Industry analysis firm IDC has published its latest predictions for the global smartphone market. By the end of this year, around 1.45 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide, a rise of 0.6% year-over-year - but that rate of growth is far lower than in 2015, when shipments increased by 10.4%.
Much of the growth this year has come from the growing popularity, and falling prices, of 4G handsets, particularly in emerging markets. Android has been the big winner on that front, helping it to grow by over 5% by the end of 2016, although the flexibility of Google's mobile OS has made it a popular choice among buyers at all price points, including flagship-class devices.
Meanwhile, Apple's high-end handsets haven't fared quite so well in 2016; iPhone shipments are expected to have declined by 11% by the year's end. But the biggest losses have of course been for Microsoft's Windows phones, with IDC reporting a collapse of 79% in those shipments across the whole year.
As IDC explained:
Microsoft's mobile platform remained largely a non-story in 2016 other than HP's reentry into the smartphone space with the X3 product. IDC projects Windows Phone shipments to decline 79.1% in 2016 as the number of OEMs supporting the platform continue to diminish. Rumors of a Surface Phone from Microsoft continue to linger, but the drawn out hurdle of a much needed mobile ecosystem has not gone away. Unless Microsoft has a way to get around this, IDC anticipates a tough road ahead for the platform.
But along with its data for 2016, IDC also published its latest predictions for where each of the main mobile platforms will be in 2020. By that time, it expects worldwide smartphone shipments to have grown to 1.7 billion units - but it offers little hope for those expecting Microsoft to bounce back and capture a significant chunk of the market.
It predicts that by 2020, just one million of the 1.7 billion smartphones shipped around the world will be Windows phones - the table above states that proportion as 0.1% market share, but that's rounded up; it's actually closer to 0.06%.
Of course, it's certainly worth taking predictions like these with a pinch or two of salt - after all, IDC's forecasts regarding Windows phones haven't exactly been flawless over the years:
- In June 2011, IDC anticipated that Windows Phone would grow from 3.8% global market share to 20.3% by 2015, overtaking Apple's iPhone. It added that BlackBerry would be on 13.2%.
- In June 2012, IDC said that Windows Phone would increase its market share from 5.2%, to 19.2% by 2016. According to figures released this summer by Gartner, Windows' share of the smartphone market had fallen to around 0.6%.
- In February 2014, IDC adjusted its forecasts, following Windows Phone's disappointing sales performance compared with its rivals. From 3.9%, it anticipated that Microsoft's mobile platform would grow to 7.0% by 2018. Three months later, it revised that 2018 prediction down to 6.4%.
- By the end of 2014, IDC had again revised its prediction for Windows' smartphone market share, saying that the OS would capture 5.6% of the market by 2018.
Unfortunately, for Microsoft, it appears that IDC's latest predictions this week about its mobile platform might prove to be painfully accurate.
Microsoft's own Windows 10 Mobile flagship phones are nearing the end of their retail lives, and are already out of stock in the UK. As IDC noted today, there has been much talk about the rumored 'Surface phone', but reports suggest that it's at least a year away, and may not arrive until 2018.
Meanwhile, few major brands have bought into the Windows 10 Mobile vision. Companies like HP and Alcatel are the exception, rather than the rule. It's also worth noting that the high price of HP's Elite x3 flagship, and the extremely limited availability of Alcatel's high-end IDOL 4S - available on just one carrier in the US - will do little to boost global market share.
Even some of those who have backed Windows 10 Mobile are questioning their decision to do so. Citing Microsoft's gradual retreat from the phone hardware business, and the collapse in market share of its mobile OS, Coship - one of the largest manufacturers of third-party Windows phones - publicly stated that it's reviewing its decision to continue investing in Windows handset development. As a result of that, it's now crowdfunding its newest device to gauge levels of interest among potential buyers. Japanese manufacturer NuAns tried a similar approach with its distinctive Neo handset, but attracted interest from just 489 backers worldwide, reaching less than 20% of its funding goal.
There's little evidence of significant consumer interest in Windows phones, with continuing sales declines in many major markets. In China, for example, where Windows' share of the smartphone market peaked at 4.7% in August 2012, sales recently dropped to a statistically insignificant 0.0%, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel. Data from Microsoft's latest earnings report revealed that its quarterly Windows phone revenue had declined from $2.6 billion two years ago to just $300 million last quarter.
IDC has certainly got many of its predictions wrong in the past, but it's unquestionably right about one thing: while Microsoft remains committed to the mobile market, there's still a tough road ahead for its smartphone platform.