Research firm IDC has released its latest estimates of current market share for major smartphone operating systems, and its forecast for what the business will look like in 2016. The new dataĖwhich says that Android and iOS will go into decline while BlackBerry flatlines and Windows Phone booms ó is getting lots of coverage, all of which treats it respectfully.
IDC makes its estimates on an ongoing basis; we always know its breakdown of current smartphone share and its forecast for four years from now. Judging from the past couple of years, the business is already changing in ways that IDC failed to anticipate. Its 2016 projections are sharply different from the ones it made in 2011 for 2015, which were a far cry from its 2010 projections for 2014. All of which leaves me deeply skeptical about the whole exercise.
To get a clearer sense of how IDCís smartphone projections have shifted, I cobbled together an infographic showing the companyís stated market-share percentages for 2010, 2011 and 2012, and its projected percentages for 2014 (made in 2010), 2015 (made in 2011) and 2016 (made in 2012). Hereís what I came up with:
The most striking change involves Symbian:
- In 2010, IDC said that Symbian had 40.1 percent of the market, and would gracefully degrade to 32.9 percent in 2014.
- In 2011, it said that Symbian had 20.9 percent of the market, and would crater to .2 percent in 2015.
- In 2012, it didnít bother to break out Symbian at all.
Thatís the thing about smartphones: Startling, game-changing developments happen all the time. If you canít assume that you even know what the big picture will look like a few years hence, you surely canít predict market share down to the decimal point.
Thereís no instance in which IDCís assessment of the present and future of a particular platform has been consistent between 2010 and 2012:
- In 2010 and 2011, it thought Android would grow, but underestimated how rapid the clip would be. Now itís forecasting that Andr0id has peaked.
- IDC keeps expecting iOS to start to declineĖbut instead, itís still growing.
- It seems to assume slow erosion for BlackBerry OS, but its actual numbers show rapid shrinkage.
- It believes that Windows Phone will boom over the next few years even though its actual numbers donít show it happening yet.
Oddly enough, IDCís press release on its new forecast includes a quote from an analyst who does a good job of explaining why itís so tough to have a sense of where the market is going:
Thatís right. We donít know a thing about what any of these operating systems will be like in a few years. Without that knowledge, itís impossible to have an informed opinion about how theyíll fare.
If a political pundit informed you that the Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo would take the White House in 2016, beating the Republican duo of Chris Christie and Marco Rubio by 56.9 percent to 43.1 percent, youíd point out that we donít even know which party will win the 2012 election. Youíd probably mention that politiciansí stock can fluctuate quickly and wildly for completely unforeseen reasons. You might even say that itís plausible that the person whoíll be elected president in 2016 isnít even on anyoneís radar screen at the moment.
One thing you wouldnít do is take such a prognostication seriously, no matter what the methodology was. Nor should we act like IDC, or anyone else, can accurately predict the future of smartphones.