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BlackBerry's loss is Windows Phone's gain

In the race to be the No. 3 mobile ecosystem, Microsoft and its Windows Phone platform has won by default.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has some serious work ahead of him.
Windows Phone, whose growth has been driven by Nokia Lumia phones, has an opportunity ahead of it.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

The folks at Microsoft's Windows Phone unit may not publicly admit it, but they're likely jumping for joy today.

That's because Windows Phone's closest competitor, BlackBerry, has essentially throw in the towel. The company on Monday said it had agreed on a $4.7 billion deal that would take it private, while continuing its shift away from the consumer smartphone market.

"Today's news will speed up this move away from BlackBerry as no one will think they will get any support," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "Windows Phone is well positioned to take advantage of BlackBerry's weakness."

A representative for Windows Phone declined to comment.

Windows Phone and BlackBerry were both targeting the same thing: the No. 3 position in a world dominated by iPhones and Android smartphones. The seemingly modest goal has proven difficult, with both companies struggling for even miniscule gains in market share.

But in the recent months, things have turned in Windows Phone's favor. In the second quarter, Windows Phone saw its market share edge up to 3.7 percent from 3.1 percent a year ago, according to research firm IDC. BlackBerry's share sank to 2.9 percent from 4.9 percent a year ago.

The Z10 wasn't the most popular phone. CNET

Despite two dramatically different looking operating systems, both BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone shared common dilemmas: both offered a unique mobile experience, which has proven to be a hard sell with consumers; both lagged behind iOS and Android in their app markets; and both had a tough time marketing their products.

There are also similarities between the operating systems that may benefit Windows Phone. Both position themselves as the smartphone that appeals to both the business and consumer sides. BlackBerry's downfall may leave many consumers who want a more productive alternative to Android or iOS taking another look at Windows Phone, according to Ovum analyst Jan Dawson. The productivity gains of Microsoft Office and Peoples on Windows Phone could also be appealing to former BlackBerry users.

"Whether it merely shrinks into a niche or disappears entirely as a handset vendor, BlackBerry is going to leave consumers and developers looking for an alternative," Dawson said.

With BlackBerry out of the way, that frees up Windows Phone to take that No. 3 spot. If the carriers truly want an environment where multiple operating systems are thriving, they will have to do a better job at promoting Windows Phone.

BlackBerry, meanwhile, has essentially given up on the consumer smartphone market. It may end up as a niche brand, but its days as a major smartphone player are numbered.

Windows Phone, meanwhile, has at least one thriving supporter in Microsoft itself. The company's acquisition of the device and services business of Nokia -- already the top Windows Phone manufacturer by far -- ensures that quality Windows Phone devices will still be churned out. The company also continues to invest in engineering talent.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore at the company's Windows Phone developer summit in 2012.
Microsoft's Joe Belfiore at the company's Windows Phone developer summit in 2012. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

But BlackBerry clearing out doesn't ensure success for Windows Phone, only opportunity. While Windows Phone can point to successfully growing market share, its position is near irrelevant compared to the 79.3 percent market share that Android controls, or even the 13.2 percent made up of iOS.

Apple posted record sales of the two new iPhones, with 9 million sold in the first three days. There hasn't been any Windows Phone (or Android, for that matter) that elicits such a reaction.

And among those coveted business users, many of them are already using iOS or Android.

"Microsoft's challenge is still convincing buyers to look beyond No. 1 and 2," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis.

If Windows Phone doesn't keep its momentum going (or even accelerate it), the smartphone market risks moving toward a duopoly where seemingly everyone owns an iPhone or Galaxy smartphone.

That's not good for anyone. For the sake of the industry, Windows Phone needs to step up and take advantage of this opportunity.