Windows Phone to Pass BlackBerry, but Does It Matter?

Windows Phone could pull ahead of the beleaguered BlackBerry platform in mobile Web usage this fall to take a distant third place behind Android and iOS. It's a dubious distinction, but it also could be the momentum-builder Microsoft needs.

In the spirit of the recent Olympics, Windows Phone is in a race of its own to become a bronze winner in the smartphone dash behind Android and iOS.

All it needs to do is pass the wounded soldier known as RIM (Research In Motion).

New mobile Web usage data from Web traffic analysis site StatCounter indicates this will happen soon. The forecast by StatCounter, based on the percentage of mobile users accessing the Web from various mobile operating systems, is that Windows Phone users will outnumber BlackBerry users by the end of November. The StatCounter data was compiled into a chart by the site wmpoweruser.com.

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Web usage on BlackBerry smartphones dropped 50 percent this year, down from six percent to three percent, while Web usage on Windows Phones increased ever so slightly, from one percent to 1.5 percent. By Thanksgiving, according to StatCounter, Windows Phone will take the lead.

It's worth noting that StatCounter's data represents the amount of users connecting to the Web from mobile phones, NOT overall market share.

U.S. mobile market share for the BlackBerry OS, according to market-tracker comScore, is sitting at 10.7 percent, though it has been dropping about one percentage point a month in 2012. Windows Phone's market share is 3.8 percent, according to comScore, and has been basically flat or slightly dipping since Windows Phone 7 came to market almost two years ago.

The contrast between Web usage and market share indicates that only a small percentage of BlackBerry users are accessing the Web and apps from their phones. This is not surprising. Web browsing on a BlackBerry is notoriously bad and fewer BlackBerry users employ apps because there aren't many quality apps available in the BlackBerry App World app store, which is a big part of RIM's continued troubles.

Microsoft's biggest advantage over RIM is a building momentum, lots of money and a partnership with Nokia. These are the two factors that will help propel Windows Phone into a distant third place. On September 5, Microsoft and Nokia are expected to announce Windows Phone 8, which promises true compatibility with Windows 8, set for release on October 26.

Whether you are measuring market share or StatCounter's more ambiguous mobile Web usage metric, Microsoft is definitely nipping at RIM's heels. This not a sign of any great Windows Phone success; it's more a reflection on how far RIM has fallen.

RIM, to be blunt, is teetering on irrelevance. In the past year, the Canadian company's market share, revenue, reputation and credibility have all been hammered by slow releases, lack of innovation and layoffs.

RIM has one card left to play and that is the release of its next-generation OS, BlackBerry 10, not due until the first quarter of 2013. That may be too little, too late. Between now and then, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will be available, as will a boatload of new Windows 8 smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks.

Is stepping ahead of a company in shambles a victory for Microsoft? Yes. But Microsoft will still be a million miles behind industry kingpins Android and iPhone with no track record of being able to compete with the market's elite.

However, given all the aggressive product releases Microsoft has planned for the next two months, laying claim as the new number three in mobile is definitely a step in the right direction.

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