Friday, September 23, 2011

Who will be the third man? The Windows Phone enigma. Well, it looks like Microsoft is about to become the new Harry Lime.

Is the "rule of three" about to take effect in the dark, shadowy underworld of the smartphone platform market? It looks that way. So, here's the mystery question: who will be that third man? The answer is quite clear now.

From experience I tend to completely dismiss most analyst forecasts, especially when it comes to predicting smartphone platform market shares. If you take a look back to some forecasts made only two years ago by some major mobile industry analysts, none predicted Android or Linux would take 50%, most predicted Symbian would be in the lead going into 2014 and beyond, and Microsoft's miserable Windows Mobile was expected to inch its way up to become a top-two contender.

In other words, most forecasts have been completely useless, and some have been so far off that taking them even slightly seriously could have been harmful to your business's health. I do appreciate that making predictions, especially about the future, is very risky.

Those analysts who had forecast that Windows Mobile would be a top-spot contender now have some explaining to do as Microsoft's total smartphone platform share has reached record low after record low during the past few quarters. This week BGR blog wrote about an NPD Group study which offered some hope to Microsoft. NPD, which does consumer research, points to what I would call casual interest in Windows Phone from future users. According to the American consumers NPD contacted for the study, 44% said they would consider a Windows Phone device for next smartphone.

As the smartphone platform market concentrates around the balance of three major players ("the rule of three"), it's clear that iOS and Android will make the podium. But who will take the bronze? Windows Phone is looking like the favorite. WP has a solid user experience, an expanding ecosystem, and the backing of the world's most stubborn company. Throw in the fact that most of the world's largest handset vendors including Nokia, Samsung, LG, and HTC are in the Windows Phone business, it would be a shocker if WP flops in the long run.

While things are looking grim for other mobile operating systems to be anything other than a niche player down the road such as Bada, BlackBerry, QNX, MeeGo, and WebOS, things still aren't so black and white, it's never wise to dismiss any competitive force.

But provided Microsoft plays their cards right, by hook or by crook, it's soon time to welcome Windows Phone to the adults' table at the platform party. It's time for WP to coming out of hiding. It's time to welcome the third man.

A classic mystery. Who will be the third man in the smartphone market?
Is Windows Phone about to come out of the shadows? Very likely.

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