IDC: By 2016, Android Devices To Outnumber Traditional Windows PCs

Nearly 1 billion “smart devices” were shipped in 2011, analysts at IDC are reporting this morning, to the tune of over $489 billion in revenue. It’s an odd category, which IDC defines as “connected” smartphones, tablets, and even PCs. Looking ahead, the firm expects shipments of these devices to grow to 1.1 billion this year, and to reach 1.84 billion units by 2016 – a number that’s more than double the 2011 figure.

What’s interesting about the forecast is how it pits traditional Windows computers against Android and iOS, indicating the former’s decline. By 2016, Android-based devices running on ARM CPUs are estimated to reach a 31.1% share – more than either iOS or Windows (x86), says IDC.

In 2011, Windows PCs running on any x86-compatible CPU lead with a 35.9% market share, while Android on ARM CPUs has a 29.4% share. iOS, meanwhile, is currently seeing a 14.6% share, IDC says.

By 2016, these numbers shift quite a bit. iOS is estimated to reach 17.3%, Android 31.1% and Windows will drop to 25.1%.

But the firm stops short of dubbing the market share gain as any sort of “win” for Android, noting that hardware vendors in the market will find success tough to achieve, given the cheaply priced devices.

“Android’s growth is tied directly to the propagation of lower-priced devices,” said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices, “so, while we expect dozens of hardware vendors to own some share in the Android market, many will find profitability difficult to sustain,” he says.

Mainelli also notes that, despite iOS’s smaller market share, it will still attract a large percentage of developers, as iOS users have proven they’re willing to actually pay for quality mobile apps.

Given these qualifications, it hardly seems that you can count Android’s market share gains as a win…unless, of course, you’re Google lining up new eyeballs to read your ads.

Although IDC doesn’t get into the details, none of this is, as of yet, a zero-sum game – consumers aren’t dropping Windows to use Android tablets, or are only using iOS devices, for example. Consumers have multiple devices, and they’re not necessarily all from the same OS maker or OEM. They may have an iPad but also an Android phone, for example. They might run Windows, but use an iPhone.

Of course, for Microsoft’s and Apple’s purposes at least, the goal is to create more of an ecosystem between their platforms (Windows, Windows Phone, e.g. or OS X and iOS). To a lesser extent, Google with its Chrome OS is pursuing a similar strategy. The latter feels more experimental, however, with less of an ecosystem feel beyond universal support for Google cloud services, and a handful of Chrome extensions that work with Android, that is.

Also of note, IDC calls the new era of computing “PC Plus,” which is really a better moniker than “post-PC,” as it implies multiple devices, not the end of the PC entirely.