Smartphone operating systems: The rise of Android, the fall of Windows

Smartphone operating systems: The rise of Android, the fall of Windows

Summary: While Android and Apple's iOS continue to rise, the arrival of Windows Phone 8 actually saw Microsoft's share of the smartphone market fall. The race for the number three smartphone operating system is wide open.


A quick glance at comScore's latest numbers on smartphone operating systems reveals no real surprises. Android is still number one, with 53.4 percent of the market, a slight gain over the previous quarter; Apple's iOS is still number two, with 36.3 percent of the market and a significant uptick of 2 percent; and Windows Phone is fourth, behind BlackBerry, with 2.9 percent, a drop of 0.7 percent.

Wait. What? Wasn't the arrival of Windows Phone 8 supposed to finally give Microsoft mobile operating systems a long-needed kick in the pants?

It's Android in first, iOS in second, and a fading pair, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, in third and fourth. (Credit: comScore)

Well, yes actually it was. Windows Phone 8, along with Windows 8 and the Surface devices, was supposed to reinvent Microsoft. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that in the first month of sales Windows Phone 8 sales had seen a 300 percent jump over Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7.5 sales. And, the top-of-the-line Windows Phone 8, the Nokia Lumia 920, got generally favorable reviews. So, what went wrong?

Behind the hype, I think Google hit the nail on the head. The Android giant said it had no plans to build apps for Windows Phone 8 because they're not enough users. Well, based on comScore's numbers, it looks like Google Apps product management director Clay Bavor was right and Ballmer was... misinformed. There really isn't much user interest out there in Windows Phone 8 devices.

Whether Windows Phone 8 is really much good isn't the question. The simple fact is that Microsoft hasn't been successful in making people believe that smartphones with Windows Phone 8 are better than Android phones or Apple iPhones. 

The mobile phone operating system race is still what it was before: a two-horse race between Android and iOS with Android holding a comfortable lead. BlackBerry? While the new BlackBerry Z10 handset looks good, it's a case of too little, too late for the long, declining company.

True, BlackBerry is trying to make it easy for Android developers to port their apps to its new QNX-based (an embedded Unix) BlackBerry 10 operating system, but why bother? With BlackBerry platform share at 6.4 percent, a drop of 2 percent from the previous quarter, you'd be hitching your wagon to a failing horse.

No, looking ahead for mobile operating systems, the real question isn't which ones to develop for and plan on using: It's Android and iOS by a country mile. Android, even with its continuing fragmentation problem, will remain in the lead. The true question is which if any smartphone operating system might become a viable third platform.

As for Windows 8 Phone, stick a fork in it, it's done. BlackBerry is going to continue its decline. If there's going to be a number three smartphone platform with some life to it, I see it coming from the various Linux distributions giving the smartphone a try. The new and coming contenders for third place in 2013 will be Firefox OS, Sailfish OS, Tizen, and Ubuntu

Of this quartet of contenders for third, I like Ubuntu the best. Now that we know that Ubuntu phones will be shipping this year, I feel much better about its chances. Behind Ubuntu, Firefox OS -- which will shortly be shipping on its first two phones -- is my dark horse.

Related Stories:

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Ubuntu, Mobility, Mobile OS, Microsoft, Linux, iPhone, Google, Apple, Windows Phone

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  • I don't know if it will work in the mobile market, but . . .

    Remember Lotus and it's stranglehold on the spreadsheet market. Remember the dreadful 1st generation of Excel. Remember Wordperfect and it's stranglehold on the word processing market. Remember the 1st generation of Word. Remember Novell and it's stranglehold on the network. Remember early Windows NT. Add products, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    I wouldn't write Microsoft off just yet.

    And, the best feature of any mobile OS i've used (I've used both iOS and Android - still have a Note) is the People Hub on Windows phone. I rarely open my email, messaging or phone apps. I just use the People Hub. I can't believe it hasn't been copied . . . with the accompanying lawsuits . . .
    • Excellent points, MS has a history of coming from behind and ...

      for most folks, every two years is an opportunity to think about changing.

