The days of Microsoft's dominance are over, killed by mobile, says Gartner

The growth of mobile devices and shrinking PC sales will end Microsoft's dominance, and by 2017, Microsoft hardware will lag Android device sales by nearly 900 million units annually, and barely squeeze past Apple's share. So says a report by Gartner, which adds that tablets will become people's main computers.

The Gartner report says that by 2017, the total number of PCs, tablets, and mobile phones shipped will be 2.96 billion. Android will have the lion's share of them, with 1.47 billion, Windows will come in second with 571 million, and iOS/MacOS third with 504 million. That's a drastic change from 2012, when Windows was on 346.5 million devices, Android on 497.1 million, and iOS/MacOS on 212.9 million.

The reason for Android's dominance and Microsoft's fall is simple: rising tablet and smartphone sales, and shrinking PC sales. Gartner says that PC sales will shrink from 341.2 million in 2012 to 271.6 million in 2017, while tablets will grow from 116.1 million to 468 million, and mobile phones from 1.75 billion to 2.13 billion.

Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, explains:

"While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device, As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis."

Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, told PCPro that "Even without phones, Microsoft still halves its share from around 90% in 2010 to the 40% range by 2017 as tablets become a bigger part of the volume of devices."

The implications of such a dramatic shift for Microsoft go beyond Windows. Revenue from Office could be threatened as well. Office dominates traditional PCs, but isn't yet available for Android or iOS devices. Given that Google has just released Quickoffice for Android and iOS, it's not certain that Office will dominate on those platforms. Quickoffice is free for companies who use Google Apps for Business, which could eat into enterprise sales. What if Google makes it free for consumers as well -- or ships it as a basic part of Android? How many people would buy Office then?

If Gartner is right, we're in the midst of a historic shift away from Microsoft. The trends show why with Windows 8 Microsoft made a radical decision to design an OS more for touch-based mobile devices than for traditional computers. But Windows tablet sales have tanked. Microsoft needs to do much more if it wants to prove Gartner wrong.

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