Windows Phone and BlackBerry head for extinction, leaving the smartphone market to Android and iOS

The mobile operating system market is a two-horse race now, and it's likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

It was once hoped that the mobile ecosystem would be big and buoyant enough to support a whole number of different operating systems, but the data suggests that, just as with the PC ecosystem, there really is only room for two major players.

According to the latest Gartner report, the bottom has fallen completely out of Windows Phone and BlackBerry device shipments over the past year. A year ago things weren't great, with Windows Phone and BlackBerry having a market share during Q2 2015 of 2.5 and 0.3 percent respectively, but for Q2 2016 these had fallen to 0.6 and 0.1 percent respectively.

See also: The question every Windows Phone owner needs to ask: "Do I switch to Android or iOS?"

In real terms, shipments of Windows Phone devices stood at 1.97 million for the quarter, with BlackBerry at 400,000. Compare this to the 44.4 million iOS devices or 296.9 million Android smartphones shipped during the same period, and you see just how bad it is.

Essentially both Windows Phone and BlackBerry are headed for extinction. It's not a matter of if this is going to happen, but when.

This has some serious repercussions for the mobile arena:

  • BlackBerry, once the flagship brand for government and corporate smartphone users, is in serious trouble, made worse by the fact that its transition to Android isn't going well.
  • Microsoft's mobile plans are in tatters. While it's not doing too badly in relation to tablet sales, not having been able to break into the smartphone market is likely to hinder overall mobile growth as users become more likely to settle on iOS or Android for both tablets and smartphones.
  • The death of Windows Phone and BlackBerry is good news for Android because that's the platform benefiting the most.

One interesting question to ponder is this -- with only two major players in the game, where will the needle come to rest? Right now the quarterly shipments are divided roughly 85 to 13 between Android and iOS respectively. But over the past year, Android has climbed four percentage points, while iOS dropped almost two points. I predict that in a year or so shipments will be nine to one in favor of Android.

From there, it's difficult to predict where things will go, but we might see a period of stability.

Here's another question worth pondering -- is there now room for another operating system?

Given the dominance of the incumbent players (remember that while Apple has well under 20 percent of the shipments, it manages to scoop up more than 80 percent of the smartphone profits), and how impossible Microsoft found it to break into the market despite throwing masses of cash at the attempt, it seems unlikely.

It's unclear what Microsoft might do from here on in when it comes to smartphones -- make a switch to Microsoft would be my guess -- but trying to break into the market again just seems like throwing good money after bad.

Every day carry (EDC) pocket tools and gadgets

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