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Remember those predictions that the Windows Phone operating system would overtake Apple's iOS in terms of smartphone shipments by 2015? Take a step back, Jack.
The latest forecast from researchers at Analysys Mason shows that Microsoft will only ship as many Windows Phones in 2017 as Apple winds up shipping iPhones in 2012. The positive news is that Windows Phone will become the fastest growing operating system over the next five years, the research firm said – but the road to catch the iPhone for second place is long, and first-place Android is only a speck in the distance.
Analysys Mason's new report, "Smartphone markets: worldwide trends, forecasts and strategies 2012–2017," says global Windows OS shipments will grow from 11 million units in 2011 to 136 million in 2017. The researcher's estimates are that Windows smartphones will account for 9 percent of market share in five years, compared to Apple's 23 percent and Android's 58 percent. The bright side for all of Android's competitors is that Google's OS will reach that 58 percent by the end of next year and remain stagnant for the four years after.
“Having a third significant OS player like Windows in the smartphone market would benefit mobile operators because it would reduce Apple’s and Google’s control over the market," explained Ronan de Renesse, author of the report and principal analyst for Analysys Mason's "Mobile Broadband and Devices" research program. “It would also encourage subscribers to move from one OS to another, as well as improve operators’ negotiating position in smartphone retail."
At this point, Nokia is the most prominent manufacturer of Windows-based smartphones, this fall unveiling a handful of Windows 8 devices, including the flagship – the Lumia 920. Debate has swirled in the last couple of weeks as to whether the devices are red-hot or if carriers are selling out simply due to limited supply. Research In Motion's BlackBerry 10 operating system, set to debut late next month, might pose the biggest threat to Microsoft for third place in the near term.
Overall, Analysys Mason's report says smartphone connections will grow nearly threefold in the next five years to reach 3.4 billion in 2017. Smartphone shipments will rise from 700 million in 2012 (approximately 41 percent share of total handset shipments) to 1.37 billion by the end of 2017 (70 percent share of total handset shipments).
Follow editor Craig Galbraith on Twitter @Craig_Galbraith .