Canalys, the UK-based analysis company, has predicted that Android shipments will reach a billion smartphones a year in 2017. Given Android's rapid growth over the past couple of years, this should be a safe bet.
More controversially, Canalys is predicting that Microsoft Windows Phone will grow dramatically at Apple's expense. While Canalys's table, published today (June 4), predicts that Android's market share will drop only slightly from 67.7% in 2012 to 67.1% in 2017, it is predicting a decline for Apple and marked growth for Microsoft.
Apparently, Microsoft's market share will increase five-fold from 2.4% to 12.7% while Apple's will decline from 19.5% to 14.1%.
This would put Microsoft only 1.4 percentage points behind Apple in a market where much larger changes are common.
Canalys analyst Jessica Kwee said in a statement: "The scalability of Microsoft’s platform will be critical to its success and it has made progress here by enabling Huawei and Nokia to deliver Windows Phone products at aggressive price points."
However, success depends on Windows Phone expanding beyond Nokia. Kwee adds that, "longer-term it is the Chinese vendors that are best placed to challenge Samsung’s market dominance. Microsoft already has a relationship with Huawei and ZTE in the phone space, and Lenovo is a major partner in the PC space. These partners will be needed to help deliver the scale that Microsoft needs."
Both Android and Windows Phone 8 benefit from scalability. Windows offers a similar user interface from smartphones through 8-inch and larger tablets to all-in-ones with 55-inch screens.
Kwee expects price to be a key driver in the major growth markets for smartphone sales, including China and India, where buyers often pay the purchase price of a phone. This is helping Android and Microsoft but Canalys expects it to hinder Apple. She says: "Apple’s growth will be curtailed by the fact that momentum in the smart phone market is coming from the low end, and Apple is absent from this segment."
Of course, the fact that Apple is arguably absent from this segment today does not mean it will be absent in 2017, if not sooner. Apple has produced low-end iPods and there's no obvious reason why it shouldn't provide low-end phones.
Apple has been losing market share to Android since Google introduced the platform. Last month, IDC reported that Android shipments increased by 79.5%, year over year, to 162.1 million units in this year's first quarter. Windows Phone grew by 133.3% to 7.0 million units over a much smaller base. However, Apple iOS sales grew by just 6.6% to 37.4 million units, and its market share dropped from 23.0% to 17.3%.
The mobile phone market changes rapidly and has already seen dramatic changes in market share, particularly with the decline of Nokia (which used to dominate smartphone sales with Symbian) and Motorola. It won't be a surprise if the market keeps changing, though I wouldn't bet the house on Canalys's numbers.