BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and the Battle for Third Place

Any gains in Windows Phone’s market share are largely attributable to Nokia.

Google Android and Apple’s iOS owned 92.3 percent of the smartphone market in the first quarter of 2013, according to new estimates from research firm IDC. Android’s market-share stood at 75 percent up from 59.1 percent in the same quarter a year ago, while iOS owned 17.3 percent—a decline from its 23 percent share in the year-ago quarter.

While most of the headlines about IDC’s data will focus on this Apple-Google duopoly, which shows no signs of abating anytime soon, there’s another story brewing amidst the other smartphone vendors: the battle for third place.

“Underpinning the worldwide smartphone market is the constantly shifting operating system landscape,” Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC’s Mobile Phone team, wrote in a May 16 note. “Android and iOS accounted for more than the lion’s share of smartphones in the first quarter, but a closer examination of the other platforms reveals turnaround and demand for alternatives.”

Microsoft’s Windows Phone, he added, “has benefited from Nokia’s participation, and BlackBerry’s new BB10 devices have already hit a million units shipped in its first quarter of availability.”

According to IDC’s numbers, Microsoft has something of an advantage over BlackBerry, with its market-share in the first quarter standing at 3.2 percent—just a tad ahead of BlackBerry at 2.9 percent. That’s a dramatic reversal from the same quarter in 2012, when BlackBerry held 6.4 percent of the market to Windows Phone’s 2.0 percent.

The rise of Windows Phone (such as it is) is attributable in large part to Nokia, which made an “all in” bet on Microsoft’s software. In the process, the Finnish phone-maker dumped Symbian and its other homegrown operating systems, much to the anger and dismay of many users; Nokia CEO Stephen Elop (a former Microsoft executive) has defended the decision as necessary in order to better compete against Android and iOS. Yet despite Nokia’s global footprint, Windows Phone still faces a long road ahead: if Microsoft wants to seize a double-digit share of the market, it must convince other manufacturers to jump abroad and build a mix of top-quality and affordable devices.

But BlackBerry seems determined to reclaim at least some of its former glory. First it unveiled BlackBerry 10, its new smartphone operating system, along with a pair of “hero” devices loaded with top-quality hardware. At this week’s BlackBerry Live 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla., the company also rolled out the BlackBerry Q5, a device with a physical QWERTY keyboard aimed at the midrange global market; actual pricing has not yet been announced, but it’s clear that BlackBerry wants to seize a larger portion of the smartphone audience it’s conceded in recent years to cheaper Google Android devices.

Other companies and organizations are also pushing smartphone operating systems, including Mozilla (with Firefox OS) and Canonical (with Ubuntu for mobile devices). But those entities face the same challenges as Microsoft and BlackBerry: when Apple and Google split the overwhelming majority of the market between them, how do you make meaningful headway for your own offering?

 

Image: Microsoft

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