Risks to Gartner’s smartphone forecasts: will Microsoft beat Apple, Nokia execute, and Samsung fail?


Gartner has just released some very interesting forecasts for smartphone operating system sales until 2015, as below.

In an nutshell, they predict that in 2015 Android will take almost half the market, at 48.8%, and that Microsoft will overtake Apple, with 19.5% share compared to 17.2% for iOS. Nokia’s Symbian platform will fade to virtually nothing, while Research in Motion’s Blackberry will decline somewhat in market share to

The most interesting commentary I’ve seen so far on these predictions comes from Horace Dediu at Asymco, Kevin Tofel at GigaOM, and Larry Dignan at ZDNet.

To take just a few of the many things that could be said about these forecasts:

* Mobile market forecasts from Gartner and others have been wrong far more than they’ve been right. There are some heroic stated and unstated assumptions in these forecasts.

* One of the fundamental issues here is Nokia’s execution and evolving strategy. Gartner is suggesting that Symbian will entirely disappear as Nokia replaces it with Microsoft Phone 7. Certainly the intention is to transition as swiftly as feasible, however that path is fraught with uncertainty. Given the enormous presence of Symbian in many developing countries and consumer behaviors it would probably be a mistake to try to transition too quickly, and any hiccups with the Microsoft OS or Nokia’s execution could mean Symbian doesn’t die as swift a death as anticipated.

* Related to this are the risks to Gartner’s rosy forecasts for Microsoft Phone 7. Given not just the (lack of) success of previous Microsoft mobile initiatives, but also the actual versus forecast pace of development of Microsoft Phone 7, the chances of Microsoft stumbling here have to be considered to be high. Yes it is a solid, attractive platform, but iOS and Android, each for different reasons, are formidable competitors and predicting Microsoft will out-execute with a closed platform is questionable.

* Another striking aspect of the forecasts are that Apple’s iOS is expected to gradually lose market share, based on the expectation that Apple will prioritize margins over market share. That is highly questionable. Apple COO Tim Cook recently said that Apple products should not be “just for the rich” and they are “not ceding any market”. He also referrred to the iPhone as the “mother of all halos” in how it has driven sales of other Apple products, particularly in developing countries. Given this flow-on effect, Apple would be crazy to look at mobile margins in isolation. There have long been rumors that Apple will release a low-end smartphone. I will be very surprised if they don’t. It is an enormous market opportunity, not least given the power of Apple’s aspirational brand in developing markets. We are at the point in technology and supply chain development at which an iPhone-style product can be delivered at a low price point.

* Another interesting feature of the forecasts is that there is no mention of Samsung’s Bada platform, which ABI Research forecasts to win 10% market share by 2016, in their view beating Microsoft.

* As Horace Dediu points out, Gartner’s forecast for market share barely budges from 2012 to 2015 – all the shifts are expected to play out in the next year, which is rather unlikely. However this does make the 49.2% share for Android in 2012 rather bold.

* And finally, while the Android juggernaut is clearly steaming ahead with extraordinary momentum, it may be a little early to presume that it will steamroller everything else. Its increasing maturity and open source status support that, however problems with Android fragmentation and the possibility of great execution by one or more of its competitors could lead to a different outcome.

There is far more to say on this rich topic – what do you think will shape the smartphone OS landscape over the next few years?