Gartner has published its latest report with smart devices projections for smartphones, tablets, ultramobiles and PCs from 2012 to 2017, and it’s as clear picture as you can get of how mobile rules today and will continue to dominate the device landscape tomorrow. Echoing results from IDC’s global device forecast last month, Gartner’s numbers make more grim reading for Microsoft — the company with the most to lose as the old empire of the PC continues its slow decline, trumped by the price, simplicity and convenience of Android and iOS-powered mobile computing devices.
Gartner is projecting a 7.3% decline in the traditional desktop and laptop computer category this year, although ultramobile devices (portables running a full desktop OS such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet, pictured above) are expected to offset the decline slightly — so the collective drop for these two categories is projected to be 3.5%.
But the real engine of growth is of course tablets, with worldwide shipments forecast to total 197 million units in 2013: a 69.8% increase on 2012 shipments of 116 million units. By 2017, Gartner expects tablets to be outshipping desktop computers and ultramobiles combined, although it does not make a specific prediction for the tipping point year for tablets. (IDC said last month that it expects tablet shipments to outstrip PCs this year, and portable PCs next year.)
Over its forecast period Gartner also projects steady growth for smartphones. Overall, the total smart devices market is projected to grow 9% this year, to reach 2.4 billion units.
“You need to own consumers in terms of mobile and tablet in order to remain relevant in this market,” said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. Gone are the days when Windows is the “default” option for the majority of consumers, thanks to alternatives being too technical (Linux) or too expensive (Macs), she said. “Consumers have options and consumers are choosing and Microsoft can not take that for granted that they’ll be the one to be chosen.”
On the breakdown of OSes, Microsoft’s loss and Google’s and Apple’s gain is clear: Android consolidates its dominance this year, pulling further away from Windows, while iOS/MacOS narrows the gap with its old computing foe. By 2017 Gartner projects a huge lead for Android, with approaching 1.5 billion device shipments (powered by Android’s dominance in the smartphone space). And while Windows (in both its desktop and phone flavours) is still forecast to be ranked second, iOS/MacOS is not far behind, with 570.9 million vs 504.1 million respectively.
“If you look at the OS numbers and you look at Microsoft vs Apple vs Android, you see from a sales perspective, Microsoft is still pretty much relying on their PC core… [and not] expanding their numbers. They’re defending by shifting some of the losses that are coming from the PC onto the tablet and ultramobile but they’re not conquering,” Milanesi told TechCrunch. ”With mobility and with the shift from PCs to tablets and smartphones there are going to be implications that go beyond just the hardware side that will really impact OS and applications like Office for example.”
“The role that Apple is going to play in the computing device — when you’re thinking about computing devices all the way from the smartphone to the PC — is going to be much bigger,” she added.
The low price of tablets is a key factor driving their adoption, says Milanesi, but it’s not just price that’s powering the category. Smartphones are acting as halo devices to drive tablet adoption, thanks to users’ existing investments in apps and familiarity with the lighter weight OSes. Touch interfaces and cloud computing are also playing a role, along with the integration of Wi-Fi. While consumers in emerging markets are coming to computing from the phone, not the desktop PC — making tablets a “more natural upgrade path”, rather than the PC, she said.
“Another misconception is you need a PC in order to be productive and that productivity is measured as far as you need a PC to do Excel work. Well there are an awful lot of people out there who are very productive without ever touching Excel,” added Milanesi. ”The change that touch and tablets are bringing are here. They’re not going to go away. So you better enable that transition so that people can take full advantage of it vs continue to fight it.”
Windows Phone not BlackBerry in 3rd
Gartner’s current forecast for 2017 pegs Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS in third place in the smartphone OS rankings behind Android and iOS — with RIM/BlackBerry languishing far behind. BlackBerry shipments will continue to decline throughout the forecast period, according to Gartner, despite its OS reboot with the QNX-based BlackBerry 10 and the launch of the first BB10 device, the Z10. “RIM is even more limited than Microsoft,” said Milanesi. “They have a limited reach as far as where that OS goes as far as devices… We see consumers are more and more looking for an OS that goes across the board.
“Gone are the days that you have one product can make a company. One product can break a company but one product is no longer enough to make a company. The ecosystem the brand has is becoming much more important from a consumer choice perspective.”
From that perspective, Microsoft is in a stronger position than BlackBerry, having pushed Windows 8 into the touchscreen era with its Windows Phone-style tile-based UI, while BlackBerry’s own tablet effort has had to take a back seat while it rebooted its mobile platform.
“Windows Phone is going to be the third largest OS on the phone side after Android and iOS, not too distant from iOS,” Milanesi predicted, although she also noted that the gap between second and third place is a small one so Microsoft’s mobile OS could push iOS into third place.
She also noted that Gartner’s device projection does not take into account a lower end iPhone, should Apple choose to launch such a product — which could shift the goal-posts again and generate more mass market momentum for the iPhone.
Should Facebook or Amazon make a phone?
Asked whether in the current smart mobile devices market it makes sense for Facebook or Amazon to launch their own smartphone, Milanesi gave a qualified “no”.
In the case of Facebook (which is thought to be holding an Android-focused phone-related event today), she said it makes sense for the company to “enable Facebook in the best possible way” on smartphones — ergo it may therefore make sense for it to build a deep software integration that lives on a phone to deliver the desired experience. But she added: “I don’t think from a brand perspective that people will want to get a Facebook phone because of the Facebook brand. But people will want to have a deeper integration of Facebook on their phone.
“Facebook want users and they want engagement — and that’s not just coming from a dedicated phone, that come from a much better application and integration of their application in the hardware.”
For Amazon, which has been rumoured to be looking at building a phone, she said the case is slightly different since the focus for the ecommerce giant is not about driving engagement and gathering user data so much as ”selling — selling content, selling merchandise, getting consumers onto their website”.
“I think you do that much more on a tablet than you do on a phone,” she added. “The only way I see a phone making sense is if Amazon continues to fork from Android… where it would make sense to have a phone and a tablet [to sell consumers a connected device ecosystem] — for the same applications and so forth.”
Building a phone is also less straightforward than building a tablet, noted Milanesi, since carriers enter the mix and complicate the value chain.