Windows Phone 8 Faces Uphill Fight to Win Market-Share Battle: IDC

New third-quarter smartphone sales figures from IDC show that Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system has only a 2 percent share of the market for smartphones, ranked by operating system, though it is the fastest-growing.

New sales figures show that the Microsoft Windows Phone operating system holds only a 2 percent share of the global smartphone market based on current OS market rankings, putting pressure on the new Windows Phone 8 to increase that number substantially.

Research released Nov. 1 by IDC shows that just 3.6 million phones running Windows Phone 7 were shipped in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, versus 1.5 million in the year-ago quarter. The third-quarter numbers do not include Windows Phone 8 sales, as devices running it only came out Oct. 29.

The good news is that Windows Phone is the fastest-growing mobile OS in the market with 140 percent growth from the third quarter of 2011.

But the IDC report arguably had better news for Google, whose Android OS sales grew by 91.5 percent to 136 million units, giving it a whopping 75 percent share of the smartphone market. Android’s share was 57.5 percent in the year ago quarter.

The total market for smartphones grew by 46.4 percent to 181.1 million units in the third quarter from 123.7 million in the year-ago quarter.

Apple ranked second with a 57.3 percent increase in sales to 26.9 million of its iOS-powered iPhones, earning it a 14.9 percent share, up from 13.8 percent share a year ago.

Even Nokia, whose Symbian OS is being phased out in favor of Windows Phone, earned a higher market share than Microsoft at 2.3 percent, although its sales plummeted by 77.3 percent to 4.1 million units.

IDC highlights the fact that in just four years since its introduction, Android has grown to the point where one out of every four smartphones sold in the world runs Google’s OS.

"Android has been one of the primary growth engines of the smartphone market since it was launched in 2008," said Ramon Llamas, research manager in the mobile phone space at IDC. "In every year since then, Android has effectively outpaced the market and taken market share from the competition.”

Llamas credits Google’s strategy of sharing Android with multiple smartphone makers—as well as the Nexus line made by Google—and running on multiple wireless carriers, which is driving Android shipment volumes higher. Microsoft is following a similar strategy with Windows Phone but Apple and RIM, maker of the BlackBerry OS, make their own phones and don’t license their operating systems to other device makers.

BlackBerry’s sales fell by 34.7 percent in the quarter to 7.7 million units for a 4.3 percent share. RIM has been dogged by delays in bringing to market the newest version of its OS, BlackBerry 10, until March 2013.

While Microsoft has been in the smartphone market for years with its Windows Mobile OS, it tried to reboot its mobile strategy in 2010 with Windows Phone 7. But neither that, nor Microsoft’s 2011 deal with Nokia to run Windows Phone on Nokia smartphones, have given Windows Phone sales any serious boost. The fourth-quarter IDC numbers, which will include the holiday shopping season, will determine whether Microsoft, Nokia and Windows Phone 8 finally gain traction in the market.

Google officially introduced a new Nexus 4 smartphone running Android, as well as a new Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablet on Oct. 29. However, it cancelled a scheduled launch event in New York City set for the same date as the Windows Phone 8 launch in San Francisco because of the approach of Hurricane Sandy to the New York-New Jersey region.