Could Windows Phone ever squeeze past iOS in the smartphone stakes?

Could Windows Phone ever squeeze past iOS in the smartphone stakes?

Summary: Windows Phone is the third-placed mobile operating system, well behind the two leaders; except for some countries where it's actually ahead of iPhone. What's going on and could Windows Phone get even stronger?


In many cases, Windows Phone is gaining a share from Android and in some countries, from iPhone; but as noted before, where it does the best is the countries where BlackBerry used to have strong market share.

In many ways, this is a return to the original promise of Windows Phone, when Microsoft modestly said it would appeal to people who hadn't yet bought their first smartphone and were looking for a less confusing way to switch from feature phones.

Should BlackBerry have gone Android? The answer is no - and these numbers show why

Should BlackBerry have gone Android? The answer is no - and these numbers show why

Should BlackBerry have gone Android? The answer is no - and these numbers show why

That applies more to developing countries than to the US and UK markets. Appealing to first time smartphone buyers means a clean, clear interface — and cheap phones. Thanks to hardware acceleration, Windows Phone gets more out of older, slower, cheaper ARM CPUs. That's good for the cost conscious mainstream, and in a high end phone it means you can spend more of the cost of the phone on things like the camera.

It seems likely that it was Nokia that pushed Windows Phone to the high end, in an attempt to make an impact with showcase features like the excellent low-light photography in the Lumia 920 and 925 and the 41-megapixel superzoom of the 1020. But it's the budget Lumias like the 520 that are driving mainstream sales in most markets: 43 percent of Windows Phones are 512MB models rather than 1GB, according to figures from the adDuplex network figures.

HTC and Samsung and Huawei have budget Windows Phone handsets as well; often they're retreads of existing Android phones, so it's understandable they don't generate a great deal of excitement.

Nokia is the company pushing the boat out with innovative high end phones that establish the brand name and this will have a halo effect when people come to buy; it seems to be why Windows Phone sales are nearly all Nokia sales (81.6 percent in Q2).

Back in 2011, IDC forecast that by 2015 Windows Phone would take the number two slot from iPhone worldwide; by 2012 it had postponed that to 2016 with a 19 percent share that would just scrape past iOS (thanks to sales in developing countries). Neither prediction seems likely to apply in the US but it's looking a little more plausible elsewhere.

The thing to remember when you look at iPhone sales is that they're very cyclical; Apple will sell far fewer of its current phones in spring and summer as people wait for what it's expected to launch in September.

But worldwide in Q2, IDC says Windows Phone share has grown from 3.1 percent to 3.7 percent while Apple has fallen from 16.6 percent to 13.2 percent. Gartner says Windows Phone has gone from 2.6 percent to 3.3 percent and iOS from 18.8 percent to 14.2 percent, Strategy Analytics puts iOS at 14 percent and Windows Phone at 4 percent. Either way, at the same point in the cycle, iOS isn't doing as well as it was. Of course, now that Apple is talking about cheaper handsets for emerging markets the predictions may have to change again.  

Last year, in Q4, Windows Phone was only outselling iOS in seven markets — Argentina, India, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and Ukraine — plus a group of smaller countries, including Croatia, that got bundled together by IDC. The smaller markets had Windows Phone outselling iOS with just 100,000 sales per country and as low as 32,000 handsets in Argentina — a good reminder that iOS has more mind share than market share in many places.

In Q2, the same thing is happening in some much larger markets, and it's possible to see Windows Phone starting to give iOS a run for its money here (if not otherwise noted, the figures are from IDC).

Finland: You'd expect Nokia to do well in its native Finland, but it had slipped behind Samsung. In Q2, Nokia returned to the number one position with 36 percent market share. Samsung was second with 34 percent and Apple fell from to 14 percent in Q1 just to just seven percent.

Latin America: Windows Phone took the second place in smartphone sales across the 20 countries of Latin America in Q2 — that includes Mexico, Columbia (25.6 percent), and Peru, where it's the number two mobile OS. In Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, it's number three (average out market size and share and you get second place. Kantar also puts Windows Phone in second place in Mexico, with 12.5 percent. Latin America is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets as well — sales were up 55.7 percent there.

Asia/Pacific: In Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, Windows Phone has 20 percent market share (according to Nokia and GfK, who gives Nokia 30 percent share of the market if you include feature phones). Apple has only 12 percent market share in Thailand — and Indonesia and Thailand are the second and third largest smartphone markets in southeast Asia, whose 74.1 percent increase in smartphone sales in Q2 makes it the fastest growing smartphone territory overall.

