Windows Phone: Attacking a brick wall with a marshmallow

A long-term view is helpful when dealing with the ongoing bloodsport known as mobile operating system market share.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Earlier this week, I looked at the recent gains made by Windows Phone in Kantar's monthly smartphone sales data report. In it, I pointed out that the report only deals in percentages, and, as such, there was quite a bit of wiggle room and interpretation with the numbers available, since the overall sales numbers were not known.

However, with the overall sales numbers for Australia now in our possession, it's possible to gain a better look into what is happening in the local market.

To open proceedings this time, let's start with a graph that quantifies what's being shown when we saw Windows Phone sales in Australia jump in September.

Click to enlarge.
(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

The first point to note from the above graph is that any sort of BlackBerry "revival" has yet to materialise. From ZDNet's calculations, the Canadian handset maker has not sold over 10,000 devices in a month for two years.

The real story, though, is Windows Phone — the Microsoft-run operating system not only had a large jump in sales in September, it also doubled the August sales number, from just over 22,000 devices to almost 49,000. But while Windows Phone sales are increasing, they are not yet at the level experienced by the widely panned Symbian operating system in October 2011.

While Windows Phone had growth in the triple-figure percentage, the entire smartphone market in Australia grew from 343,103 smartphone sales in August to 524,051 in September; just under 53 percent growth.

To better illustrate the point, looking at pure sales numbers, Windows Phone sold an extra 26,000 handsets, Android moved 77,000 more units in September, and Apple sold 74,000 devices. It works out that for September, almost six times more Android and three and a half times more Apple handsets were sold than Windows Phone devices.

Click to enlarge.
(Image:Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

In Monday's article, I pointed out that when looking at the graph of sales percentages in Australia, Android and iOS tend to mirror each other's movements.

When looking at pure sales numbers and not percentages, it's clear to see that the two dominant mobile operating systems dwarf the competition, and stay more or less in sync with each other, and with the market in general.

It also shows that the Christmas flurry of phone sales is a definite, measurable phenomenon. The table below shows sales in Australia between November 2012 and January 2013.

Month endingTotalSmartphoneNon-Smartphone
November 30, 2012 607,169 502,170 104,999
December 31, 2012 958,101 748,565 209,536
January 31, 2013 523,721 412,893 110,828

In 2012, the Christmas spike increased purchases across the board, except for Windows Phone, which saw sales decrease for each month shown on the table above.

When one good month doesn't make a dent

If we take an even longer view of the smartphone market in Australia, it is possible to see why Windows Phone's increased sales in September mean almost nothing at all.

Click to enlarge.
(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

According to the figures used to create this graph, the percentage of "market share" that Windows Phone grew by in September was a mere 0.23 percent.

Now, I'll be the first to tell you that my assumptions — the first being that no smartphones existed in the country before October 2011, and that each and every smartphone is still active — are horribly, horribly wrong. That's why I'm calling it "market share", but it does serve the purpose of representing the cumulative size of the challenge that Microsoft is facing as it goes up against Apple and Android.

For the past two years up until September 30, Australians have purchased 6 million smartphones annually: Android is approaching its 7 millionth device sold in that time, and Apple is closing in on 4 million; in the same window, Windows Phone has only just surpassed the half-million barrier.

In terms of devices sold, Windows Phone is not even in the same order of magnitude as Android, and is barely able to claim the magnitude order with iOS. It's little wonder, then, that Windows Phone finds itself struggling to keep developer attention.

What Windows Phone needs is not one month of sales approaching 10 percent, which means one in 10 devices sold; it needs several months where it gains 20 to 30 percent of sales, or optimally, achieve that fabled point of 33 percent when Microsoft can then lay claim to being responsible for one in three mobile phones sold.

The longer it takes Windows Phone to hit that point, the bigger the head start that it is giving to Android and Apple, and the closer it is to being utterly swamped by the market.

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