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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.

Atwal was alluding to Microsoft's $7.4 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business, a deal that has cleared major regulatory hurdles and will probably finalize this quarter.

Windows' troubles have been traced to fierce competition from tablets and smartphones for consumers' dollars, a trend that resulted in smaller shipment numbers for traditional PCs in both 2012 and 2013 as people let their notebooks and desktops gather dust, upgrading -- if ever -- at a much slower pace than before the explosion of mobile devices.

But when consumers do replace an aging PC, they're twice as likely to pick another personal computer, albeit one lighter and more mobile, than a tablet, showing that the PC remains important to some.

"Those who are looking to replace a PC -- we call them 'engaged users' -- want something better than they already have, so they're much more likely to look at lighter, thinner, touch-enabled notebooks," said Atwal.

In 2013 Windows devices accounted for 14.3% of the 2.3 billion total; that share will rise slightly to 14.5% in 2014 and then to 16.1% in 2015. Meanwhile, rival Apple lagged behind, ending 2013 with a 11.6% share. It will narrow the gap in 2014 with an expected 13.9% share, then see it widen again in 2015 when its share reaches 15.2%.

Windows' and Apple's shares -- the latter a combination of both iOS and OS X, with iOS dominant -- will continue to be dwarfed by Google's Android, which will power 38% of all smart devices in 2013, 45% in 2014 and 48% in 2015.

But none of Gartner's numbers are guaranteed. Both it and rival IDC revised their projections several times during 2013 to reflect worsening conditions for traditional PCs -- and thus for Windows -- resulting in once-optimistic estimates being tossed aside.

The same might happen in 2014.

But one trend was clear to Gartner: "People want devices that are more mobile than what they have now," said Atwal.

graph of windows shipment
Shipments of Windows-powered devices -- personal computers, tablets and smartphones -- will continue to lead those that rely on Apple's iOS and OS X through 2015. (Data: Gartner.)


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