      The major hurdle for MS is users feeling like they have a big investment in apps. In my opinion, MS will need a some pretty compelling features to get the average user to change. Of course there's a chance that Google, Apple or one of the large Android phone makers may drop the ball, but I wouldn't bet on that.
      • @psquared007

        Novel thinking there. My co-worker just changed from iPhone to Android so, apparently, some people will switch if they like a different OS better.
        Susan Antony
        • Did you bother reading what psquared007 even posted?

          At what point did he/she say that nobody would switch? I have to wonder since he was talking about WP and your example doesn't even bring it up was it your opportunity to say "hey look I know somebody that switched from iOS because they prefer Android". If that's the case, who really cares. I think psquared007 has a very valid point which will probably apply to a majority but like everything else won't apply to everyone. Currently I prefer iOS but I don't just dismiss other OSes simply because I have a current preference. If something is release with enough to draw me away from iOS I will do it. But like psquared007 said it's got to be enough to over come my investment in iOS. Keep in my by investment I am speaking more about time that actual money invested, we get used to the apps we have and how everything works, switching can be stressful for some.
      • Re: Excellent points, MS has a history of coming from behind and ...

        When, in this century, has Microsoft managed to "come from behind"?
        • Uh, with the XBox 360...

          ...against the Playstation 3.
          • Actually...

            Microsoft started in the lead sales-wise (well after Nintendo, of course). In the past year or so, Sony has overtaken them.
          • You said it your self.

            Windows is still behind they do not compete with Nintendo in any way shape or form. And they just barely beat PSP and PS3 but they still dont have PS2 numbers and never will. There are far more people using Android(Linux) in this world than window users in total, Xbox cant even compete with Android and Angre Birds. In the investment world Microsoft is a bad joke "No one whant's to hear about them or have anything to do with them" there done.
          • Actually...

            I'm not really sure what you mean they started in the lead sales-wise. A new console would seemingly represent a clean slate, would it not?

            When MS introduced the 360 in 2005, the original Xbox only had 21% market share. So they weren't ahead of Sony at that time. (

            Wikipedia lists the 360 as have sold more units to date (not sure how accurate that is), One gauge could be the fact that the 360 outsold the Wii U and Wii combined this past holiday season. (

            All in all, I don't think MS started ahead in the console wars, but they certainly are one of, if not the, top dog in the console industry.

            It's an interesting parallel to the smartphone market. MS entered a highly competitive market with entrenched brands. They struggled with their first release, (I don't believe the Xbox ever turned a profit) now they are flying high with 360 and Kinect. I think Windows Phone could have similar results, assuming they stick with it.
            Jim Halpert
        • The XBOX was only created to stop Sony

          from taking over the living room. That's definitely coming from behind.

        • Come From Behind... What significance does Jan 1, 2000 have?

          * There was a time when data centres did not contain a single Windows Server,... UNIX, VAX and Mainframes prevailed.
          * The PC replaced DR-DOS and early (pre-MAC) Apple computers.
          * WORD obliterated WordPerfect.
          * Excel eliminated Lotus 123.
          * Microsoft's largest come from behind victory was in Web Technology.

          Does that adequately reply to the 'Come From Behind' question? Can they do it again?

          If you don't understand the uphill battle that Microsoft's competitors face, then take a quick peek at this...
      • MSFT coming from behind

        MSFT did so vs CP/M in the early 1980s when IBM contracted PC-DOS from them but left open the possibility MSFT could sell MS-DOS to other microcomputer makers. Not so much since then.

        Word and Excel were the first major word processor and spreadsheet programs on Macs, and no other company ever came close to supplanting them. Yes, Word was behind WordPerfect and Excel behind Lotus 1-2-3 on PCs in the late 1980s, the end of the DOS Age. Once PCs started shifting to Windows, Word and Excel were on top, never to be budged or bothered.

        Windows market share was never behind OS/2, Xenix, or any other microcomputer OS other than MSFT's own MS-DOS and Mac OS prior to Windows 3.1. However, Macs back then used Motorola CPUs, so Windows and Mac OS were never direct competitors on the same hardware.

        The products which MSFT has sold/sells which didn't start off as market leaders but became so are Outlook/Exchange and Xbox. Every other MSFT product started off a market leader or never became a market leader.

