Does Microsoft Have a Chance With Windows Phone?

A leading analyst firm says that smartphone sales will jump by almost 50 percent this year, but at least one of the top contenders may come as a surprise to many -- Microsoft.

In its Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, released Tuesday, IDC said that 2010 was a banner year for smartphone vendors, who sold some 303 million devices.

Indeed, that number is predicted to surge to more than 450 million smartphone sales in 2011, the report by IDC senior research analyst Kevin Restivo said.

It may not surprise a lot of observers that the current market leader for smartphone operating system is Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android with 39.5 percent share. IDC also has Android pegged as the leader in 2015 with a projected share of 45.4 percent.

However, as much as Nokia's deal with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to ship Windows Phone 7 on its smartphones may seem like a desperate gamble, IDC sees it as a combination that's likely to put Windows Phone solidly into second place in 2015.

The tracker predicts that Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, which is currently running dead last among smartphone OSes with only a 5.5 percent share this year, will likely achieve a 20.9 percent market share in 2015.

Meanwhile, Nokia's Symbian operating system share, which the Finnish phone maker is sunsetting in order to build smartphones running Windows Phone instead, will shrink from 20.9 percent today to 0.02 percent in 2015.

"We expect Windows Phone to gain some of the share that Symbian will lose," Restivo told InternetNews.com. However, the partnership definitely has some muscle.

After all, Nokia remains the largest smartphone maker, even as Symbian fades.

"Nokia is still the biggest handset maker and the biggest smartphone maker in the world," Restivo said.

Meanwhile, Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS and Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry appear to be primed to hold fairly steady compared to Android or Windows Phone.

For instance, the tracker predicts that iOS will go from 15.7 percent in 2011 to 15.3 percent in 2015, while BlackBerry will go from 14.9 percent this year to 13.7 percent in 2015.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.