continue to rule the roost, however, with an estimated 43.8 percent.
"Underpinning smartphone growth is the rapidly shifting operating system landscape," Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC, wrote in a statement accompanying the research note. "End-users are becoming more sophisticated about what kinds of experiences are offered by the different operating systems. Taking this as their cue, operating system developers will strive for more intuitive and seamless experiences, but will also look to differentiate themselves along key features and characteristics."
Of course, IDC's estimates hinge on Nokia transitioning smoothly to Windows Phone, something a few analysts perceive as easier said than done. Once the news emerged that Nokia planned on abandoning its Symbian platform, sales of Symbian devices began a precipitous drop-and Nokia's Windows Phone devices aren't expected to hit the market before the end of 2011.
"We would continue to avoid the stock as Symbian smartphone sales are falling off faster than expected and we are skeptical that new Windows Phone (WP) models will be able to replace lost profits," Stephen Patel, an analyst with Gleacher & Company, wrote in a May 31 research note. "Our checks suggest mixed carrier support for Nokia's transition to WP."
Just to add to Nokia's headwinds, Android sales are supposedly eating into market share once occupied by Symbian. "We think sub-$200 Android handsets, including those from new entrants such as ZTE and Huawei," he added, "are hurting Symbian units, which largely target the same price range."
Patel's other big question centers on whether Windows Phone can pick up Nokia's existing smartphone share without too much attrition: "We remain concerned that WP industry sales remain below 2mil units/quarter and that [Nokia's] scale will not be enough to offset a faster than expected drop-off in Symbian phone sales."
Other analysts seem to be concurring with Patel's assessment.
"While we maintain our belief the Nokia-Microsoft partnership is best positioned to potentially create a third viable smartphone ecosystem," Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley wrote in a June 1 research note, "we are increasingly concerned about sales for Nokia's Symbian devices during the transition period."
Whether or not the Nokia transition ultimately succeeds, Microsoft is moving forward with its plans to buttress Windows Phone's capabilities. During a May 24 press event in New York City, Microsoft executives demonstrated some of the top-line features of the upcoming "Mango" update, including multitasking, a redesigned Xbox Live Hub, visual voicemail, the ability to consolidate friends and colleagues into groups within the platform's "People" Hub, and Local Scout, which offers a view of everything to see and do in a particular neighborhood. The "People" Hub will also include data from Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as the ability to share and tag photos.
For enterprise users, Mango will offer the ability to search a server for email items no longer stored on the device, and share and save Office documents via Office 365 and Windows SkyDrive. There's also an upgraded Internet experience, one that tightly bakes Microsoft's Bing search engine into the interface.
But if IDC is to be believed, it'll be Nokia-and not all those nifty features-that eventually make Windows Phone a true smartphone force.