Da, Windows Phone outsells the iPhone in seven countries...or does it?

Microsoft, always looking for any way to tout good news about Windows Phone, claims that it outsells the iPhone in seven countries. But is that really the case? It's not as clear as it first appears.

Yesterday on the Official Microsoft Blog, Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications, had this to say about Windows Phone:

"Windows Phone has reached 10 percent market share in a number of countries, and according to IDC's latest report, has shipped more than Blackberry in 26 markets and more than iPhone in seven."

Impressive stuff, especially for an operating system that has been bobbing along with a market share in the low single digits. Shaw didn't say in which countries Windows Phone outsold the iPhone, so the New York Times did some digging. Nick Wingfield asked IDC analyst Kevin Restivo for details, who told him that IDC found that Windows Phone bested the iPhone in Argentina, India, Poland, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine in the fourth quarter. The seventh country:

"...is actually a group of smaller countries, including Croatia, that IDC lumps together in a category called 'rest of central and eastern Europe.'

Still a win is a win, isn't it? Well, yes and no, the Times reports. In three of the markets, Ukraine, South Africa and "rest of central and eastern Europe," sales are exceedingly small, with fewer than 100,000 Windows Phone devices shipped.

A bigger issue is that the IDC numbers don't necessarily reflect total smartphone sales in the seven countries, because of thriving gray markets in some of them. The Times reports:

"IDC's numbers also reflect only the official number of cellphones imported into the countries. Mr. Restivo said that in some countries, like Argentina, high government taxes mean there is a very significant gray market in cellphones, which IDC doesn't track. So it is hard to know actual market share in those places."

Ah well. Saying Windows Phone has outsold the iPhone in seven countries makes a nice talking point for Microsoft, anyway.

One interesting point about Windows Phone sales is that Restivo told the times that Windows Phone sales tend to be strongest in areas that have been traditional strongholds for Nokia. So that shows that the Nokia deal has paid off to some extent for Microsoft.

Still, Microsoft's smartphone OS is struggling. A recent IDC report says Windows Phone/Windows Mobile had a 2.6% worldwide market share in the fourth quarter of 2012. And a recent Gartner report mirrored that, with the number at 3%.

The saying goes that when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. And that's exactly what the latest Microsoft blog touting Windows Phone's success is.

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