Just as the smartphone market was looking like a two-horse race, Windows Phone and BlackBerry have gotten second winds and are making the market competitive again.
ABI Research has some very good news for Microsoft. It projects 45 million windows phones will be sold in 2013, and 20 million new BlackBerry phones. Of course, this pales in the projected worldwide smartphone sales of 1.4 billion this year.
Of this total, 57% will be Android phones and 21% will be iOS, leaving BlackBerry and Microsoft to fight for the remaining 22%.
ABI also predicts 268 million tablets will be in active use, but just 5.5 million will be Windows RT/Pro.
Nokia is slowly gaining momentum with the new Windows Phone 8 models. Its sales were 4.4 million units in Q4 2012, paltry compared to Apple and Android, but up 40% from the same time in 2011.
BlackBerry: Hoping to Be Back in Black
BlackBerry has gotten a new lease on life with serious enthusiasm for its recently-announced Z10 and Q10 smartphones running BBOS 10, which builds on the QNX operating system used in the BlackBerry PlayBook. One key element of QNX is that other operating systems can be plugged in, and Android is the first OS being added. So when it ships, the Z10 will have the entire Android ecosystem available to it.
At the recent BlackBerry Jam conference in Amsterdam, BlackBerry's European Managing Director Stephen Bates reportedly told attendees that the Z10 is doing better than expected in the United Kingdom. According to the gadget blog Pocket-Lint, Bates said some models have sold out in England.
The news out of its native Canada is even better. CIBC analyst Todd Coupland wrote in a research note that 50% of people preregistering for the new Z10 are not current Blackberry users. That means they are jumping from iPhones and Androids.
That's a huge stat if it holds up because the real challenge for RIM won't be in just keeping its existing customers, it's in gaining new ones, said one analyst.
"You would expect them to rejuvenate their old markets. But it would have to be a while for them to branch into new markets to the point where people say 'let's check it out'," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, a market research firm.
"There was probably a lot of wait and see on the part of their existing customers. I don't think we can make a decision on BlackBerry until it's been out a few months," he added. That said, he's not surprised at RIM's strength since it had an existing market.
Microsoft: Back to the Beginning
Microsoft, though, is starting over when it tossed out Windows CE and came out with Windows Phone. But he adds there is grass roots support for the platform.
"I can tell you from talking to developers they want Microsoft to be successful in mobile. They don't just want Google and Apple. So the developer community is fretting Microsoft won't be successful. Microsoft does a lot of boneheaded things, so you kind of wonder if they got it right," he said.
So now there are two viable, established ecosystems and two that have gotten a second wind. Can the market support that many? Kay isn't sure. "Developers might say 'I'll look at a third one. Do I need to look at a four one'?" So you could argue either company could be the number 3 guy," he said.
One thing in BlackBerry's favor is that Android and iPhone are generalist phones, as is Windows Phone, but BlackBerry can offer a highly-specialized, secure phone for markets like finance, government and business, offering unique features like remote wipe, mail tracking and server-based remote management.
"BlackBerry could say they are a specialist while the others are generalists. I feel like either one of them might be a viable third provider, but I'm not sure there's room for both of them because how many suppliers do you need?" said Kay.
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