Windows Phone turned a corner and is now in third place. Now what?

nNokia Lumia phones, spread out like a fan

You’d be right to take Paul Thurrott’s latest pronouncement that Windows Phone turned the corner in 2013 with a grain of salt. He’s always been willfully, blindly enthusiastic about all things Microsoft-related, and even when it was my job to evangelize Microsoft technologies, I went out of my way not to refer to any of his pieces because he was just embarrassing. After all, he’s the guy who said this just before the release of the iPhone 3G:

There is talk of an iPhone-like Internet Tablet or the long-rumored Mac Tablet, but I think Microsoft’s failure in this category should be a warning sign: What, exactly, is the market for such a toy? There is none.

He also said this in his “first impressions” review of the iPad, which has since been deleted. Luckily for us, and thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, it’s been preserved for posterity:

Anyone who believes this thing is a game changer is a tool.

All that being said, he is right about one thing: Windows Phone has turned the corner. It’s just that Thurrott is talking about a bright future; I’m talking about a platform whose chances went from slim to…well, a little better than slim.

In the brutal, tooth-and-nail fight against BlackBerry for a distant third place in the mobile OS market, Windows Phone won. Winning by counting on your competitor having a massive aneurysm in the middle of the game isn’t the most practical option, but at this point, Microsoft should take any victory it can get.

With analysts like Gartner telling enterprises to ditch BlackBerry and mobile tech consultants looking to make a pretty penny on migrations from BlackBerry to other, more viable mobile platforms, Windows Phone is positioned to move out of fourth place, which is certain death in a market that barely has the capacity to deal with three big players.

If you filter through the fanboyism and hyperbole in Thurrott’s article (“the overall trend is positive for Microsoft and negative for Apple”), you can glean some useful information suggesting that Windows Phone could eke out a reasonable existence as a third-place player:

Microsoft’s goal for 2014 should be to secure Windows Phone’s third-place position and getting as close as possible to a double-digit share of the smartphone platform market. They’ve got a shot at this, with Nokia’s well-designed phones (which have amazing cameras), some pretty cleaver features in the design of the Windows Phone OS, and if they can convince more developers to build for their platform (which does have some really nice development tools). It won’t be the rosy picture that Thurrott paints, but it will be survival.