Microsoft Exec: People Are Choosing Windows Phones Over iPhone, Android Smartphones

"We are now officially the third [mobile] ecosystem," Tami Reller, Microsoft CFO and CMO of Windows, said in a keynote Monday at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, triggering a round of applause from a crowd of roughly 10,000.

Microsoft passed Blackberry for the No. 3 spot in global smartphone market shipments in the first quarter for the first time, by a margin of 3.2 percent to 2.9 percent, according to IDC figures released in May.

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Devices like Nokia's Lumia 925 and Lumia 928, which "have the finest camera technology on the market," are helping Windows Phone sales to grow six times faster than the rest of the smartphone industry right now, Reller said.

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Consumers and business users "are increasingly choosing our phones over iPhones and Android phones," Reller said, without citing data to back this up.

Windows Phone has been a long, tough slog for Microsoft, which launched it in 2010 and was so confident about its prospects at the time that it held a mock funeral for the iPhone. Despite some nice looking Windows Phone devices, market share gains have been slow.

Still, for the first time since its launch, Windows Phone has managed to overtake a smartphone rival, and that's something. Reller didn't waste an opportunity to get partners fired up about where Microsoft's mobile business is headed.

"With Windows Phone gaining this type of traction, ... it's time to build a mobile practice," Reller said.

Microsoft has been having trouble getting developers to build Windows Phone apps, so it's going to trumpet any market share gains it manages to get. But, catching up to Apple and Google is going to be a huge challenge.

Andrew Brust, CEO of Microsoft analyst firm Blue Badge Insights, New York, thinks Microsoft expected to be a lot better than a distant third in the smartphone market at this stage of the game.

But, he says it's clear that the industry -- and especially the carriers -- want a number three player, so Windows Phone being there provides a momentum of its own.

"The number of major brand apps that have come to the platform in just the last few months bears this out, and I think this phenomenon has the power to help Microsoft close the gap with Apple," Brust said.

For the three-month period from March to May, Android accounted for 52 percent of smartphone sales, compared to 41.9 percent for iOS and 4.6 percent for Windows Phone, according to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.