Microsoft hasn't gained any real ground in the tablet market -- Gartner says it had only a 2.1% market share in 2013. Can the growth of hybrids and possibly Windroid devices help give Microsoft the boost it needs?
Gartner says that for 2013, Microsoft sold 4,031,802 tablets to end users, for a 2.1% tablet market share. That's certainly better than 2012, in which only 1,162,435 Windows tablets were sold, for a 1% market share. But the 2013 numbers are still dismal, especially considering that the 2012 sales were almost exclusively for Windows 7 tablets. Windows 8 didn't release until late October, 2012, and Surface RT launched then, but not the Surface Pro, which didn't become available until February, 2014.
Gartner stated the obvious in its press release about its tablet findings, saying that in 2013 Microsoft's "ecosystem still failed to capture major consumers' interest on tablets." Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, added:
"To compete, Microsoft needs to create compelling ecosystem proposition for consumers and developers across all mobile devices, as tablets and smartphones become key devices for delivering applications and services to users beyond the PC."
But Gartner held out some hope for Microsoft. The research firm expects that productivity-oriented hybrid ultramobiles will be sizable sellers in 2014. And that's Microsoft's sweet spot -- it's exactly what its Surface line is when combined with Microsoft's keyboard covers.
Cozza notes that:
"Although there were few models available last year, the hybrid form factor was the fastest growing category in 2013. Hybrid ultramobiles attracted users' attention because the keyboard offers better use of productivity applications and benefits from a tablet form factor."
Gartner expects that in 2014, tablet buyers will begin upgrading to hybrid ultramobiles so that they will no longer need to use both a tablet and notebook. Cozza explains:
"There is an opportunity here for hybrid ultramobiles to marry the functionality of a PC and a tablet, and they will also prove to be an attractive alternative replacement product among businesses."
That trend started to pick up in the second half of 2013, notably with Lenovo gaining market share. Isabelle Durand, principal research analyst at Gartner, says:
"Lenovo's success is a combination of launching innovative new tablet models during the second half of 2013 and the sales of its Yoga model and Windows tablets doing particularly well."
This trend may also be the reason that Microsoft is willing to consider allowing Android apps to run on Windows and Windows Phone. The Verge says that if it were to occur, Android apps would appear in the Windows Store and the Windows Phone Store. People could download the apps, and run them on their Windows devices.
That would solve one of Windows' biggest problems on tablets -- far fewer apps run on them than on Android or iOS. Allowing Android apps to run on Windows tablets would potentially make the tablets more appealing. Microsoft might even consider pushing dual-booth Windows-Android tablets -- Windroids.
Windows tablets are likely to get a bigger boost by the move towards hybrid ultramobiles, though. Windows is an ideal platform for those devices, as the Surface Pro 2 with keyboard attachment shows.
In addition, low-cost Windows tablets are set to be launched in India, according to the Times of India. The newspaper says that the tablets will sell for approximately 10,000 rupees, which at today's exchange rate is about $160.
So despite that puny 2.1% market share, better times may be ahead for Windows tablets, at least if Gartner's predictions about the growth of hybrid ultramobiles proves true.