Windows' days as reigning OS champ may be numbered as Android devices continue to thrive, according to market researcher IDC.
report published Thursday, IDC said that shipments of "smart connected devices" -- PCs, smartphones and tablets -- totaled 916 million units in 2011 and yielded revenue of more than $489 billion. That shipment number is expected to hit the 1.1 billion mark this year and grow to a staggering 1.84 billion by 2016. As a whole, the “smart connected device” market will see a compound annual growth rate of 15.4 percent over the next five years, the report predicted.
Tablets and smartphones, rather than traditional desktop and notebook PCs, are fueling much of this growth, IDC said, which is a trend that doesn't bode well for the x86-based Windows platform.
The report projected that a "relatively dramatic shift" in OS market share will take place over the next five years. Microsoft’s Windows OS held an industry-leading 35.9 percent market share in 2011 but will slip to a more modest 25.1 percent by 2016, the report said. Android, on the other hand, runs exclusively on tablets and smartphones and, as the adoption of these devices continues to soar, so will Android’s share of the market. IDC predicted that the 29.4 percent market share Android holds today will grow to 31.1 percent by 2016 -- beating out both Windows and iOS.
In addition to the rise of the mobile computing model, Android’s projected growth boils down to price, IDC said. Google’s homegrown OS runs on a range of devices from handset makers including Samsung, Acer and HTC, which tend to tout lower price points than their iOS and Windows counterparts. But while this has helped fuel Android adoption, it also poses a risk that handset manufacturers will turn too-meager a profit with Android-based devices and gravitate toward competing platforms as a more lucrative alternative.
"Android's growth is tied directly to the propagation of lower-priced devices," said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices, in the report. "So, while we expect dozens of hardware vendors to own some share in the Android market, many will find profitability difficult to sustain."
Apple’s iOS also will see growth, IDC said. In 2011, iOS held a market share of 14.6 percent; that is expected to reach 17.3 percent in 2016, the report said.
Though its growth projections aren’t as significant as Android’s, iOS can still depend on a dedicated developer community to drive it forward, according to the report.
"We expect a large percentage of application developers to continue to focus their efforts on iOS, despite the platform's smaller overall market share, because iOS end users have proven more willing to pay for high-quality apps," Mainelli said in the report.
Though Windows platforms are projected to take a hit in today’s "post-PC era," Microsoft is expected to release Windows 8, its highly anticipated, next-gen OS, sometime later this year. It will run on both traditional x86-based systems, including PCs, but also on low-power ARM-based architectures, such as those found in tablets and smartphones. Chip makers including Nvidia and Intel already have aligned themselves with Windows 8 and plan to launch tablets and Ultrabooks running the new OS later this year.
Major OEMs, including Dell, also have expressed interest in Windows 8 but haven’t disclosed any product details just yet.
Microsoft launched a consumer preview version of the new OS in February, intended to give developers, manufacturers and end users a sneak peak and offer feedback on new features such as the Metro style user interface. One million copies of the preview software were downloaded within the first 24 hours it was made available.
Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Windows group, said that the company made more than 100,000 code changes to the consumer preview based on feedback it received on the earlier developer version it launched in September.