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Study: Windows Phone to rival iPhone in coming years

By 2017, Microsoft is expected to almost catch up with Apple in terms of worldwide smartphone shipments, according to new data from Canalys.

Google's Android operating system will continue to rule the market in the years to come, with 67.1 per cent of smartphone shipments by 2017, barely a drop from last year's 67.7 per cent. But the Cupertino and Redmond firms will battle it out for second place, with Apple landing at 14.1 per cent and Microsoft nabbing 12.7 per cent in the next four years, according to Canalys. Microsoft's Windows Phones made up 2.4 per cent of global smartphone shipments last year, whereas Apple had 19.5 per cent.

"Apple's growth will be curtailed by the fact that momentum in the smartphone market is coming from the low end, and Apple is absent from this segment," Canalys analyst Jessica Kwee said in a statement. "Android's continued dominance is due to the scalability of the platform."

BlackBerry, meanwhile, is also likely to decline, but only slightly — dropping from 4.8 per cent last year to 4.6 per cent in 2017. In fact, Microsoft is the only mobile OS maker expected to gain some footing in the race.

"The scalability of Microsoft's platform will be critical to its success and it has made progress here by enabling Huawei and Nokia to deliver Windows Phone products at aggressive price points," Kwee said. "[Nokia] has had some major carrier wins recently in the two largest markets of China and the US, which will help it build momentum in the short term."

In the US, Android had 51.7 per cent of the smartphone market in the three months ending April 2013, followed by iOS with 41.4 per cent and Windows Phone with 5.6 per cent, according to stats released this week by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

In the long run, though, Chinese vendors are best placed to help Microsoft challenge Samsung's handset market dominance. Redmond needs partners like Huawei, ZTE, and Lenovo to help deliver at the scale necessarily.

Chris Jones, a Canalys principal analyst, explained that the price of smartphones has been falling dramatically, thus helping to increase penetration in the market. "But, so far, the problem with low-cost smartphones has been that the user experience has been compromised to hit lower price points," he said.

One success story is Nokia's Windows Phone-based Asha lineup — Jones said that the handsets have been purpose-built and provide a "pseudo-smartphone" experience. But it won't be long before other phone makers are taking the same approach, Jones said.

As component prices fall, vendors will be able to product better smartphone experiences at lower prices, "which means that in many markets, feature phones will become extinct," the analyst said.

It was just recently that smartphones finally outsold feature phones for the first time, in what IDC called a "seasonally slow" first quarter — 418.6 million mobile phones were shipped in Q1 2013, including 216.2 million smartphones, which is more than half of the total market.