Australia: iOS has had a steady 27-28 percent of the Australian market over the last year according to Kantar's figures; Windows Phone has picked up slightly, from 5.2 percent in Q2 2012 to 5.3 percent in Q2 2013 — falling sales of BlackBerry and Symbian boosted Android instead. But then in the three months to July Windows Phone jumped to seven percent of sales, taken from BlackBerry, Symbian and even a little from Android.

India: Nielsen put the Windows Phone market share in India at eight percent in September/October 2012, compared to 62 percent for Android, three percent for BlackBerry and one percent for iOS; that's based on surveys rather than sales figures, though. IDC confirmed Windows Phone as the number two smartphone in Q4 2012 with 5.4 percent, although as usual that's a long way behind Android (289,000 Windows Phone handsets shipped compared to 4.2 million Androids). Since then, Nokia has launched several new phones and the Lumia 520 and 620 are selling well (the Lumia 520 sold out at multiple online stores soon after launch). IDC gives Nokia 5 percent of the market in India in Q2 with some 465,000 phones shipped and it was LG India's marketing director who talked about the company developing a Windows Phone 8 handset. 

As in other Asian markets, local phone makers that you probably haven't heard of (Micromax and Karbonn) are picking up market share; they take the number two and three sports after Samsung and they sell Android devices (particularly the 5-inch 'phablets' that are selling very well in India, making up 30 percent of smartphone sales there); Nokia is number four, ahead of Sony (Apple isn't even in the top five). Microsoft either needs to get more of the small local players looking at Windows Phone — or, more likely, Nokia will ship a 5-inch phone.

An interesting point for the continuing "how does Samsung do it?" discussions: in India, it offers cash-back and interest free monthly purchase plans for its phones.

China: Windows Phone only went on sale in China in March 2013; Microsoft claims after two months it had seven percent share, higher than the six percent of iOS. Kantar puts Windows Phone share for Q2 in China at 4.9 percent and iOS at 25 percent in its surveys. Microsoft has Huawei and ZTE on board, both big sellers in China; Apple has had long disputes in China over unauthorised sales and copycat devices, so this is a hard market for Apple for a number of reasons, including the fact that its devices don't work on China Mobile's SCDMA network. Nokia even made a special version of the Lumia 925 for China's TD-LTE network.

Russia: Russia's largest phone network MTC dropped the iPhone entirely at the end of 2012, in protest at the high subsidies Apple charges. That's part of the reason Apple market share in Russia dropped from nine percent to 8.3 percent in Q1 2013; Windows Phone almost matched that with 8.2 percent of sales up from 5.1 percent, according to IDC. 

UK: According to Kantar Worldpanel, iOS had 30.5 percent of smartphone sales in the UK market in Q2 — mostly because of first time smartphone buyers picking up cheap iPhone 4 models. Android had 56.2 percent, Windows Phone 8.6 percent — or a little higher according to GfK.

But Windows Phone took 9.2 percent of sales in the UK in the three months ending in July in Kantar's figures; and 42 percent of Windows Phone UK sales in the past year have been to people buying their first smartphone. That's a higher proportion than either Android or iOS, despite the iPhone name and the cheap Android prices, and that's where Windows Phone could pick up more market share in the UK. Picking off new buyers could also be a longer term threat to Apple, unless they like those rumoured cheap iPhones.

US: The weakest market for Windows Phone but figures vary widely; a useful reminder that these figures are estimate based in some cases on sales reports and in others (as with Kantar' numbers) on phone surveys of phone buyers. Windows Phone share of sales dropped to 4 percent in Q2 according to Kantar, and to 3.5 percent in three months to July, compared to 4.6 percent across March, April and May or 5.6 percent across February, March and April; Android has 51 percent share, up from 49 percent in Q1 (but down from 59 percent in Q2 2012, with the lost sales going back to iPhone). Comscore puts Windows Phone at an even lower 3.1 percent for Q2, up from 3.0 percent in Q1; Nielsen estimates Windows Phone at two percent in Q2 (although both give BlackBerry a higher market share in the US in Q2 than Windows Phone, making their figures markedly different from all other analysts). Android and Apple dominate the US market and Windows Phone isn't likely to displace either of them, but increasingly the US market is very different from other large markets. 

Western Europe: Windows Phone has 11 percent sales share in France in Kantar's figures for the three months ending July 2013 (so not quite comparable to IDC's Q2 figures) — up from 9 percent in Q2 and up from just 2 percent in May 2012, thanks to the Lumia 520 and HTC 8S selling well there. iOS has the lead at 17 percent, but not as large a lead as in stronger markets. 

