In the smartphone operating system market, it's safe to say the industry is a true duopoly. Surveys vary slightly, but most report that the combined OS market share of Google's Android and Apple's iOS is above 95%. IDC recently reported the first-quarter combined market share at 96.3%, and Kantar WorldPanel found a combined market share of 90%+ in all surveyed countries in North America, Asia, and Australia.
If there's any positive news to be gleaned for a third-party OS vendor, it's the fact that Windows Phone has a small but growing following in the European markets. According to Kantar, the company reported its market share grew from 8% in the three-month period ended in May 2014 to 9.5% in this year's corresponding period. And while that pales in comparison to the aforementioned mobile OS operators, it's still a positive sign.
For Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), however, further growth will most likely require a game-changing event. Whether that comes from a software breakthrough, hardware supremacy, or a really cool feature, it needs to occur to change Microsoft's fortunes. And if rumors are correct, Microsoft may have just the right cool feature to bolster its mobile phone position.
Fingerprints are so two years ago
With the iPhone 5s in 2013, Apple brought a game-changing feature to its then-current line: Touch ID. The fingerprint sensor had been done before, but not on the scale and with the accuracy of the one Apple brought to market. For most new users, fingerprints replaced passcodes as a way to protect their phone. Later, Touch ID replaced many in-app passwords and App store logins, and was used by Apple's new payment system, dubbed Apple Pay.
But fingerprints are so two years ago. According to website Windows Central, and building upon earlier reports about Windows Hello -- the company's Windows 10 biometric authentication system -- the company plans to include an iris scanner to unlock the future Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL models, codenamed Talkman and Cityman.
It's not as if other vendors haven't attempted to move in this space, although most focus on full facial-recognition technology. Android offered Face Lock on its phones, which allowed users to unlock their phones with a selfie, but the technology never quite caught on. Vendors Apple and Amazon have incorporated some sort of facial-recognition/detection technology, but nothing as comprehensive on the security front as it appears Microsoft is attempting.
Apparently, Microsoft isn't predicting smartphone success
A word of caution here: It doesn't appear that even Microsoft itself is predicting a huge success from its upcoming unit. After paying $9 billion for Nokia's handset business, the company recently wrote down $7.5 billion of that purchase in the recently reported fourth-quarter earnings.
Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) require estimates of future performance in order to write down an acquisition, and those estimates had to be decidedly more negative than the ones under former CEO Steve Ballmer in order to do so. So while the newest rumored feature seems like an extremely cool differentiating feature, I'm not quite sure this will reverse the OS's trajectory -- but it's good to see the company is still attempting to innovate and compete.