Windows Phone is Dead

I laughed so hard and so often at IDC’s smartphone forecast, my response took nine days to write—okay, to even start it. The future isn’t my chuckable—that data looks reasonably believable enough—but the past. Because 2016 was supposed to be the year that Microsoft’s mobile OS rose from the ashes of Symbian to surpass iOS and to challenge Android.

In 2011, IDC forecast that Windows Phone global smartphone OS market share would top 20 percent in 2015. The analyst firm reiterated the platform’s No. 2 status for 2016 in 2012 as well. Not that I ever believed the ridiculous forecasts, writing: “If Windows Phone is No. 2 by 2015, I’ll kiss Steve Ballmer’s feet” and “If Windows Phone is No. 2 by 2016, I’ll clean Steve Ballmer’s toilet“. The CEO’s later retirement let me lose from those obligations had I been wrong. I was confident in my analysis being truer. 

Windows Phone is dead—far worse so than even my most dismal prognostications. IDC puts 2016 global share at 0.4 percent, down (cough, cough) 79.1 percent year over year. Can you say freefall? Android, by comparison, accounts for 85 percent of smartphone operating system share as measured  by shipments; iOS is 14.3 percent.

Looking to 2010, IDC predicts:

  • Android: 85.6 percent
  • iOS: 14.2 percent
  • Windows Phone 0.1 percent

I suppose Microsoft should take solace in being among the top three, except for tying—if IDC actually forecasts accurately—with category Others. Oh what a woeful place to be, eh?

The only folks laughing louder than me must be at Alphabet subsidiary Google. Android dominates the mobile market, with absolute certainty. I told you so in October 2009 analysis “Apple cannot win the smartphone wars“. Ouch, did I get flamed for that one by the Apple Faithful. Big G’s platform was a toddler of about one year and seemingly no match for the so-called Jesus Phone.



Again, assuming IDC gets 2020 right, Apple can expect share to stay flat, rather than decline—and with the company’s fierce push into cloud services, No. 2 and 14-plus percent is a good place to be. The platform wars are still underway, and on multiple fronts: automated assistants; cloud storage and sync; content services; operating systems; search; and social interaction, among others.

There, Apple has some success applying the pay-more principle, which makes up from revenue what’s lost in volume. For example, I looked at some streaming subscription services last evening offered through both companies’ app stores. Amazon has AcornTV for $4.99 a month with 7-day trial. Apple gives you 30-days to try but then charges two bucks more per month; right, $6.99.

Would you like to rent “Home Alone” for family viewing? Both companies charge $3.99, but Amazon does so for 48 hours versus 24 hours from Apple. Those are typical times across the streaming catalog.

But I digress. Back to smartphone OS share, IDC couldn’t have been more wrong about 2016 four years ago. In September 2010, I asked: “Are Gartner and IDC mobile forecasts trustworthy?” My answer is the same six years later: No. While smartphone sales slow in the two largest markets, China and the United States, and across Europe, there remains plenty of headroom among emerging markets. India looms large among them.

Sales/shipment share for a category replacing or displacing something else (PCs and dumb phones) is volatile and rapidly changing. Other factors cannot be anticipated, like Samsung’s brand-damaging and revenue-ruining Galaxy Note 7 recall. Or Apple’s iPhone Upgrade program, which finances devices for manageable monthly fee and lets users trade-up when the next model ships. Android remains highly fragmented, while iOS is not. Chinese manufacturers adopting and adapting Android are expanding into new geographies, particularly emerging markets.

The point: The mobile device market, while maturing, is still fast-changing. Don’t expect IDC to be any righter in 2020 than it was in 2016—just perhaps not as wrong.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears on BetaNews.