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Windows Phone is slowly becoming a contender in the smartphone operating-system race after posting an 8.2 percent market share, its best showing ever, in the five major European markets (U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain) during a three-month span ending in July.
"Android and Apple take the lion's share of the headlines and continue to dominate smartphone sales, so it's easy to forget that there is a third operating system emerging as a real adversary," said Dominic Sunnebo, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. "Windows Phone, driven largely by lower priced Nokia smartphones such as the Lumia 520, now represents around one in 10 smartphone sales in Britain, France, Germany and Mexico. For the first time the platform has claimed the No. 2 spot in a major world market, taking 11.6 percent of sales in Mexico."
Windows Phone's growth doesn't rely on stealing Apple or Android customers, researchers at Kantar reported. Only 27 percent of Apple and Android users change their operating systems when they replace their devices. Sunnebo says that the success of Windows Phone has been through first-time smartphone buyers, which made up 42 percent of sales in the past year. This proportion for the first-time smartphone-buying demographic is higher than Apple or Android.
Feature-phone users still make up more than half of all mobile users and Sunnebo considers this to be the new battleground in the coming year. Adding Windows Phone into the mix with older versions of the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models is sure to make for some competition in wooing first-time smartphone owners, particularly in emerging markets.
"The brands that win in this segment will be those that understand and address the needs of consumers in terms of price, content and quality," Sunnebo said.
While Apple and Android continue to lead smartphone sales, patterns are emerging in certain regions. Android is stronger in the major European markets and China, where the operating system accounted for about 70 percent of smartphone sales in the past quarter. Meanwhile, Apple is still performing well in the United States, where it claims more than 43 percent of sales. Apple continues to show steady annual growth in Britain, France and Mexico.
BlackBerry, which was once a top operating system, only accounts for 2.4 percent of sales in the big five European markets and just 1.2 percent in the United States.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's devices unit impacts the future of Windows phones.