2017 forecast: Windows Phone at 12.7%, 1bn Android phones a year

Analysts are notoriously - often hilariously - bad at predicting the future. We've lost count of the number of flawed predictions and wildly inaccurate forecasts from analysts that have cluttered up our inboxes at Neowin; indeed, the apparent guesswork that seems to go into constructing these analyses was part of what stimulated Neowin's senior editor, Brad Sams, to create Tracour, a site dedicated to tracking the reliability of rumours and speculation from certain sources. 

Undeterred by the threat of being called out for potentially spewing out nonsense, analysts continue to make their predictions. Few have been quite as wide off the mark as those concentrating on Windows Phone. As our friends over at The Next Web pointed out back in December, analysis firm IDC predicted in 2011 that by 2015, Windows Phone would have 20.3% of the smartphone market. By June 2012, they'd adjusted that to predict that it would have 19% by 2016; six months later, they'd knocked that figure down again to just 11.4%. 

The latest analysis firm to pluck numbers out of thin air to make their predictions for the smartphone market is Canalys, which has released its forecasts for 2017. It believes that, by the end of that year, the global market for smartphones will have grown to 1.5 billion units, representing 73% of all mobile handset shipments. 

Canalys believes that growth in the smartphone market will be driven by Android - and given the enormous market share for Google's mobile OS, and the phenomenal rate at which devices continue to be released, that's one prediction that's likely to hold true. From total sales of 470m devices in 2012, Canalys forecasts that shipments in 2017 will more than double to a massive one billion Android smartphones a year, giving it a 67.1% share of the market. 

The firm claims that sales of iPhones will also continue to grow, but at a much slower rate, resulting in a net decline in market share by 2017, down to 14.1% from 19.5% last year. Canalys' Jessica Kwee explains: "Apple's growth will be curtailed by the fact that momentum in the smartphone market is coming from the low end, and Apple is absent from this segment. Android's continued dominance is due to the scalability of the platform." 

While this analysis certainly rings true in the present, it seems to ignore persistent rumours that Apple is planning to reveal a low-cost iPhone in the near future, something that could dramatically affect the balance of smartphone market share over the next few years. Apple has already demonstrated a willingness to explore lower hardware price points with the launch of the iPad mini, with speculation that a Retina Display-equipped version would leave room for an even cheaper iPad mini model in the future. 

Affordable handsets such as Nokia's Lumia 520 are seen as essential to growing Windows Phone market share

Still, Microsoft has demonstrated with its OEM partners that its Windows Phone platform also has the flexibility to extend from flagship devices, such as the upcoming Nokia EOS, down to entry-level handsets, such as the very affordable Nokia Lumia 520, something that Canalys also picked up on: "The scalability of Microsoft's platform will be critical to its success and it has made progress here by enabling Huawei [with its Ascend W1] and Nokia to deliver Windows Phone products at aggressive price points."

Microsoft's partnerships in Asia - including with Windows PC vendors, such as Lenovo, that have not yet built Windows Phones - are seen as key to the company's growth in emerging markets, along with Nokia's established presence in those markets with its Asha range. As smartphone prices continue to fall, Canalys believes Windows Phone partners will be well placed in such regions to drive significant growth for the platform.

Indeed, huge growth is seen for Windows Phone by 2017, with its global market share exploding to 12.7%, up from just 2.4% last year. According to IDC, shipments for the first quarter of 2013 boosted Windows Phone to 3.2% global market share

Holding steady? BlackBerry is projected to retain almost all of its current market share by 2017, at 4.6%

There's good news for BlackBerry in their forecasts, with its market share predicted to hold fairly steady at 4.6% by 2017. Given the tough times that the company has been through in recent years, BlackBerry would undoubtedly be delighted with such consistent performance. 

The outlook is less rosy for other smartphone platforms though, which are collectively seen as accounting for just 1.5% of global smartphone shipments in 2017, down from 5.6% last year. That could be bad news for the likes of Mozilla, which recently launched its Firefox OS, with the first handsets running the OS going on sale in the next few weeks

Still, while 2017 is still a long way away, and anything can happen between now and then, one thing is certain: you should always take an analyst's predictions with a pinch of salt... and a hearty laugh. 

Source: Canalys | Lumia 520 image via Nokia; Z10 image via BlackBerry

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