Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said Monday that while he knows Windows Phone has a small segment of the market now, he expects that it will “ramp quickly” and emerge as a viable competitor for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android systems.

According to a report from Reuters, Ballmer made his comments at a Windows Phone 8 launch event in Israel, saying that the company’s smartphone partners will help Microsoft become a “strong third participant in the smartphone market.”

Apple and Google tightened their hold on the smartphone market in the past quarter, with Android on around 75 percent of all smartphones in the third quarter, IDC reported last week.

Apple’s iOS system, meanwhile, held 14.9 percent of the market followed by Research in Motion’s BlackBerry with 4.3 percent. Windows Phone had only 2 percent of the market in the past quarter.

BlackBerry and Microsoft are both making a big effort to take on the Apple-Google duopoly in the smartphone market and become the viable third alternative.

Research in Motion chief executive Thorsten Heins has said that BlackBerry 10 has a “clear shot” at being the third-place platform when it kicks off early next year — particularly if the company can build off its customer base outside of North America.

But it will face stiff competition from Microsoft, which is working to tie its phone operating system closely to its tablet and PC versions of Windows and is aggressively marketing phones from partners such as Nokia, Samsung and HTC headed into the holiday season. Microsoft stands a good chance, too, of making waves in the enterprise market where RIM has had a strong hold for years. But the lure of being able to access and edit Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other Windows programs made to run on a smartphone may prove very strong for businesses.