Microsoft is in the smartphone game until the smartphone game is over, and Windows Phone is its vehicle. That said, the company’s success thus far appears to be slightly lumpy and downright sluggish on the home front.
The release of Windows Phone 8, and a crop of new smartphones from Nokia and HTC, helped boost the platform’s sales numbers. For example, in the second quarter of 2012, Nokia sold 4 million Lumia handsets running Windows Phone. In the second quarter of 2013, that figure grew to 7.4 million, up around 45 percent year over year.
That’s a strong number. But Nokia is an increasingly monopoly player in the Windows Phone world, as other OEMs slip into obscurity; only HTC has meaningful market share aside from the Finnish smartphone giant.
While the Lumia line and Windows Phone as a whole are growing, the U.S. market remains a more than difficult one for Microsoft. Recent data released by Kantar details that Windows Phone controls 4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market. That’s only up 1.1 percent in the past year.
In my view that delta is soft and somewhat worrisome.
You might be on guard, given that the +1.1 percent figure is a 37 percent growth rate for Windows Phone in the United States over the past year. That’s correct, but it’s not hard to put up large percentage gains when your market share is so small to begin with. Years into its life, Windows Phone is less than 10 percent the size of either iOS or Android at current tally.
It has cemented itself as the “third player” in mobile, but the simple fact is that even with the noticeable and welcome bump that Windows Phone 8 provided, Ballmer’s old joke about going from very small to very small in the mobile world remains an oddly annoying truism.
The key weakness of Windows Phone isn’t its hardware or platform technology; Windows Phone is in fact a delight to use, and Nokia has reached its stride regarding device quality. Instead, the application marketplace on the phones remains weak, and, as Wired’s Alexandra Chang pointed out earlier this year, that situation remains largely un-remedied.
Why is that? In short because unit volume and U.S. market share remain too low for many developers and companies to pay attention to. So the 4 percent figure is at once a mark of progress, as well as a measuring stick pointing out how far Microsoft has to go.
WMPoweruser makes a fair point regarding the numbers: “As [Microsoft's Windows Phone leader Joe] Belfiore and colleagues all stated in the past – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” That’s true, but at what point do we get past a slow jog?
Top Image Credit: Al Pavangkanan