Android, Windows Phone will top smartphone OS sales in 2015, Gartner says

Gartner predicts higher prices will push iPhone to third, while RIM will fall to fourth in four years

Android will dominate global smartphone operating system sales over the next four years, while Windows Phone-based Nokia devices will displace other platforms to surge to second place in 2015, Gartner said in a forecast issued Thursday.

The latest Gartner forecast also shows the Apple's iPhone OS will drop to third behind the Windows Phone software in 2015, while Research in Motion's will dip to the fourth spot that year. IDC has forecast the same overall 2015 rankings.

While Android's dominance became clear in late 2010, the projected Windows Phone climb to second in 2015 startled some observers when IDC announced its numbers, because to date the Windows Phone OS and Nokia Symbian devices, when sold separately, have not offered much promise.

Both Gartner and IDC recognized that Android surged to become the top global smartphone OS in the latter half of 2010. Gartner today says that Android will hold nearly half of the smartphone market in 2012, then remain above 48% through 2015 when Gartner projects that 1.1 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide.

In 2011, Android will get nearly 39% of the smartphone market, which will total more than 467 million smartphones, Gartner said.

But Windows Phone's move into second place by 2015 is the biggest change from prior forecasts. "Gartner has revised its forecast of Windows Phone's market share upward, solely by virtue of Microsoft's alliance with Nokia," Gartner said in a statement.

Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza explained the Windows Phone growth, noting that Nokia will be able to sell Windows Phones at lower prices than many smartphones sold today and to sell them globally through an extensive sales channel.

Nokia will also retain its reputation for solid smartphone hardware in the Windows Phone alliance, sheadded. "All the strengths Nokia still has will play a role" in Windows Phone moving to second place in 2015, Cozza said via e-mail.

Windows Phone devices will hold only 5% of the market in all of 2011, but will jump to nearly 20% in 2015, Gartner predicts.

Apple's iPhone will garner 19.4% of the smartphone market in 2011, making it second behind Android, and will hold that second-place spot into 2014, Gartner said. But in 2015, iPhone will dip to third place with 17.2% of the 1.1 billion smartphones sold that year.

Apple's share with the iPhone smartphone platform will decline slightly after 2011 because Apple is likely to keep its iPhone prices relatively high, Gartner said. The price tag will limit iPhone sales in emerging regions in coming years, Gartner explained. It does project that overall iPhone sales volume will increase with greater sales in the U.S. and Western Europe.

RIM's smartphone share will decline into 2015, mainly due to competition in the consumer and business markets. RIM's share in 2011 will be 13.4%, dropping to 11% in 2015, Gartner said.

Cozza predicts that two-thirds of the 1.1 billion smartphones sold in 2015 would cost on average no more than $300. The smartphone will "have been finally truly democratized" by 2015, Cozza said.

Lower cost smartphones are an important theme behind Gartner's overall forecast, with mid- and lower-cost smartphones driving Windows Phone sales into second place in 2015, and somewhat higher average costs pushing iPhone into third place that year.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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