According to the market analysts at IDC, Windows Phone grew an astonishing 156 percent in the most recent quarter, far outstripping Android and iOS growth. But as I had long explained with the Mac, strong growth is easy when you start with almost nothing. So with Windows Phone's share of the overall market still quite tiny, the worry is that, like the Mac, it could remain so for good.
I wrote about the news aspect of this story earlier today in Android Now Over 80 Percent of All Smart Phones Sold. Here, I'd like to focus on Windows Phone and think a bit about what this means for Microsoft's smart phone platform.
The simplest way, perhaps, is to divide the information into "good" and "bad" news snippets.
Windows Phone market share roared to 156 percent growth, year-over-year, in Q3 2013, according to IDC. That far outstrips the unit growth of Android (51.3 percent) or iPhone (25.6 percent), meaning that Windows Phone gained ground on both.
Windows Phone still accounts for less than 4 percent of the overall market for smart phones. Android now controls 81 percent. And iPhone is down to 12.9 percent (from 25.6 in the year-ago quarter).
Windows Phone eliminated Blackberry as a possible third ecosystem for good, I think. Blackberry sales were just above 50 percent of Windows Phone sales.
Blackberry sales were just above 50 percent of Windows Phone sales? What the heck.
It's instructive, perhaps, to compare Windows Phone market share to Mac market share. This quarter, the Mac accounted for about 6 percent of all PCs sold, so it's roughly comparable to what Windows Phone has achieved in the smart phone market. That is, the smart phone market is much bigger than that of PCs, so 4 percent of that market is actually bigger than 6 percent of the PC market. Microsoft's hardware partners don't need to make as much per unit to turn this into a very healthy business.
Unlike Windows Phone, the Mac is a lucrative, high-margin business. That is, Apple makes an incommensurate amount on each Mac sold due to the firm's high margins, as customers perceive the devices—which are just regular PCs on the inside—as luxury items worthy of their high price tags. So while the Mac may account for a tiny percentage of overall PC sales, that business isn't just healthy, it's stellar.
Strong growth means that Windows Phone could continue closing the gap with the number two player, iPhone. (Indeed, as I noted in the news story linked above, Windows Phone is now just 9.3 percentage points behind Apple's entry, compared to 12.2 percent a year ago.)
Apple long crowed about how much faster Mac sales grew than the overall PC market. But the Mac still has only 6 percent market share overall. What if this happens to Windows Phone too? We'll be stuck with a low-volume, low-margin product line.
The point here is simple: Yes, we should take this week's news as a positive sign that Windows Phone is doing better than before. But I think we should also temper the enthusiasm with a more measured view of what this all really means. I wish Windows Phone great success. But this kind of momentum would need to continue for a long time before we saw a meaningful change in its fortunes.