Windows Phone overtakes BlackBerry in the UK, but who wants to be number three?

Summary:New research foresees BlackBerry falling behind Windows Phone, but Android and iOS remain the dominant platforms in a consumer-oriented smartphone market.

BlackBerry will lose third place in the UK smartphone market to Windows Phone this year, according to research company eMarketer.

BlackBerry users are predicted to decline by 35 percent this year, hitting a new low of 2.4 million. This is grim enough reading for BlackBerry executives, but the research firm claims the drop will be even steeper in 2015, leaving just 1.4 million BlackBerry devices in the hands of UK smartphone users.

Windows Phone meanwhile, is rising "substantially" in popularity and will see 3.5 million users by the end of 2015. That will give it a nine percent share of the market, compared to 3.5 percent for BlackBerry.

The numbers show just how far BlackBerry has fallen from grace, said Bill Fisher, UK analyst at eMarketer. While Microsoft is making a significant effort to grow its presence, through buying Nokia's mobile phone unit and HTC's Windows-powered One M8 , "BlackBerry appears to have been treading water," Fisher said.

It's worth noting that these figures are actually slightly more positive than those from other market researchers such as Kantar, which now lumps BlackBerry into the 'others' category with bedfellows such as Symbian and Firefox OS because its share has dropped so low.

BlackBerry was once the dominant smartphone manufacturer, and carved out a lucrative niche providing mobile access to email, particularly for business users. But as the iPhone and then Android devices arrived, the company failed to respond quickly enough to the challenges they embodied: the rise of touchscreens to rival BlackBerry's hardware Qwerty keyboard, and the flood of cheaper consumer smartphones. It even tried to make its own tablet, with little success, while its BlackBerry 10 operating system and handsets were solid but failed to inspire.

BlackBerry does still have a loyal business customer base and recently showcased a number of wins for its BlackBerry 10 smartphones among law firms. Last year, for example, Clifford Chance rolled out BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 smartphones to 1,600 employees. And BlackBerrys are also still prized in government for their robust security. Recently, UK prime minister David Cameron said: "Wherever I am in the world I am always within a few feet of a BlackBerry".

A two-horse race

And while Microsoft will be heartened to see it has overtaken BlackBerry, winning the race for the number three spot is hardly an enormous achievement. The smartphone market in the UK remains a two-horse race, at least for now.

Android-based handsets account for an outright majority of smartphones in the UK, with iOS running on another 30 percent of smartphones, covering a total of 83.5 percent of the market. That may rise to 85.5 percent of the market next year. Clearly, being number three in such a market is not especially impressive and Microsoft will have to push hard to make more of an impact here.

In some respects, the smartphone market represents the victory of the consumer over the business user — as in the tablet and, increasingly, the PC markets. Consumers are calling the shots, pushing the needs of business users into the background.

BlackBerry and Windows Phone are still very much seen as business smartphone options, and while this was once a sought-after label, it's now more of a millstone.

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Topics: Mobility, Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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