Windows Phone will be fastest-growing phone OS in the world, IDC says. Is it for real?

Users for now may not be flocking to Windows Phone, but yet one more research firm says that it will be fastest-growing major smartphone OS in the world through 2018. Does this mean the OS is finally breaking through?

IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker says better days are ahead for Windows Phone, while both Android and iOS will lose market share. In 2014, IDC says, 47 million Windows Phone devices will ship, for a 3.9% worldwide smartphone market share. In 2018, 121.8 Windows Phone devices will ship, for a 7% market share. That's 29.5% annual year-over-year growth, beating out Android, iOS, and Blackberry in terms of growth percentage.

Android will have 78.9% market share in 2014, with 950.5 million units shipped, and by 2018 will slip to 76% market share, with 1.32 billion units shipped, for 10.7% year-over-year growth. iOS will have 14.9% market share in 2014, with 179.9 million units shipped, and by 2018 will slip to 14.4% market share, with 249 million units shipped, for 10.2% year-over-year growth. BlackBerry, meanwhile, will practically vanish, going from 11.9 million units shipped and 1% market share in 2014 to 5.3 million units shipped and 0.3% market share in 2018, with a -22.6% year-over-year growth.

Where will Windows Phone's growth come from? Primarily in emerging markets, says IDC, which says in the report:

Windows Phone stands to grow the fastest among the leading smartphone operating systems, with continued support from Nokia as well as the addition of nine new Windows Phone partners. Most of these new vendors come from emerging markets and could help bring the Windows Phone experience to customers there.

IDC's average selling price of phones back up its claims that Windows Phone will see its greatest growth in emerging markets, because Windows Phone prices will average lower that iOS, BlackBerry, and even Android. The average price of a Windows Phone device will be $195 in 208, IDC says. The iPhone will have an average sales price of $610, BlackBerry $324, and Android $202. Given that many Android phones are sold in emerging markets, it's a surprise that Windows Phone will have a lower selling price than Android.

IDC's findings mirror the recent ones of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech's just-published "Mobile Trands that Matter Tomorrow." The report found that Windows Phone is the fastest-growing OS in the world.

Keep in mind, though, that Windows Phone is growing at such a fast rate in terms of percentage because it's starting at such a low position. And in terms of total units sold, by 2018 it will fall even further behind Android, the market leader, by IDC calculations. By 2018, Android will sell 371 million more phones in 2018 than in 2014. By 2018 Windows Phone will sell 74.8 million more phones than in 2014. So in total units sold, it will be losing ground to the leader.

Of course, none of this takes a wild card into account: Nokia's decision to sell low-end Android devices in developing markets. Those Android devices will really be Windroid phones, because they're a mashup of Android and Windows Phone, with Windows services and a Windows Phone look and feel layered on top of underlying Android. Nokia and Microsoft will also try to convert users of Windroid phones to Windows Phones as they make their way up the economic ladder.

So if IDC is right, and if the Nokia-Microsoft strategy pays off, Microsoft may succeed in mobile by becoming a popular budget brand, not targeting the high end.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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