Windows Phone Takes Third, but There's More to the Story

I'm sure most of you have read the article about IDC reporting Windows Phone claimed third place over Blackberry.

While some may consider it a "hollow victory" in light of Blackberry's recent struggles and some may claim 3.2% is 10 times smaller than Samsung's Android sales alone, there are more signs that Windows Phone is finally gaining traction.

UPDATE: TL;DR added

I realize a ~1000 word post may be a lot to digest, so scroll down to the bottom for the TL;DR. Maybe some of the pretty pictures in between here and there will get you to read some of it.

Nokia Lumia Sales

Nokia just reported sales of 5.6 million devices for their Lumia range. That's an increase of 27% from the same quarter last year. More importantly, they are estimating another 27% increase for the upcoming quarter, which would put Lumia sales at ~8 million. That's more phones by Nokia alone than all Windows Phones sold the past quarter (according to IDC).

If we assume that Nokia retains ~80% of all Windows Phone sales, that would push total Windows Phone volume to around 10 million devices.

More importantly, that would drive the ratio of WP:iPhone down from the 10:1 it was in Q2 2011 to something around 4:1. Not "world dominance" by any means, but quite a gain.

Flagships on All Carriers

Since the launch of Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has only carried flagship status on one U.S. carrier. Yes, you could get the HTC 8X, Lumia 822 & ATIV Odyssey (yeah, there IS a Samsung available, not that anyone would know) on Verizon and the 810 on T-Mobile, but the only flagship "push" was realistically for AT&T's Lumia 920.

But the-times-they-are-a-changing. The 928 brings a true high-end device to Verizon (not to disparage the 8X, but the lack of marketing makes it seem like an afterthought), and the 925 is finally a luxury Windows Phone experience for T-Mobile customers. T-Mo also has the budget-Android-busting Lumia 521 for the "un-carrier" crowd.

Now if Sprint's summer lineup of Windows Phones include an ATIV S variant as rumored, along with their HTC offering, there will be a high-end WP8 device on every major U.S. carrier for the first time in Windows Phone's short history and that can do nothing but help the platform grow.

Explosive growth on VZW

There was a recent Kantar Worldpanel report showing Windows Phone accounting for 5.6% (+1.9%YoY) of U.S. smartphone sales for the first quarter of 2013. Looking at the data, it's easy to spot where a good deal of that growth came from.

While Windows Phone grew from 4.7% to 5.3% on AT&T, Verizon saw it go from a paltry .02% of their sales to a respectable 5.1% since the release of WP8 devices.

I have heard from VZW employees that the higher-ups at the company want WP to succeed as they provide much higher profit margins than the highly-subsidized iPhone. With a true flagship in the form of the Lumia 928, that percentage is all but sure to grow.

Around the World

Kantar Worldpanel's most recent smartphone report mostly focuses on Android and Apple's domination of most of the EU, but looking deeper, Windows Phone has made gains in every market sans two. Germany & Spain.

In fact, Windows Phone and Android were the only two mobile OSes with percentage gains as opposed to the previous year's corresponding quarter. While Android did pick up the lion's share of the other platforms' losses, WP did manage to capture 2.5% more of the pie for growth of 58% Year-on-Year.

Why it's Important

Just like everything in marketing, there is a proven metric for product success. In this case we're talking about the law of diffusion of innovation. Simply stated it means product adoption must pass through certain segments of the population before gaining mass acceptance.

Basically consumers fall in to one of five categoties:

Innovators (first 2.5%): These are the people that need to try new things first. They are the ones that waited in line 9 hours for the first iPhone and spent $20K on Plasma TVs. Now they're the ones getting in early on crow-sourced funding like Kick Starter (which I believe is accelerating the pace of the diffusion of innovation model, but that's another conversation entirely).

Early Adopters (next 13.5%): This is the most important segment for the simple reason that the next two groups, which is the vast majority of the population, will not try a product until these folks do. Once a product reaches that magic number of between 15%-18% market penetration the process feeds-back on itself and mass adoption is very likely.

Early Majority (next 34%) & Late Majority (next 34%): This is the vast majority of consumers. They will only try out a product after the Early Adopters have given it a go.

Laggards (final 16%): This group cares little for new or innovative products and therefore only upgrade as a last resort. As marketing guru Simon Sinek so eloquently put it: "The only reason these people buy touch-tone phones is you can't buy rotary phones anymore."

The rise of Android OS is almost a perfect example of the law of diffusion of innovation.

Notice the steep rise in the adoption trend right around the time Android hits 15% and just after 18%. It gained more share in the following 3-4 months than it did the previous 12.

With Kantar seeing Windows Phone accounting for 5.5% of smartphone sales in the U.S. this quarter, 6.5% in the five largest EU markets and IDC finding WP at 3.2% overall market share, Windows Phone is finally out of the "Innovator" segment it was trapped in for two years.

Where Microsoft has an advantage over the other competitors here (especially those fighting for the number three spot like BB, Firefox, Ubuntu, etc.) is their unlimited amounts of money and time. Just like with the Xbox, Microsoft can wait and lose money (invest, if you will), as long as it takes to hit that magic 15%.

Based on the current trends and the new channels of availability mentioned above, I estimate Windows Phone's quarterly sales could account for between 10%-15% of devices sold and overall market share in the 7%-8% range by Q1 of next year. And if MS is lucky (possible) and smart (probably less possible), they could be tickling the Early Majority after the holiday push.

TL;DR

There a lot of signs pointing to Windows Phone finally starting to "stick"

  • Nokia Lumia sales up 27% to 5.6 million in Q1 and projected to increase another 27% in Q2 to ~8 million. Nokia now has very solid offerings in both the premium and budget smartphone segments.
  • High-end Windows Phones now on or coming to all major U.S. Carriers this summer
  • Explosive growth on Verizon without a true flagship. Year on Year quarterly sales went from 0.2% of sales to 5.1% and they now have the Lumia 928.
  • Windows Phones accounted for 6.5% of smartphone sales in the five biggest EU markets in Q1 (up from 4.1%). Only Windows Phone and Android sales grew Year on Year.
  • The law of difussion of innovation suggests once Windows Phone hits ~15% of quarterly sales and then 15% of total market penetration, it will gain mass acceptence.