Windows Struggles As iOS, Android Dominate Smartphone Space, IDC Says

Microsoft will have a hard time selling Windows handsets while Apple and Google keep their shares at or near current levels, according to research firm IDC.
Pricey Smartphones: 8 You’ll Never Own
Pricey Smartphones: 8 You'll Never Own
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Android, iOS, and Windows will continue to be the top three smartphone platforms over the next few years, says IDC, but Microsoft's operating system will have just a fraction of the share enjoyed by its rivals. Platforms other than these three will all but disappear.

People are buying smartphones at a slower pace now than they did just a year ago. In fact, 2015 will mark the first year of single-digit growth across the market with shipments of about 1.43 billion units, according to IDC's predictions. That's a growth rate of just 9.8%. IDC attributes the slowdown to China's pancaking economy. Smartphone buyers in China snatched up handsets in record numbers of the last few years, but IDC says it believes China is already maturing into a replacement -- and not a first-adopter -- market.

"With the smartphone market finally slowing to single-digit growth, maintaining momentum will depend on several factors," Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker said in a statement. "The main driver has been and will continue to be the success of low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. This, in turn, will depend on capturing value-oriented first-time smartphone buyers as well as replacement buyers."

Android will close out 2015 with shipments of about 1.16 billion, giving it 81.2% of the market. IDC doesn't expect this share to fluctuate overmuch through 2019, when Android will see shipments topping 1.53 billion with 82.6% of the market.

Apple, too, will more or less tread water with iPhone shipments. Apple will push about 226 million iPhones out the door by the end of 2015, giving it 15.8% of the market. In four years' time, that number will swell only to 263 million, representing 14.1% of the market.

Windows 10 Mobile will not fare so well. "Despite all the effort Microsoft has put into the launch of Windows 10, [we do] not expect Microsoft's share of the smartphone OS market to grow much over the coming years," said IDC.

Microsoft will move about 31.4 million handsets by the end of 2015, the vast majority of which run Windows Phone 8.1, not its brand new Windows 10 Mobile platform. That's a drop compared to 2014, when it shipped nearly 35 million. Windows will close out the year with just 2.2% of the market. Microsoft may ship as many as 43 million Windows handsets by 2019, IDC predicts, but it will still hold only 2.3% of the market.

[Read iOS 9 Adoption Hits 70%, Blowing Away Android 6.]

One problem facing Microsoft is the lack of OEM support. It is now the only firm actively building new Windows handsets. At one time it had support from at least five others.

Adding these platforms together accounts for 99.2% of the market. That leaves just 0.8% for alternate platforms. Today, those alternates include BlackBerry's BBOS, Samsung's Tizen OS, Jolla's Sailfish OS, and Canonical's Ubuntu, among others. The ability of these firms to offer value to consumers is severely constrained by low-cost Android handsets.

In 2009, there were at least six viable smartphone platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Palm OS, Symbian, and Windows. Now we're down to three -- one of which is struggling mightily. Looking ahead, it's hard to see anything but Android and iOS owning the market for years to come.

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