The epic unpopularity of Windows smartphones

Pop quiz: Can you name every smartphone platform that's more popular than Windows Phone 7? Go on. We dare you.

Let's start with the easy ones. The iPhone and Android could restrict sales to three hours a day and still beat Microsoft's mobile platform with ease. Apple's year-old iPhone 4 outsells all Windows phones combined many times over. Even the supposedly failing Symbian and BlackBerry have market shares Steve Ballmer would jump up and down for.

And now we're done, right? Those are all the smartphones platforms more popular than Windows.

Not so fast.

It turns out the epic unpopularity of Windows phones knows no bounds, and Microsoft's mobile operating system is now less popular than one of Samsung's side projects.

CHALLENGED: To top iPhone sales, Microsoft must aim low

When Samsung isn't busy outselling all Windows phones combined with a single Android device, it has its engineers working on a project called Bada, which is used on Samsung's Wave phones that hit the market a year ago.

Bada phones, which are sold mostly outside North America in emerging markets and the Asia-Pacific region, sold 577,000 units in the second quarter of 2010, a fraction of the 3 million smartphones Microsoft sold in the same three-month period.

Yet just a year later, Samsung's Bada phones hit sales of 2 million in the second quarter of 2011, while Microsoft dropped to 1.7 million in the same time frame, according to data released Thursday by Gartner. These numbers count sales to end users worldwide, so are a better measure of popularity than market share figures that count shipments from factories to stores.

The Bada phone sales are just a fraction of Samsung's overall total of 69.8 million devices sold in the second quarter of 2011, which makes Samsung the second most successful manufacturer in units sold after Nokia, which sold 97.9 million. Yet the tiny sales of Bada are greater than sales of all Microsoft phones combined.

Dropping behind Bada has to be considered a blow to Microsoft, which paired last fall's Windows Phone 7 launch with a huge marketing campaign designed to reverse the company's falling market share. Instead, Microsoft fell even further.

Microsoft's 1.7 million quarterly phone sales compare to 46.8 million for Android, 23.9 million for Nokia's Symbian, 19.6 million for the iPhone and 12.7 million for BlackBerry. You could debate whether Bada should be counted as a smartphone, rather than a feature phone, but Gartner counts it in the smartphone category.

The only major platform Microsoft is outselling is apparently HP's WebOS, which doesn't even show up in the rankings because it sold so poorly. WebOS is wrapped up with other smartphones in the "others" category, which logged quarterly sales of 1 million, down from 2 million from the year-ago quarter.

Nokia, despite the fact that its Symbian smartphone OS is roughly 14 times more popular than Windows mobile, is in the process of ditching Symbian and betting its future on a partnership with Microsoft.

Gartner and IDC have both predicted that Windows market share will top the iPhone and trail only Android by 2015, presumably because Symbian sales will be replaced by Windows Phone 7 sales.

But Gartner's own numbers show Windows heading in the wrong direction, and Nokia's first Windows Phone 7 devices aren't even on the market yet. We argued in April that Microsoft could top the iPhone in market share by positioning Windows Phone 7 devices as cheap, or even free, high-end feature phones. But for now, Microsoft's mobile presence is anemic. And that's without even mentioning Microsoft's failure in the tablet market.

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Jon Brodkin

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