Microsoft's smartphone market share tumbles 27%. Will Windows Phone ever gain traction?

More bad news for Microsoft: Gartner research shows that its smartphone sales have tumbled by 27% compared to a year ago, and Microsoft now only has 1.9% market share. At this rate, it's not clear if Windows Phone will ever gain traction.

Gartner found that in the first quarter of 2012, Microsoft smartphones had a worldwide 1.9% market share, compared to 2.6% a year previously. That's a 27% drop. Keep in mind that those numbers include both Windows Phone and various Microsoft smartphone OS predecessors, so it doesn't mean that Windows Phone's market share has dropped. However, that's not really the point. If people are giving up an old Microsoft smartphone OS, and switching to Android or iOS rather than Windows Phone, it's a failure.

The Gartner findings mirror other research reports in the last several weeks. The NPD Group found that Windows Phone had only 2% of new smartphone sales in the U.S. in the first quarter. Then last week Nielsen found that Windows Phone had only 1.7% market share among all U.S. smartphone owners in the first quarter of the year.

By any measure, Windows Phone is floundering. Last month, for example, European telecoms said that Windows Phone is a bust compared to Android and the iPhone.

The Gartner, NPD Group, and Nielsen numbers cover a time in which the Lumia 900 had yet to be released. The Lumia 900 is a beautifully designed phone and shows Windows Phone 7 to its best effect. But the phone by itself won't save Windows Phone.

Microsoft and Nokia have big marketing plans for Windows Phone, and telecoms are looking to Windows Phone as leverage against Apple's onerous demands for subsidies for every iPhone the carriers sell.

Still, every time one sees promises that might help the struggling smartphone operating system, new reports appear showing sluggish demand and tiny market share. As football coach Bill Parcells says, "You are what your record says you are." And right now Windows Phone's record shows an operating system with little demand and a tiny audience.

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