        MSFT used to be first in the markets it came to dominate. MS-DOS and Xbox are MSFT's only products which went from new entrant in established market to top market share without Windows/Office, er, symbiosis. Indeed, MSFT was an early leader in the smart phone OS maker, but it lost that position to RIM/Blackberry in the early to mid 2000s, and became nearly irrelevant after thoroughly misjudging the impact of the iPhone.
        • I can't believe

          nobody has brought up IE yet
          • Ya. Just wait.

            The haters live here.

            With their Dad.
        • wow

          Please go check your facts. Word perfect was still the leader into the Windows 3.1 days. It was not until office for windows95 came out and sold on millions of pcs that word and excel gained traction. Ie started behind. Xbox started behind.

          Microsoft's NO is that it takes them two or three versions to get things right and then they take over.

          Word Perfect was unbeatable
          Lotus 1-2-3 was unbeatable
          PlayStation was unbeatable

          Now it should be noted that sometimes Microsoft gets things right and still fails. The Zune ND wad a killer product. I never heard from one owner that didn't love it. There just were never enough of them. Of course it does not help that? MS put out what many think was the best mp3 player of all at the time when the iPhone was making mp3 players irrelevant.

          So the question is, is Windows Phone the new Xbox or the new Zune?

          It has the Zune's loyal fans, but it lacks the thing that really made the Xbox 360 the must have console, the killer apps. Xbox 360 rode games like Halo and Mass Effect to the top of the console heap. Much as I love it, Windows Phone does not have a killer app. The OS is not enough, and this is from someone who has had a Windows Phone since before day one.

          Also, the Nokia 920 and HTC 8X are nice phones, but they really do not hold up still that well when compared to the Samsung GS3 or Note 2, and it is hardware and design that matter. Android is something people know, and when you combine it with good hardware, you sell millions as Samsung is doing. The best Windows Phone, IMO, is the Samsung Ativ S and its not coming to the US.

          Give me the Galaxy Note 2, with the pen and Windows Phone 8 and I would never look at another phone.
      • It hardly matters. The article is a joke. Its rediculous beyond reason.

        The highest market share Windows has EVER had for mobile phones, before Android, before iPhone back in the day; was about 16%. They averaged about 14% most years give or take. MS was never a mobile powerhouse. Ever.

        This article makes it sound like Windows phones has fallen from some lofty perch. It hasnt. Not even nearly.

        Given how long Windows phone had practically fallen off the edge of the world after iPhone came out, and with Android phones following so close on the iPhones heels, its almost shocking to see Windows phones getting any traction in the market, but they are.

        The competition in the market is far more fierce than its ever been. Its brutal. Why in the world SJVN thinks its some kind of point hes making “The fall of Windows, the rise of Android”…it’s the fall of Blackberry the rise of Android if anything. A realistic point would be that Windows phones for most intents and purposes left the market almost entirely for a while. There is no fall, they pretty much left and then came back. They are actually starting over for the most part, if one really wants to look at the situation realistically.

        At all.

        You know, SJVN has got to get away from this pointless MS/Windows bashing. Its pointless and it does horrifying things to his credibility as a writer.
        • They actually were a big player

          At least in the US. MS' share of the smartphone market peaked in 2007 36% which was 20% higher than their share in 2005. They slid by 8%-10% annually for the next three years to 8% in 2010 when WP was introduced. Since then they have dropped roughly 5% based on the stats listed above to their current position. So of course they were at one point a power house in the smart phone market. I know you used "mobile powerhouse" but since we are talking about smartphones the overall mobile market wasn't the stats to work with.
    • Remember....

      Remember Zune? Remember all the tablets Microsoft developed and sold from 2002-2010? Remember Windows Phone 6? Windows Phone 7? Remember Surface RT?.....
      • @Maha888

        There was no Windows Phone 6... That's Windows Mobile 6

        And for more remember, how about adding XBox?

        Of all the examples you cited, only Windows mobile 6 and Windows Phone 7 are the softwares. Others are hardwares. And the topic is based on OS, if I read correctly.
        • XBOX

          Remember that XBOX was a success because of HALO. It is the perfect example of how software, a single title to be exact, propelled entire platform. And let's be honest, from aesthetic point of view, XBOX looked terrible. But every teenager wanted to be a hero and fry some alien meet. I doubt that XBOX would be successful If not for HALO. On mobile phone market, MS has nothing to offer that would set their phones aside from Android or iPhone.