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Gartner gets bullish about Windows' future

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 8, 2014
PCs may be stuck in a slump, but phones and tablets will drive Windows growth by 29 percent between now and the end of 2015, research firm forecasts.

Gartner today said Windows will recover from its two-year slump, with total device shipments running the operating system climbing by nearly 10% in 2014 and almost 18% in 2015.

For 2013, Windows' share of the operating systems on all "smart devices" -- smartphones, tablets, PCs, ultra-light form factors, and PC-tablet hybrids -- dropped 5.3% compared to the year before, an additional percentage point from the 4.3% decline the research company predicted in October, and nearly three times the 2% pegged in June.

Gartner's figures for 2013 put the blame for Windows' weaker performance on the continued contraction of the traditional PC business -- desktops and notebooks -- as well as slower-than-expected shipments of "ultramobiles." That category includes hybrids and 2-in-1 designs -- devices that can convert from tablet into notebook, and back -- as well as ultra-light "clamshell"-style laptops.

For 2013, those device groups slumped by 10%, a larger drop than the 8% Gartner forecast a little more than three months ago.

This year will be flat for PCs and ultramobiles, said Gartner, with shipments of approximately 318 million units. The form factors will make a small recovery in 2015, climbing 5% to 332 million.

That figure, however, would still represent a 5% shortfall from 2012, when nearly 351 million such devices shipped.

"Users continue to move away from the traditional PC, it becomes more of a shared content-creation tool, while the greater flexibility of tablets, hybrids and lighter notebooks address users' increasingly different demands," said Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal in a statement.

Windows overall will do better, thanks to increasing sales of smartphones and tablets, especially the former. "The upside on mobile phone is so much bigger for Microsoft given the size of the market," Atwal said in a follow-up interview Tuesday. "Even though Microsoft's share of mobile phone will remain small, the volume [of that market] is very large. The tablet market, on the other hand, is still small in comparison."

For 2014, Gartner predicted Windows device shipments of 360 million, a 10% increase over 2013's total of 328 million. Atwal expects Windows to pick up even more momentum in 2015, when the operating system should ship on 423 million devices, up 18% over the year before (and up 29% from 2013's relatively dismal 328 million).

Microsoft will have a tougher time generating growth from tablets than from smartphones, Atwal said. For 2014, Gartner has pegged Windows' share of the tablet market at between 4% and 5%, or 11-12 million shipped by all OEMs, Microsoft included.

But while Gartner was bullish on Windows' future, at least on a shipped device level, Atwal isn't certain that translates into success. Or profits. "Whether that growth is enough to sustain their investment, I don't know," he said. "That's the question."


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