The Future of Phones: Forever Unknowable

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In a release exuberantly titled “Lumia 900 Introduction to Trigger Smartphone Renaissance for Nokia and Microsoft,” IHS iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam has some predictions about where the phone market is going between now and 2015:

Largely based on Nokia’s strong support, Windows Phone is set to regain the No. 2 rank in the smartphone operating system in 2015. Finnish-based Nokia in 2009 lost its second-place worldwide ranking because of rising competition from Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS.

In 2015, however, Windows Phone will account for 16.7 percent of the smartphones shipped, up from less than 2 percent in 2011, according to the IHS iSuppli Mobile & Wireless Communications Service at information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS). This will allow Windows Phone to slightly surpass Apple’s iOS to retake the market’s second rank behind Android, as presented in the table below.


That’s awfully confident-sounding. Windows Phone is “set” to become #2 by 2015 and “will” have market share of 16.7 percent and “will” overtake iOS. And hey, it’s an analyst who knows his stuff doing the talking, so the rest of us should pay attention.

(MORE: How Nokia’s Lumia 900 Windows Phone Won CES Before It Even Started)

But as Todd Bishop of GeekWire points out, iSuppli also released smartphone projections in 2009. Back then, it thought that the operating system then known as Windows Mobile would hit the #2 position by 2013, not 2015. And the #1 operating system in 2013? Why, that was, um, set to be Symbian. An operating system which is already so moribund in early 2012 that iSuppli no longer bothers to break it out into its own line.

A reasonable and well-informed person might express opinions about the long-term prospects for various mobile operating systems. Expecting Nokia’s commitment to Windows Phone to result in a substantial spike in sales isn’t the least bit nutty. But making market-share forecasts for 2015 – down to the decimal point! – and discussing them as if they were factual is goofy at best and disingenuous at worst.

The only prediction I feel safe making about smartphones in 2015 is that it will be startling if nothing disruptive has happened in the category by then… and once a category gets disrupted, all bets are off. (Strangely enough, this 2006 story about phone market share in 2010 doesn’t mention the iPhone or Android.)

Really, making forecasts about mobile devices for 2015 is a little like predicting the results of the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary today. And nobody is silly enough to do that.

I wrote about all this last year when IDC released its 2015 forecast, which also had Windows Phone shooting up to the #2 slot. I came back to the topic when Gartner published a tablet forecast. (Since Gartner’s numbers came out, HP canceled its WebOS hardware and Intel discontinued development of Meego, rendering the Gartner forecast for 2015 obsolete four years ahead of time.) I’ll probably write about it again.

Here’s a smartphone-related something I’d like to see happen by 2015: Wouldn’t the quality of discussion about the mobile market improve meaningfully if research companies stopped making these forecasts – or at least if the rest of us stopped taking them seriously?

(MORE: The Coolest Smartphones at the Consumer Electronics Show)

This article originally appeared on Technologizer…