Practically every day some research firm somewhere in North America or Europe releases a forecast about how many widgets will be sold next year, or how large a given market is going to be in five years. And every day the overwhelming majority of those forecasts are poised to turn out wrong.
In most cases forecasting market size or growth is an art form rather than a science. Assumptions drive the metrics behind the models. But we typically don’t get to see the assumptions so clearly on display as we do in the recent IDC smartphone forecast (below).
Some Safe and Risky Assumptions
Across the board IDC predicts significant, continuing growth in the smartphone market. This is a very safe assumption. Further, Android is expected to continue to lead the market and increase its overall share. That’s another relatively safe assumption given current trends.
What’s interesting and controversial is the belief that by 2015 Windows Phones will overtake Apple’s iOS in terms of global market share.
Right now Windows Phone’s share is what you might call “de minimis.” The 3.8 percent figure in the chart above is mostly older Windows Mobile handsets in the market rather than sales of the new Windows Phone.
The general absence of Windows Phone sales figures in the market indicates that Microsoft doesn’t have a lot to trumpet. IDC competitor Gartner estimated that global Q1 sales for Windows Phones were a very modest 1.6 million units.
Will Nokia Provide the Needed Boost?
IDC’s forecast above, however, is driven by the expectation that Nokia will give the Windows OS a huge boost when the phones come out later this year or early next year:
Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will benefit from Nokia’s support, scope, and breadth within markets where Nokia has historically had a strong presence. Until Nokia begins introducing Windows Phone-powered smartphones in large volumes in 2012, Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will only capture a small share of the market as the release of Mango-powered smartphones are not expected to reach the market until late 2011. Nevertheless, assuming that Nokia’s transition to Windows Phone goes smoothly, the OS is expected to defend a number 2 rank and more than 20% share in 2015.
But Nokia’s ability to lift Windows Phone may be more compromised with each passing quarter. Nokia is a company in disarray and rapidly losing share. Nokia needs Windows as much as Microsoft needs Nokia. There are rumors circulating (and being vigorously denied by Nokia) that the company will be broken up and sold in pieces — or that Microsoft itself will buy the Nokia handset unit.
I’ve been using a Samsung Windows Phone from Microsoft and I’ve found a number of things that I like about it quite a bit about it. There are ways in which the UI and user experience are better and more polished than Android (which I’ve used for more than a year as my personal phone). There are some significant weaknesses or areas for improvement as well.
Survey Shows Developers Interested in Windows Phones
Currently there are relatively few apps (~10K) for the Windows Phone platform, which is a massive weakness vs. iOS and Android. However, in a recent global developer survey from VisionMobile, developer-respondents indicated that they are most interested Windows Phone after Android as the “next platform” they’ll write for.
The chart below indicates future mobile platform development plans among surveyed developers.
It’s not out of the question then that Microsoft and Nokia could become a “third mobile ecosystem” (after iOS, Andoid); however there are major hurdles to overcome before that can happen. The world of mobile devices is so dynamic and fluid that it’s very difficult to see more than a year or two out at the most.
The first “Nokisoft” phones are supposed to be out later this year. Consquently we should know by Q1 2012 (or Q2 at the latest) whether the Nokia relationship will significantly boost Windows Phone’s outlook — and whether IDC’s assumptions are well founded or totally off.