One of the favorite parlor games of folks in and around the mobile phone business is watching the relative success of Android and iOS. Highlights include waiting on the fate of BlackBerry, an issue that took another surprise turn this week, and seeing if a strong third mobile operating system will emerge.
The candidates for the third OS are nascent startups, BlackBerry (at least until about a year ago) and Windows Phone. Clear signs indicate that the Microsoft entrant is taking control of that potentially valuable position.
This week, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech reported that Windows Phone is making great progress in Europe. In fact, eWeek said that in Italy, Windows Phone even overtook iOS. Kantar pointed out that the third quarter is historically good for Apple because consumers are awaiting the fall arrivals. That said, it is still an accomplishment for Microsoft. The story says that Windows Phone’s market share “grew in nearly every global market.”
Strategy Analytics, as reported by TheNextWeb, also shows good news for Microsoft. During last year’s third quarter, Microsoft shipped 3.7 million units. That number jumped to 10.2 million in the third quarter of this year. Redmond’s share of the pie rose accordingly: from 2.1 percent to 4.1 percent.
In a long and well-reasoned post at ZDNet, Chris Duckett acknowledges that the news has been good for Windows Phone lately. However, he suggests that the company still has a lot of work to do on both the consumer and enterprise side. It is easy to rack up high percentage growth when the beginning base is small. It becomes harder when devices—mostly from Nokia, which Microsoft is acquiring—are more deeply deployed.
Duckett wrote that Microsoft will face this more difficult landscape without a platform that is as tightly integrated between tablet and smartphone as iOS or Android are. It also will face heightened challenges due to smartphone saturation. He ends the piece by making some suggestions, which focus on doing something drastic to attract developers and users:
The company needs to offer a truly single ecosystem to developers that takes full advantage of the first-class tooling that the company possesses. An actual platform that has no compromises, not a series of compromises built into other compromises that currently leaves Windows Phone as an incompatible subset of the standard Windows environment.
Microsoft may not have gotten the message. Last week, Computerworld ran a piece suggesting that it is unclear if Windows Phone 8 phones will be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8.1, which the story labels a “major upgrade.” The story seems to be more about the parsing of spokespeople’s comments. If some issues about upgradeability do exist, however, Microsoft should confront them quickly. Duckett is correct: Microsoft has to make Windows Phone easier to utilize, both for developers and end users, as the landscape gets tougher and customers scarcer. Poor compatibility certainly should be avoided.
The bottom line is that Microsoft clearly has made a strong move to grab the third mobile OS spot. What bears watching during the next year is whether it builds on that lead, and whether room for a third player does exist.