Windows Phone sales are booming...no, they're falling. Which analyst is right?

Depending on the current research you read, Windows Phone sales are either growing by leaps and bounds, or else stagnant and falling. Which analyst should you believe?

The latest research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech shows Windows Phone doing quite nicely, given its lowly starting point. For the three months ending April, 2013, the research shows Windows Phone with a 5.6% market share, up from 3.8% a year previous. Based on that, it's the fastest-growing smartphone operating system, with iOS growing from 39.1% a year ago to 41.4% currently, Android going from 50.3% to 51.7% currently, and BlackBerry dropping from 5.3% to 0.7%.

Not so fast, says comScore, which instead reports that Windows Phone continues to languish, even losing market share. Its report for April 2013 U.S. market share shows Windows Phone falling from a 3.1% market share in January 2013 to 3% in April, 2013.

So who's right?

One might be tempted to split the difference, especially given that the comScore numbers are only for the U.S. and the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech numbers are for the entire world. But I think Kantar Worldpanel ComTech likely is the more accurate of the two, even taking that into account.

It is true that Windows Phone has a greater market share in some overseas markets than in the U.S. The latest Kantar Worldpanel ComTech figures show Windows Phone with an 8.4% market share in the U.K., a 6.4% market share in Germany , a 10.5% market share in Italy, and a 6.2% market share in France. But Windows Phone also lags in other markets, with only a 2.4% market share in China, the world's largest smartphone market. So foreign versus U.S. market share doesn't explain the discrepency between Kantar Worldpanel ComTech and comScore.

Kantar Worldpanel ComTech is likely more accurate than comScore because its numbers take into account the trend that has been acclerating Windows Phone's growth: the platform's success in signing up first-time smartphone buyers. A new Canalys report finds that smartphone sales will boom with an 18% annual growth rate, while feature phone shipments will fall by 9% annually.

New smartphone users will be looking for budget models, both Canalys and Kantar Worldpanel ComTech agree. And that's where Windows Phone's growth will come, according to both researchers. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech found that of all people who bought a Windows Phone in the past year, 42% were upgrading from a featurephone.

Windows Phone has also started to catch on among younger consumers, it says, which has been a problematic demographic for in the past. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech analyst Mary-Ann Parlato says:

But it's not just about capturing the market that is yet to upgrade. Windows is also seeing success in the younger group. When looking at those who changed device, between 2011 and 2012 Windows was more successful at capturing older consumers aged 50-64. But when looking at those changing now and in the last year, we’re seeing Windows now gaining share among those aged 25-34."

Canalys concludes that by 2017, Windows Phone will nearly overtake the iPhone in market share, with a 12.7% share to the iPhone's 14.1%.

All this disagrees with comScore's findings. I can't say that I know why comScore's numbers disagree with both Canalys and Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. But it looks to me as if comScore is the odd man out.

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