Analysts still bullish on Microsoft's Windows Phone -- just not as much

IDC seems to have stopped imbibing so much of Microsoft’s Kool-Aid.

The technology research firm has backed off on its incredibly bullish market share forecast for Microsoft Windows Phone operating system. Oh, don’t worry, it still has high hopes for the software. But its forecasts aren’t, shall we say, as enthusiastic as before.

By 2016, Microsoft’s mobile software will be on 11.4 percent of the smartphones sold, up from an estimated 2.6 percent this year, IDC predicted in an updated forecast published today. That sounds like a big, potentially challenging jump in share, especially since IDC’s prediction implies that some of Windows Phone’s gains will come at the expense of Google’s Android software, which has shown no signs of slowing its rapid adoption growth.

But IDC’s new forecast for Windows Phone looks positively sober and level-headed compared with the forecasts the firm had previously proffered.

For the last two years, the firm has predicted that Windows Phone was poised for wide-spread adoption and would sooner or later edge out Apple’s iOS for the no. 2 position behind Android. In three or four years, the firm forecast, about one in five smartphones sold would be running Microsoft’s operating system.

The firm’s former forecasts basically implied that nearly all of the market share held two years ago by Nokia’s Symbian operating system would be shifting over to Windows Phone, which was a silly assertion on its face. While Nokia has shifted from Symbian to Windows Phone, Nokia and Microsoft have done little to ease the transition for consumers from the old platform to the new. And if users were going to have to switch platforms any way, the more likely thing for them to do would be adopt the platforms that nearly everyone else is buying: either Android or Apple’s iOS.

Now that things have played out exactly that way, instead of in the direction of IDC’s rosy Windows Phone scenario, the firm is having to back off of its past predictions. Of course, when the sales data shows that two years after launch Windows Phone’s market share is still mired below three percent and still trails not only Symbian, but  Samsung’s obscure Bada operating system, you would hope that IDC would reconsider.

This actually marks the second time that IDC has had to back off of its bullish outlook for Windows Phone. Two years ago, the firm forecast that Windows Phone would reach 20 percent share of the smartphone market by 2015. Last year, IDC updated that forecast to trim Windows Phone’s share target to 19 percent and to push the date out to 2016.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (279 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.