Windows Phone beating the iPhone by 2016 may be a pipe dream

IDC's projection that Windows Phone will surpass the iPhone in sales by 2016 is certainly a bold projection -- and may well be a pipe dream as well. Projecting something as definitive as that four years into the future in a volatile, changeable market is often a fool's game.

IDC says that by 2016, Windows Phone will be the second-best selling smartphone operating system, behind Android and ahead of the iPhone. The company says that Windows Phone's market share will leap from 5.2% this year to 19.2% in 2016, while the iPhone will drop from 20.5% to 19%. So Windows Phone will eke out a .2% victory.

IDC says that the iPhone will have saturated markets worldwide by 2016, which is why its growth will moderate. Windows Phone, meanwhile, will gain strength in emerging markets, fueling its growth.

Let's take a closer look at the projections. First off, projecting one operating system having a .2% lead on another one four years from now is ridiculous on the face of it. There's simply no way one can reliably predict something that granular, especially in a fast-changing, volatile market.

In addition, the IDC report directly contradicts another IDC report of two weeks ago. That report predicted "slow growth" ahead for Windows Phone, and showed it with 2.2% market share, down from 2.6% a year previous. IDC concluded:

"Windows Mobile/Windows Phone has yet to make significant inroads in the worldwide smartphone market, but 2012 should be considered a ramp-up year for Nokia and Microsoft to boost volumes. Until Nokia speeds the cadence of its smartphone releases or more vendors launch their own Windows Phone-powered smartphones, IDC anticipates slow growth for the operating system."

So how does 2.2% market share in the first quarter of 2012, with "slow growth" translate into a 5.2% market share by year's end? Or into dramatic growth in the next four years? It doesn't.

The slow-growth IDC numbers are echoed by Gartner, which found that in the first quarter of 2012, Microsoft smartphones had a worldwide 1.9% market share, compared to 2.6% a year previously.

The NPD Group recently found that Windows Phone had 2% of smartphone sales in the U.S. in the first quarter of the year. Nielsen says that Windows Phone had 1.7% market share among all U.S. smartphone owners in the first quarter of the year.

None of those numbers show the kind of growth IDC claims is on the way.

Beyond all that is the impossibility of projecting numbers four years into the future in a market as changeable and volatile as the smartphone market. After all, the first Android phone wasn't commercially available until October, 2008, less than four years ago, and by the second quarter of 2009, Android phones had only a 2.8% market share, according to Canalys. Android now dominates the smartphone market.

Is it possible that Windows Phone will pass the iPhone by 2016? Sure, just about anything is possible. But it's not at all likely.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon