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It's been a rough road for Windows Phone, at least that's the way it seems. Despite Microsoft's best efforts to push its new OS, we're still hearing reports of 1% market share, biased sales reps, and an overall lack of respect for the operating system. But how bad is Windows Phone really doing? Obviously, we know what the numbers are - 1% market share and only a million devices sold worldwide - but are they really that bad for a young OS? Are we simply expecting too much from Windows Phone too early in its life? How did Android fare in its struggle for relevance when iOS was clearly the dominate OS? Let's take a look at the numbers.

 

Tale as old as time

The story of a new OS struggling to gain ground and stand up to the big competition is not a new one. Go back about three years to the fall of 2008 and exchange Windows Phone for Android. Back then, iOS (then known as iPhone OS) was the King. By the end of 2008 Apple had sold 11.4 million units worldwide and had an 8.2% market share. Android, on the other hand, had only 640,000 sales worldwide and a market share of .5%, this despite being launched mere months after the iPhone. While Android was struggling to get a grip on the market, Apple's OS was growing by leaps and bounds, doubling or tripling its unit sales every quarter. The so-called "competition" was not much of one. The iPhone dominated, Android was suffering, and that was that.

Three years later, Android leads the market and has sold over 60 million units worldwide. Three years is not that long. Is the same growth possible for Windows Phone? It certainly is, but is it on pace to experience it?

 

Market share and sales

Android was officially launched in the fall of 2008. In the US, the first taste of it was the T-Mobile G1 which was released in October. By the end of 2008, Android had .5% market share worldwide. By the second quarter of 2009, Android's worldwide market share had exploded to 2%. Okay, so it wasn't an explosion, but that's some pretty solid growth. Other research firms have this number pegged at 1.8% with 755,000 unit sales. One quarter later, Android's worldwide market share had grown to 3.5%. After another quarter, it was at 4%. Android finished off 2009 with a 3.9% worldwide market share and 6.7 million unit sales. So, in about one year, Android's market share grew from .5% to 4%.

So, how has Windows Phone fared in its first year on the market? Windows Phone was launched in October 2010 with the first few devices landing in November. Clear market share numbers are hard to come by because 1) Windows Mobile was still around at the time and Windows Phone got bunched in with that old OS when firms released market numbers, and 2) for some reason, there just aren't a lot of published market numbers for Windows Phone. Nevertheless, second quarter numbers for Windows Phone in 2011 have the OS at 1.6% market share worldwide and 1.7 million unit sales. By quarter three, those numbers had, well, pretty much stayed the same, with another 1.7 million unit sales and 1.5% market share worldwide. Fourth quarter numbers are, again, about the same with 1.6% market share. After one year on the market, Windows Phone finished 2011 with a 1.4% market share worldwide and 6.8 million shipments. Compared to Android's early growth, Windows Phone's market share is already behind.

 

App selection

This is another topic we quickly jump to when discussing an OS's popularity, and rightfully so. Apps are an integral part of a smartphone. In fact, the word "app" was voted the 2010 "Word of the Year" by the American Dialect Society. The Windows Phone Marketplace currently has 60,000 apps. How does its growth compare to the early growth of Android's Market or iOS's App Store?

The original iPhone was released in June 2007. The iOS App Store was opened in July 2008. By December of that year, roughly six months later, there were 10,000 apps in the app store. It took the Windows Phone Marketplace only about two months to get to 5,000 apps. Both the iOS App store and the Windows Phone Marketplace reached 25,000 apps after being open for nine months. It took the Android Market over a year to reach only 20,000 apps. The Android Market didn't reach 50,000 apps until it had been open for a year and a half. The same feat took the Windows Phone Marketplace only one year.

While market share and sales may be suffering, developer support is clearly in Windows Phone's favor. The Marketplace has matched or beat the growth of the iOS App Store and Android's Market.

 

Variables

There are several other variables to consider, such as the popularity of smartphones and their acceptance, as well as the high degree of competition that exists today. The growth of Android is absolutely astounding given the unfamiliarity consumers had with smartphones in general. BlackBerrys and Palm Pilots were for businessmen so for the average consumer to adopt a device that was principally the same in such a quick period of time is surprising. For Windows Phone, this variable does not bode well for its future. Smartphones are much more accepted today, a fact that should make it easier for a new OS to sell. However, the variable of competition must also be considered. If Windows Phone was released in October 2008 instead of Android and if it was the only choice for those who didn't want an iPhone, would it have had the same wild success that Android had?

A unique variable that Microsoft must consider is its reputation. Windows Mobile left a sour taste in the mouths of many consumers, one that they're not about to experience again. True, Windows Phone is a ground-up revision and a completely different OS, but it's Microsoft's reputation that causes people to be skeptical of Windows Phone, whether it's completely new or not.

It's clear that Windows Phone's growth thus far does not even compare with the early growth of Android. Windows Phone has sat at 1% market share for a year now while Android's market share grew by at least one percentage point each quarter of its first year. This year, 2012, must be the year Windows Phone breaks out. All signs and estimates point to this happening. For Windows Phone's sake, I hope they are correct.


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