Steve Ballmer:Windows Mobile 60%+ vs Apple iPhone at 3%

The continued speculation on sales of the Apple iPhone continue to make the news when the device still has a month or more before it hits the streets. Microsoft CES Steve Ballmer thinks Windows Mobile market share will take off and the iPhone will be a minor player in the mobile game, however at this time Microsoft itself is still quite a minor player in the game. Will Microsoft achieve Symbian-like market share figures in the next few years or is this just Microsoft's wishful thinking?

A couple of days ago USA Today's David Lieberman interviewed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and asked him questions on various topics. Of course, the discussion included the upcoming Apple iPhone and Mr. Ballmer had a few funny things to say about the device.

It's sort of a funny question. Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market? (Laughter.) I want to have products that appeal to everybody. Now we'll get a chance to go through this again in phones and music players. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

It seems to me that Steve's answer is a funnier response than the question. In a recent Canalys report that I blogged about, data collected indicates that Windows Mobile has a 14% worldwide market share of the mobile device market. On the other hand Symbian leads with something like 67%. In a MacWorld UK article they quote data collected by Markitecture that show Microsoft holding just a 5.6% mobile phone market share with Windows Mobile products.

Markitecture researchers also apparently conducted a survey and found that 6% of the 1,300 people surveyed said they were likely to buy the iPhone. I would be interested in seeing this same survey conducted in regards to Windows Mobile devices like the Cingular BlackJack or Motorola Q. Microsoft was fairly quick at surpassing the Palm OS, but a lot of the issues with the decline of the Palm OS were also self-inflicted. I do believe that Windows Mobile will continue to capture market share, but achieving 60% to 80% is unrealistic and quite a bold statement to make at this point in the mobile game. We can't really judge the iPhone and its sales yet, so let's see what happens in the next 3 to 4 months.