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

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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