thorny_windows

The smartphone industry is going to continue growing, and that means there’s still hope for Windows Phone, according to the IDC research firm’s latest smartphone report. The report states that, “in 2014, [Windows Phone] volumes are expected to grow 29.5% over 2013, reaching 43.3 million shipments.” Microsoft’s also-ran operating system might finally get the attention it’s so desired — all Microsoft has to do is keep making Windows Phone devices the same way that Nokia, its former partner, did.

Windows Phone devices have largely failed to capture the attention of high-end smartphone buyers. Its recent growth is attributable to Nokia’s low-end smartphones, many of which are popular in emerging markets for their affordable prices. As I wrote in an article arguing that Nokia’s future would be found in those products, Nokia was a low-end smartphone maker that happened to make some damned good high-end products, wowing critics and Microsoft alike, even though they never became very popular.

Both the IDC and Gigaom’s Kevin C. Tofel believe that these low-end products will eventually become popular enough for Microsoft to release high-end devices that will fare better than their predecessors. As Tofel writes in his blog post about Windows Phone’s potential growth:

It’s good news for Microsoft that IDC foresees a market share increase from 3.5 percent currently to 6.4 percent in 2018. But I think it’s even better news that Microsoft can produce low-cost handsets that are very capable and appealing for the budget market — so much so that IDC might be underestimating just how much share Windows Phone can pick up in this segment. And if the company can exceed sales expectations, it could even help with its higher-priced phones as hardware partners and developers decide to put more support behind the platform.

Windows Phone has been waiting for that hardware support for years, and the popularity of Nokia’s low-end devices didn’t do anything to improve the situation. (When the most notable application release in recent memory is a beta version of Path’s app, a platform has problems.) There’s nothing wrong with Windows Phone itself — it’s a compelling operating system whose designers recognized the shift towards “flat” interfaces long before those at Apple or Google. But it doesn’t have the right applications, and for high-end smartphone buyers, that matters.

There’s still a chance that the IDC and Tofel are right about Windows Phone’s prospects. But when the platform’s inability to attract enough customers and developers causes a centuries-old company to leave an industry it led for decades before tying the anchor commonly known as Microsoft around its neck, it’s hard to envision a bright future for the operating system.

[Image in reference to Wired]