In Germany, Kantar said Windows Phone sales share had dropped from seven percent to six percent in Q2; that seems to have been a problem shipping units into stores as it's now back to 8.8 percent. The economic problems in Spain mean that both Windows Phone and iOS have very low market share (1.8 percent for Windows Phone, compared to more than 90 percent for Android).

In Italy, Kantar says Windows Phone has dropped from 14 percent to 10 percent in Q2, but then IDC says Nokia is the number two phone seller in Italy in Q2, behind Samsung and ahead of iPhone.

Android's combined sales share for Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK is 67 percent for Q2 according to Kantar, up to 69 percent for the three months to July; Windows Phone share across those countries has gone from seven percent to 8.2 percent. IDC calls Nokia the fifth largest smartphone vendor in Western Europe, with iOS dropping from 25 percent to 20 percent market share; Kantar puts it even lower at 18 percent to July.

So what do all the numbers mean?

In short, Windows Phone is still a long way behind iOS in the US, UK and similar markets and it might never catch Android anywhere — but if the trends continue, it has a good chance in emerging markets to be a solid second.

As Kantar analyst Dominic Sunnebo puts it, "Windows Phone... now represents around one in 10 smartphone sales in Britain, France, Germany and Mexico."

Perhaps the most surprising point about these figures; how small the iOS share of the market can be outside its core markets for what's perceived as one of the most successful smartphones worldwide. What it means to be number two rather than number three in the smartphone market is a smaller difference than you think.

Further reading

Topics: Smartphones, Android, iOS, Nokia, Windows Phone

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • Nokia 928 from Verizon

    I just upgraded a few days ago,it's a great phone and the camera is phenomenal. I cover healthcare with my blog and thus so I write about healthcare apps and so forth relative to phones and I certainly think there's room for Microsoft to grow back here but I am long time Windows Mobile fan being one of the original members of the longest running Microsoft User Los Angeles...we still meet and been around for around 15 years.
    • WP has already overtaken iPhone in much of

      the world. They haven't in the US because of carrier bias but quarter by quarter it will pass iPhone in more and more of the world.
      Johnny Vegas
  • It's because Microsoft had the iPhone and all Android phones banned

    via contributions to the ruling party's election campaigns.
    Timothy Cook
  • Depends on Blue

    WP the OS has been stagnant for well over a year (really, NoDo was the last unequivocal upgrade), since "Mango." Sure, WP8 brought support for newer hardware, but that stuff was mostly under the hood and cost users tons of features (Zune, FM radio, Wireless syncing, etc.) so that WP8 felt in many ways like a step backward rather than a step forward.

    Blue needs to do *a lot* of catching up to get anywhere *near* where iOS is, let alone Android (which is the real competition). If Blue is a significant upgrade that addresses most of the (very, very long list) of serious shortcomings in the OS itself, then I think the simplicity and elegance of WP will position it well to compete. If MS continues not to deliver, then I think we can put a fork in this OS.

    It also would help *a lot* if Blue came before the holiday buying season, but that seems pretty much out of the question.
    x I'm tc
    • FM radio is back in GDR2

      And the list of new features in WP8 is significant, even if your operator doesn't yet support Data Sense. NoDo was a long time before Mango, and it was a very minor upgrade.
      • Small progress

        I am on a L920 on AT&T. No FM radio for me, yet, I'm afraid. NoDo was a long time before Mango. But while the fast-app resume in Mango was a fantastic improvement over NoDo, having the ability to open .DOC files stripped from my phone was at least as big a hindrance. To this day, most Office documents I get are still in the old format, and not being able to edit them on a MS-made device is unthinkable, especially when that functionality was already in there and had to be explicitly removed!

        As to the list of new features in WP8 being significant, I would heartily disagree. My first Windows Phone was an Arrive on Sprint, and I followed it up with the L920. I still have my old Arrive lying around, and I am really not sure what my new device can do that my old one couldn't. But I am quite sure of what my old device *could* do that my new one can't. What are the "significant" new features in WP8 you are talking about?
        x I'm tc
        • IE 10 for a start

