Preston Gralla

Windows Phone surges to 9% share in U.K. and France, cements third place in U.S.

July 29, 2013 10:39 AM EDT

Windows Phone is for real -- the latest sales figures show it up to nearly 9% market share in the U.K. and France, and solidly in third place in the U.S. It's not going to overtake Android or iOS any time soon, but it's now clear that the OS is a real contender.

Kantar Worldpanel ComTech's most recent survey finds that for the three months to June 2013, Windows Phone had an 8.6% market share in the U.K. and a 9% market share in France. In the U.K. Windows Phone had a 4.5% market share a year previous, and in France a 2.3% market share a year ago. Elsewhere in Europe, the news isn't quite as good, with Windows Phone getting a 5.9% market share in Germany compared to 6.1% a year ago, a 7.8% market share in Italy compared to 8.3% a year ago, and a 1.4% market share in Spain compared to 2.2% a year ago.

Still, this was a solid showing for Windows Phone. The report notes that "Windows Phone continues to consolidate its position as the third OS globally." Dominic Sunnebo, global strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech said that much of Windows Phone's gains are coming from budget models, not high-end attention grabbers:

"While flagship Windows handsets such as the Nokia 925 and HTC 8X grab the headlines, it is the low and mid-range models, such as the Nokia Lumia 520 and 620, which are quietly driving its momentum. It is vital for Windows to be seen as a mainstream alternative to Android and iOS rather than a niche platform. Selling large volumes of lower end smartphones is a good way of getting Windows seen in the hands of potential customers' friends and family, convincing them there isn't a risk in choosing the operating system. The majority of people are trend followers, not trend setters, so Windows needs to get as many smartphones to market as quickly as possible."

This is much in line with Kantar Worldpanel ComTech's previous findings, especially in the U.S., where it finds that Windows Phone buyers are often the budget-conscious who are buying smartphones for the first time. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech analyst Mary-Ann Parlato said recently:

"Windows strength appears to be the ability to attract first time smartphone buyers, upgrading from a featurephone. Of those who changed their phone over the last year to a Windows smartphone, 52% had previously owned a featurephone...with over half of the US market still owning a featurephone, it's likely that many will upgrade over the coming year, which will ultimately contribute to more growth for the Windows brand."

In a separate report, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech found that Windows Phone had 4% market share in the U.S. for the three months to June 2013. That's both good news and bad news. It's good news because Windows Phone is now solidly ensconced as the number three smartphone OS in the U.S., with BlackBerry having only a 1.1% market share. A year ago, Windows Phone had a 2.9% market share, and BlackBerry a 4% market share.

However, Windows Phone market share in the U.S. dipped from the previous month's market share, from 4.6% to 4%. The European and U.S. numbers generally track Nokia's most recent earnings report, which found its Lumia line of Windows Phones is booming -- an all-time high of 7.4 million, above the 5.6 million it sold in first quarter of the year, and the 4.4 million it sold a year ago. But that report also found only 500,000 in Lumia sales in the U.S. for the quarter.

You can't read too much into a single month's report, but the trend is clear: Windows Phone is here to stay, and will likely make steady headway worldwide against iOS and Android. It's closing in on 10% market share in key European markets, and has cemented the number three spot in the U.S. And it's doing that not with the so-called top-of-the-line "hero" phones with the highest-resolution cameras, most powerful processors, and largest screens, but instead with more affordable devices.

There's a lesson in here for Microsoft and the tablet market, where it still hasn't gained traction. Rather than focus on high-cost tablets like the Surface and Surface Pro, it might be better off targeting budget-minded consumers. It's working in phones. It may well work with tablets as well.