Windows Phone eclipses BlackBerry as the third major mobile platform

The news: The meteoric rise of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS effectively spelled the demise of Symbian, the operating system long synonymous with Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) smartphones. With Nokia's worldwide smartphone market share in steep decline as 2011 dawned, new CEO Stephen Elop steered the manufacturer away from Symbian to embrace Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone operating system as Nokia's primary smartphone platform moving forward. Per terms of the deal announced in February, Nokia and Microsoft are now forging a worldwide mobile ecosystem integrating their respective assets--Microsoft software tools will enable developers to build apps that run across Nokia devices, while Nokia brings to the table global operator billing partnerships enabling developers to reach consumers in regions where credit card usage is negligible.

So why didn't Nokia select Android over Windows Phone? It's all about competitive balance. Speaking at February's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Elop said a Nokia/Google partnership would have transformed the mobile industry into a duopoly pitting Android against iOS. "If we had made the decision to swing in the direction of Android, it would have delivered substantial market share, and would have tilted the mobile ecosystem in that direction," Elop said. "By partnering with Windows Phone 7, we've established a very different dynamic, and created an environment where Windows Phone 7 is a challenger. We've created a three-horse race."

Developer interest in Windows Phone has grown steadily in the months since the Nokia announcement, and as 2011 comes to a close, development platform Appcelerator reports 38 percent of developers express strong interest in building Windows Phone applications, an 8 percent quarter-over-quarter increase. Windows Phone now ranks third in developer enthusiasm behind iOS and Android, and its mindshare gain is BlackBerry's loss: Only 21 percent of Appcelerator survey respondents express strong interest in creating apps for BlackBerry OS smartphones, down 7 percentage points compared to the third quarter. Enthusiasm for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is also on the skids, dropping 6 points to 13 percent following disappointing sales of the device.

Why it was significant: As operators debate whether to roll out Windows Phone devices--and as manufacturers mull the decision to create smartphones running the OS--they can be confident that a growing developer ecosystem is in place to create compelling, innovative applications. At the same time, the Microsoft/Nokia agreement guarantees developers a proven point of entry into the emerging markets sector, still Nokia's stronghold despite mounting competition from Android.

At the same time, waning developer interest in BlackBerry further calls into question the platform's longevity. With the PlayBook making few inroads into the tablet space, BlackBerry falling behind iOS in the enterprise market it once dominated and BlackBerry smartphone owners downloading fewer apps than consumers across rival platforms, developers have few compelling reasons to build BlackBerry apps.    

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