For creators of mobile apps, research firm IDC’s latest predictions about the smartphone market could provide considerable fodder for strategy debates.
IDC predicts that Android will remain the most popular smartphone operating system through 2016, although its share of the market will decline over the next four years from 61.0 percent to 52.9 percent. The firm also predicts that Windows Phone will undergo a meteoric rise during that same period, from 5.2 percent to 19.2 percent, beating Apple’s iOS (which itself will decline from 20.5 percent to 19 percent).
Despite indicators that Research In Motion is in serious trouble, IDC also believes that BlackBerry OS will face only a slight dip in its market-share between 2012 and 2016, from 6.0 percent to 5.9 percent. Meanwhile, undefined “other” smartphone operating systems will fall from 7.2 percent to 3.0 percent of the market.
“Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will gain share despite a slow start. Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will be aided by Nokia’s strength in key emerging markets,” read the June 6 research note accompanying the data. “There will continue to be a market for BlackBerry OS-powered devices, despite Research In Motion’s current woes.”
Under CEO Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft executive, Nokia abandoned Symbian and other homegrown operating systems in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Once the undisputed giant of the handset market, Nokia saw its market-share erode over the past few years thanks to a flood of lower-end Android devices; the move to Windows Phone was meant to give the Finnish phone-maker a software platform on which to build a new, stronger product line.
Although Nokia’s Lumia line of smartphones has sold strongly in some countries, Android and Apple’s iOS continue to command the bulk of the smartphone market. The latter two platforms, thanks to the growing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in organizations around the world, have also managed to erode the BlackBerry’s traditional base of business users. RIM is pinning virtually all its hopes for BlackBerry’s revival on BlackBerry 10, an operating system meant to arrive on a hero device later in 2012.
Four years is an eternity in technology, and IDC’s researchers declined to discuss the inputs that resulted in their predictions; that being said, the numbers underscore how all markets necessarily evolve over the long term. A few years ago, for example, RIM and Nokia held a much more robust portion of the market.
Those seismic shifts also illustrate the challenges facing developers of mobile and cloud apps, who must invest considerable resources in building and maintaining their products on a particular platform (or a series of them). Investing in a dying platform is a quick way to put a small developer out of business; conversely, any developer betting big on Windows Phone might take some heart in IDC’s predictions.