A View from Christopher Mims
Windows Will Be the Minority Platform by 2013, Says Analyst
If Microsoft can’t build market share in tablets, it could be the end of 30 years of Redmond’s dominance.
Here is a crazy thing that analyst Horace Dediu of Asymco said that is probably not true, but raises some important points anyway:
If Windows remains marginal on tablets, the “PC market” will likely tip away from Microsoft in two years (depending on how quickly Apple can build iPads.)
Eight-four percent of all “PCs” currently being shipped are Windows PCs. This is being generous to Apple and saying tablets are PCs, too, which Microsoft itself insists is the case. So how could that still-overwhelming lead possibly be overcome quickly enough that within two years, Windows is shipping on less than half the systems—PC or tablet—in the world?
There’s only one way: Explosive growth in the tablet space and a near-total absence of Microsoft from that space.
So, for example, iOS saw 170 percent growth in the past year. And almost half the global PC growth in that same period was from Apple’s desktop OS X, which saw 26 percent growth compared to where it was a year ago.
So as long as all these crazy levels of growth continue, and maybe Android starts to kick up some interest of its own in the tablet space, trend lines projected out to two years from now paint a portrait of a world almost inconceivable to those of us who have been working with PCs since their earliest days: a world in which Microsoft is no longer the dominant OS vendor.
But projecting trend lines into the future forever is generally a fool’s errand, especially when those lines are based on a few quarters of really exceptional growth.
One of the biggest complications to this picture is that it’s starting to appear that Microsoft won’t flub the tablet space, after all. Windows 8, which will run on tablets (as well as everything else) looks pretty good even if it is a Platypus-like syncretion of mobile and desktop interfaces.
Never underestimate the incredible momentum of Windows and the Stockholm syndrome it has induced in millions of loyal users. While it has yet to happen in the tablet space, there will always be people who ignore total cost of ownership for their PC and would rather pay less up front for commodity hardware, and/or have more time than money.
Plus, Apple still charges a premium for its hardware, and if the 21st century leaves us richer than it found us, I will eat my hat.
Microsoft’s impending sunset aside, what’s really interesting here is that tablets have experienced such explosive growth in the first place. Eventually, someone will figure out how to do something with an Android or Windows based tablet that an iPad can’t do. Already, it’s looking like true multitasking and tablets that let you work, rather than simply consume, could be it.
And then there’s the issue of Apple’s control issues. Even if buying Android means propping up Microsoft and a host of other pre-Internet tech giants indefinitely through licensing fees, plenty of people will opt for a non-Apple device. Does that mean the sunset of Windows? It hardly matters: the real action is the mutation of the PC into an ecosystem of form factors far weirder and more diverse than we’ve seen in a long time.
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