          IE 10 gives you find on page, which is so useful
          lenses in the camera might be my favourite thing in WP8 - or the Word Flow next word prediction in the keyboard; I hardly have to type more than a quarter of the characters in a sentence - I haven't found another predictive keyboard that's even half as good
          pinch zoom in camera preview and the extra camera controls
          Parents will really appreciate Kids Corner
          full resolution image upload to SkyDrive - I don't need the Zune software because I never connect over a cable any more
          Rooms for shared messaging/notes/pictures
          Direct3D support, which is what Angry Birds uses
          VOIP integration in the People hub, Skype integration so you can answer a call from the lock screen
          dynamic lock screen and lock screen widgets
          OneNote is much improved
          I can see that losing .DOC access is a pain but I can't remember the last time someone sent me one; they're a significant security risk due to the binary format so the sooner they're gone the better. Even with just the highlights I've listed here, I think WP8 counts as a major update - often I forget quite how munch until I go back to a WP 7.5 or 7.8 device.
          • obviously find on page isn't the major feature in IE10

            generally IE 10 is a far more powerful browser under the covers than the IE 9 retread in WP 7; find on page is just one of those handy features we were promised for WP that took a while to arrive.
          • ??? .doc

            "I can see that losing .DOC access is a pain but I can't remember the last time someone sent me one; they're a security risk due to the binary format so the sooner they're gone the better."

            ummm I think doc files are still pretty common, furthermore the idea of removing this ability and calling the WP8 an upgrade was a bad move by Microsoft. Security risk? Really?
          • Changes

            I recognize that IE 10 is nominally superior to IE 9, but the fact is, more Web pages worked properly on my Arrive than do on my L920. was a major example, although it *just* started working this week (presumably due to a change in their back end code). I had find on page *before* Mango. It was one of the earlier steps backwards. And where, in G**'s name, is my forward button?!? How can I possibly use a browser without a forward's insane!

            WP7 uploads images at full resolution to SkyDrive automatically, as well.

            Kid's Corner *is* great. I will definitely call that one a winner.

            VOIP, on the other hand, is a great big looser. The Skype experience on WP8 is horrible. Just. Horrible. The fact that it is worlds better on both iOS and Android is an insult to WP.

            I do use One Note, but haven't found it to be superior on WP8 to WP7. A little *different*, but no more or less functional.

            And overall, I have quite the opposite experience. I am always amazed at how little my L920 experience has improved over my experience on my Arrive. And I miss my better keyboard and better camera (yeah, that's right, the Arrive even took better pictures!). And wireless syncing...oh boy, that is missed so badly as to make all the other improvements hardly worth it.
            x I'm tc
          • What?

            Seriously, that update list sounds like it comes from a phone in 2005...
            And it is funny that you compare the WP to an iPhone which cost almost double that of a WP in out-lying countries .. why don't you try to compare it to a Android phone?
            They both are more similar in cost, but by the sound of it in completely different OS worlds ...
            It's like you are comparing a BMW to a KIA (KIA would be the WP), it's a totally different beast!
            Next time make the comparisons more realistic ... Geez ..
    • Kernel

      They changed the Kernel /OS after Mango ! Nothing minor .. have you even used these phones ?

      Mango single core a CE based Kernel
      WP8 multiple core running windows 8 . New developer API cant run Mango apps.

      I got a few updates this weaks which improved things , a new kernel is a huge job not to mention getting it to work on Arm and rewriting all the apps .
  • Windows phone the best phone!

    my beginning in the smartphone market started with android. I tried every single flavor of android including the nexus and after trying a few months I would say android is a very inefficient and bulky OS. I declined to tried the iphone since it work same as the android plus the limitations and overpricing. I got my first windows phone last year and WOW what a difference! My company is adopting now the windows phone system. It integrates with every single windows application!
    Celia van der Woodsen
    • windows phone

      Agree only people who complain about Windows Nokia phone havent used it. You can complain about the apps but not the OS Wife has a Note 2 i bought a cheap Nokia 620 and its great better than the note ( except for the screen real estate for watching movies ) , my wife wants my phone now.
  • Windows Phone is Nokia

    It's Nokia driving WP sales, WP is strong not where Blackberry used to be strong (not mainly), WP is strong in countries where Nokia and symbian used to be strong.

    A single maker is too short for WP, even Apple "that is Apple" is having trouble to keep the market share. While a successful Nokia can attract other OEMs it can also have the opposite effect.
    As before, I still doubt WP can go over 10% smartphone share worldwide. Nokia is still losing share year on year and it's becoming just another brand, not "the" brand.
    • More than you think...

      Microsoft just bought Nokia's mobile division.
  • Standard Response to Question Headlines

    Yes, no, maybe, don't know, do I care, why ask me?
    • Re: Standard Response to Question Headlines

      The Betteridge's law of headlines?

      Everyone knows the answer.
  • Pls

    Columba? Could it be somewhere near Colombia? Minimum you should double check the country names.
  • iOS and Android too strong in the market....

    Windows Phone is far too weak to make any significant impact.

    As with Blackberry Windows Phone is an 'Also Ran'.