What goes up must come down and on Wall Street, billions are made and lost betting on which direction companies are headed. Apple is the most valuable technology company in America by a huge margin so needless to say, it gets plenty of attention on the Street. At some point, be it sometime in the next few years or sometime in the next few decades, Apple will no longer be on top. It is inevitable. The question countless industry watchers try to answer, of course, is when.
Various guesses — sorry, estimates — have been made in recent years, and the boldest among them have been off by a laughable margin. In mid-2011, for example, Pyramid Research released projections that showed Windows Phone’s global market share rocketing past iOS later that year and then going on to overtake Android in early 2013. Fast forward to the third quarter of 2013 and Windows Phone’s market share still sits in the low single digits.
At last count, Android was installed on an estimated 81% of all smartphones that shipped globally last quarter, iOS’s market share was 12.9% and Windows Phone’s share rounded out the top-three at 3.6%.
Earlier this week, another bold prediction was offered by Forbes contributor Mark Fidelman. According to Fidelman, Microsoft will overtake Apple in the mobile market in three years.
Now, this prediction is hardly as outlandish today as Pyramid’s was back in 2011. Google’s land-grab strategy has ensured that Android will sit at the top of the mobile food chain for many years to come, at least where market share is concerned. Beneath Google, however, there is definitely room to play. We have seen no evidence that BlackBerry’s smartphone demise will reverse course anytime soon. This leaves Apple and Microsoft exchanging blows for the time being.
Fidelman makes several points to support his theory that Microsoft will be No. 2 in mobile three years from now. First, he mentions momentum. “If you look at the numbers, the Windows Phone is the fastest growing smartphone platform,” Fidelman noted.
This is absolutely accurate. 9.5 million Windows Phones were shipped in the third quarter according to IDC, which is 156% growth over the same quarter in 2012. This pushed Microsoft’s share of the global smartphone market from 2% in Q3 2012 to 3.6% last quarter. Meanwhile, the Apple’s global smartphone market share dropped from 14.4% to to 12.9% on iPhone sales totaling 33.8 million units.
The numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story.
Consumers were slammed with iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c rumors for months leading up to the debut of its latest smartphones. As a result, a number of analysts believe iPhone sales slowed pretty dramatically leading up to the release of Apple’s new iPhones, which were then on sale for just 11 days in the third quarter. Meanwhile, a number of new Lumia phones debuted in emerging markets, which is where Nokia and Windows Phone gained the most ground.
The fourth quarter will undoubtedly paint a very different picture as consumers spend three solid months buying the iPhone 5s as quickly as Apple’s manufacturing partner can build it.
Fidelman made several other arguments in his column. He points out the deep integration between Microsoft’s mobile operating system, its desktop operating systems and the Xbox. This is an argument we have seen fall flat for years now, but it has become more real in recent months now that Windows 8.1 and the new Xbox One have launched. It is easier than ever for developers to create apps and games that provide an integrated experience across not just two or three but four different screens — the phone, the tablet, the PC and the TV. In future versions of each Microsoft platform, it will be even easier.
“As Microsoft rolls out its integration capabilities to business people across the enterprise through Office 365 and Windows 8.1, and to consumers through the Xbox, Microsoft will pick up a lot of new users that are looking for seamless app integration across their business and home lives,” Fidelman wrote. “Most people will not want their information stuck in separate operating systems for much longer.”
In the end, Fidelman thinks Microsoft’s “One Microsoft” initiative will spur huge mobile growth by facilitating deep integration across all of Microsoft’s platforms (he better hope Elop isn’t Microsoft’s next CEO). This, combined with Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices and services business will “help them regain a leadership position in the mobile market because a low cost, integrated smart phone will be too good an option to pass up for users in emerging countries. Moreover, home and business users will increasingly realize the benefits of a seamless user experience across screens and gravitate to a Windows platform that maintains their play and their work no matter where they are.”
An interesting take that is marred by this gem of a disclosure: “Disclosure: Nokia is a customer of Evolve! a company that Fidelman is a Managing Director.” Evolve!, by the way, is a “social and digital marketing organization that blends influential people and the media with social campaigns to create high awareness and leads for our customers.”
Conflicts aside, Microsoft is unquestionably the best positioned company in the world right now to challenge Apple’s mobile market share position. But it arguably has been since late 2010, more than three years ago, when Windows Phone first launched. The issue has always been a lack of execution and compelling differentiation.
Can Microsoft execute? Will developers finally be wooed by the company’s multi-platform offerings? Can Microsoft do a good job of not just giving consumers and businesses a reason to switch to Windows Phone, but also showing them with exciting and informative marketing campaigns?
Everything looks perfect on paper, but the proof is in the pudding.