IDC: Android market share to shrink, Windows Phone to explode

Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone will experience remarkable growth over the next four years to become the world's second largest smartphone platform by market share, if a new forecast from research firm IDC is to be believed.

Click here for details on IDC's forecast.

The research firm is sticking with its guns, reiterating a bullish forecast it gave last year about Windows Phone's future growth, despite the platform's continued sluggish performance in the market.

Overall, IDC expects the worldwide mobile phone market to grow slightly more than 4 percent year-over-year in 2012, the lowest annual growth rate since 2009, due to a sharp decline in the feature phone market and weak global economic conditions. According to IDC, handset vendors will ship a total of nearly 1.8 billion mobile phones this year, compared with 1.7 billion units shipped in 2011.

IDC also believes Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform will peak this year in terms of its market share, at a predicted 61 percent, before settling down to 52.9 percent in 2016. At that time, Windows Phone and the now-defunct Windows Mobile from Microsoft will make up 19.2 percent of the global smartphone market, up from a predicted 5.2 percent at the end of 2012. According to IDC, that will be just enough to squeak past Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, which will capture 20.5 percent of the market in 2012 and 19 percent in 2016.

"Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will gain share despite a slow start. Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will be aided by Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) strength in key emerging markets," IDC said. "IDC expects it to be the No. 2 OS with more than 19% share in 2016, assuming Nokia's foothold in emerging markets is maintained."

IDC had a similarly rosy outlook for Windows Phone last year, when it predicted the platform would capture 20.9 percent of the market in 2015. 

Nokia lost its spot as the world's largest handset maker by volume to Samsung in the first quarter, in part because of its declining Symbian sales and its still meager Windows Phone sales, but also because of its weakening position in emerging markets such as China and India. Nokia has tried to counteract that with its Asha sub-brand focused on young consumers as well as a host of dual-SIM phones, which it started introducing in the second quarter of 2011.

Still, for Windows Phone to achieve the kind of growth that IDC predicts over the next few years, Nokia's rising Windows Phone sales will need to lift the platform significantly. The platform has reportedly grown to 100,000 third-party applications, but as of the end of the first quarter Microsoft commanded just 1.9 percent of the global smartphone market, according to Gartner, which tracks device sell-through.

Meanwhile, IDC predicts Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry will hold steady over the next few years, despite its current woes, falling from 6 percent in 2012 to 5.9 percent in 2016. RIM is banking on its BlackBerry 10 platform, which it will introduce later this year, to revive its fortunes.

Like many analyst forecasts, however, IDC's long-term predictions should be viewed with some caution. For instance, in 2006, IDC failed to predict the 2010 smartphone landscape because it did not account for the rise of the iPhone or Android.

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