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Analysts: Windows Phone Made Some Share Progress in Q4

IT market research firms Gartner and IDC are both out this week with smartphone shipment estimates that show Windows Phone making significant progress in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The global studies contrast with studies released a week ago by Canalys and comScore, both of which suggested Microsoft made no market share progress in the critical Q4 period, which coincided with the release of the Windows Phone 8 operating system and carrier devices.

IDC today estimated that Microsoft and its partners sold 6 million Windows Phones in the quarter, a 150 percent increase over Q4 2011. While overall share remains very small at 2.6 percent, that's much larger than the 1.5 percent share in the year-ago period. IDC labeled the growth "market-beating," as the overall market increased 42 percent. Apple saw 29 percent growth from its very large base to 48 million units, while Android is still experiencing very strong growth from already huge volumes -- 88 percent growth to 160 million units.

The IDC numbers are in the same ballpark as estimates released by Gartner on Wednesday. Gartner put Windows Phone shipments for Q4 at nearly 6.2 million for 3 percent market share, a gain of 1.2 points of share compared to Q4 2011.

Canalys a week earlier had estimated Windows Phone shipments for the quarter at 5.1 million (the company covers around 50 countries, rather than the entire global market), and called the 2.4 percent market share "unchanged sequentially."

A day before that, on Feb. 6, comScore actually contended that Microsoft's Windows Phone share dropped sequentially in the United States from the third quarter to the fourth -- a surprising result given the Windows Phone 8 release and aggressive marketing campaigns for the platform by Microsoft, carriers and handset makers. Based on surveys of U.S. smartphone owners, comScore reported that Microsoft's share of smartphone subscribers had fallen seven-tenths of a point to 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

IDC and Gartner have some professional pride riding on Windows Phone's success: Both firms predicted in 2011 that the platform's partnership with Nokia would result in about 20 percent of smartphone market share by 2015. Nokia did make important progress with Windows Phone in Q4. In its quarterly report to investors, Nokia said it sold 4.4 million of its Windows Phone-based Lumia units. IDC estimates that Nokia accounts for 76 percent of Windows Phone platform sales.

One IDC analyst contended that the quarter represented an important setup period for Microsoft, while the current quarter represents a similar opportunity for BlackBerry, which just launched BB10. "With the recent introductions of two new smartphone platforms we expect some ground to be made by the new entrants over the coming years," Ryan Reith said in a statement. "There is no question the road ahead is uphill for both Microsoft and BlackBerry, but history shows us consumers are open to change. Platform diversity is something not only the consumers have asked for, but also the operators."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 14, 2013