CNET caught my attention today with this piece documenting how Microsoft’s Windows Phone is vying to become the third-most popular smartphone operating system in Europe, challenging BlackBerry. The post is based on data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, which predicts that Windows Phone will displace RIM’s platform in Europe behind Android and iOS by the end of the year.
That may not be all that surprising — IDC raised plenty of eyebrows earlier this year when it predicted Windows Phone will become the No. 2 mobile OS worldwide in a forecast that looks more ridiculous by the day. But Kantar’s data isn’t as rosy as Microsoft might hope: It seems much of Windows Phone’s traction in Europe comes at the low end of the market, which is where RIM has continued to gain ground even as its high-end devices fail to attract much attention in the U.S. and Western Europe.
So while overall sales growth is obviously a good thing for Microsoft, the company faces a real risk here that European consumers might view Windows Phone as a second-rate platform. Low- and mid-range smartphones will see plenty of growth over the next few years, which is why BlackBerry, Samsung’s bada and some Android manufacturers are pursuing those markets so aggressively. But Microsoft maintains a top-notch platform in Windows Phone, and it has a huge opportunity to target mid- to high-end consumers who use Windows on their PCs every day. So the company will have to fight hard to avoid being seen as a cheaper — and inferior — alternative to the best handsets on the market.