May 16, 2013 at 2:57 PM ET
Windows Phone has at last usurped BlackBerry's long-held No. 3 spot in smartphone sales — and prepaid smartphone plans are starting to eat up the lead that contract plans have had for years.
Some things haven't changed: Android is still No. 1, commanding a full 75 percent of smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2013, according to numbers from tracking firm IDC. More than 160 million handsets were sold in those three months alone, confirming statistics quoted Wednesday on stage by Google reps at the Google I/O developers conference.
Apple's iPhone retains its comfy position behind Android, with strong sales (about 37 million handsets) but no big moves.
It's Windows Phone that made the biggest jump over the last year, proportionally to its market share at least. Since early 2012, it has fully doubled its share of smartphones — largely due, says IDC, to Microsoft's partnership with Nokia. That growth propelled Windows Phone over the shoulders of the beleaguered BlackBerry, which despite selling a million of the well-received Z10, couldn't overcome the fact that millions more are leaving for other platforms.
The wild card in all this, as reported by the NPD Group, is prepaid versus contract plans. Once a minor outlet for cheap phones and limited service, prepaid plans for smartphones are now growing at a fast clip, perhaps partially due to T-Mobile putting the weight of its entire organization behind them. Whatever the case, prepaid smartphones are growing fast: In early 2012, they were less than a quarter of all smartphone sales; now, they make up a third.
Since the prepaid market, with its focus on low cost and flexibility, is so different from the contracts smartphone users have tolerated for years, its growing popularity could lead to more changes in the mobile market at large.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.