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Microsoft to Surpass Apple in Smartphone Wars? Not So Fast

Stocks in this article: MSFT AAPL GOOG RIMM NOK

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I have high hopes for Microsoft's (MSFT) forthcoming Windows 8 operating system. In fact, working in concert with Xbox SmartGlass, I truly believe it could be an Apple (AAPL) and Android killer.

That said, the bold prediction IDC released this week even made me pause. The well-respected research firm thinks Windows Phone will surpass Apple's iOS and become the number two smartphone operating system in the world by 2016 behind a somewhat stalled-out, but still dominant, Android.

If I was the biased Apple hater so many of the company's permabulls make me out to be, I would have taken the IDC report without a second thought and ran with it. But if nothing else, pat me on the back for being objective and digging deeper.

I've never been a fan of precise predictions. In my mind it's one thing to make the qualitative statement that Microsoft will challenge and maybe even put the hurt on Apple and Google (GOOG) with Windows 8, but it's a whole 'nother proposition to claim it will command X-point-X percent of the market come 2016. While I respect the power of quantitative models, I refuse to submit to them.

Too many variables come into play. So many things can and probably will change that I'm not sure I even see the sense in using perfectly good resources to make such predictions. But that's at least part of what IDC does. If it does it well, I guess it does not waste time, money and manpower to get it done. Maybe the smartphone projections the firm makes can actually be useful, if not prescient.

I decided to look to recent history to see how similar IDC projections, made by some of the same analysts, have held up.

In September 2010, IDC released a report a bit like the one that prompted the positive headlines for Microsoft. It produced a mix bag.

On one hand, IDC notes that Android and iOS "have taken away both mindshare and market share from the old regime" of Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry and Nokia's (NOK) Symbian OS. However, the firm went on to argue:

Symbian will maintain its number one standing throughout the forecast period with 32.9% share in 2014. However, it will lose share, primarily to Android, which is expected to grow its share fastest over the forecast period, rising from 16.3% to 24.6%. Meanwhile, Windows Mobile is expected to regain some of the share it has lost over the past two years and BlackBerry's share will remain relatively constant while that of iOS will decline gradually.

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