Despite a massive advertising push in conjunction with partners such as Nokia and AT&T, Microsoft’s Windows Phone will manage to seize only 4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market in 2012, according to a new estimate from research firm Strategy Analytics. In the firm’s reckoning, that’s a rise of 1 percent from 2011.
Strategy Analytics forecasts some 123 million smartphones sold in the United States this year, a rise of 21 percent over the 102 million units sold in 2011.
“Microsoft is making a determined push to crack the United States because it is the most valuable and influential smartphone market in the world,” Neil Mawston, executive director of Strategy Analytics, wrote in a July 18 statement. “To grow further, we believe future versions of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 platform will need to dramatically improve support for advanced technologies” including multi-core chipsets.
Microsoft will also need to grow the number of Windows Phone apps, he added, and work with its partners to introduce new devices to the marketplace.
When Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 in late 2010, it did so with high hopes: a reset of Microsoft’s mobile aspirations, the smartphone platform was meant to challenge both Google Android and Apple iPhone. Indeed, with its user interface of colorful tiles linked to applications, Windows Phone devices looked like nothing else on the market.
However, Windows Phone 7 failed to challenge either Android devices or the iPhone. In 2011, Microsoft introduced a “Mango” update designed to make the platform more robust, with new features such as app multitasking. That didn’t help much, either; by April 2012, analytics firm comScore placed Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market at 4 percent—a number that included not only Windows Phone, but also the antiquated Windows Mobile platform, still in use by a subset of enterprise and government workers.
On June 20, Microsoft revealed Windows Phone 8, the upcoming iteration of the smartphone platform. Windows Phone 8 shares a kernel, file system, graphics support, and other elements with Windows 8, Microsoft’s upcoming operating system; the company’s hope is that developers will port apps from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8.
Although Windows Phone 7.x apps will run on Windows Phone 8, currently Windows Phone 7.x devices won’t be able to run apps designed for the next-generation platform. “We wanted to ensure that new users would have access to all the applications,” Greg Sullivan, Windows Phone senior project manager, said in an interview the day after the Windows Phone 8 announcement. “When you evolve a platform, you can’t take all the functionality downstream.”
At the time, Sullivan declined to say whether Windows Phone 7.x would be updated beyond version 7.8, due later this year and meant to give the platform some of the features of Windows Phone 8. Whether or not that uncertainty (and lack of access to next-generation apps) compels customers interested in Microsoft’s smartphone platform to hold off until Windows Phone 8 hits the market—causing its market-share to suffer in the interim—remains to be seen.