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Windows 8, Phone 7 are the last gasp for Microsoft dominance in smart devices

IDC study predicts Android devices will take control

Windows 8 better be a hit if Microsoft wants to head off being toppled by Android as the dominant operating system for PCs, media tablets and smartphones, according to IDC.

By 2016, Android devices will account for 31.1% of the market, with Windows trailing with 25.1%, according to results from three IDC studies. Last year, Windows led with 35.9%.

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The projection is made with no real world data on how popular Windows 8 will be given that the operating system won’t be generally available until later this year, so the pressure is on.

Windows 8 does have a separate platform called Windows on ARM (WOA) that bundles the operating system with hardware in an effort to maintain high performance for the package, but again those WOA devices are unavailable.

In smartphones, Micorsoft sold 2.7 million Windows 7-based phones in just the last quarter of 2011, while Apple sold 37 million iPhones, indicating that Microsoft has a way to go in that category as well.

The upside for Microsoft is that Windows 8 is still an unknown that could still be a big seller. And it might help out phone sales because the interfaces for both platforms are similar, and users could prefer a single look across devices.

Chart: Worldwide Smart Connected Device Shipments, 2010-2016 (Unit Millions)Description: This data comes from IDC's WW Quarterly PC Tracker, WW Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, and WW Quarterly Media Tablet and eReader Tracker.Tags: Tracker, mobile phones, tablets, forecast, PCs, devices, consumer, IDC ...Author: IDCcharts powered by iCharts

Microsoft also might not care about whether it dominates in mobile smart devices. Sales of inexpensive Android tablets such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle Fire have dramatically boosted the overall popularity of Android. Microsoft may have no interest in seeking the bottom price point for its WOA and other mobile devices.

That could well be the case given that Windows 8 has been built to run on x86 or ARM devices, and, in the case of x86, to be navigated either by touch or by mouse and keyboard. This speaks to targeting users that employ multiple devices and at some point need the full functionality of a PC. WOA machines will be limited to touchscreen and Metro style applications, so they can’t support legacy applications without rewriting.

An IDC analyst seems to back up this view. "Android's growth is tied directly to the propagation of lower-priced devices," says Tom Mainelli, IDC research director for mobile connected devices in a press release.

"So, while we expect dozens of hardware vendors to own some share in the Android market, many will find profitability difficult to sustain. Similarly, 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."

IDC projects that iOS-based devices will grow in market share between last year and 2016 from 14.6% 17.3%.

The good news for Microsoft is that even if it loses dominance to Android, there is still plenty of room for growth. Shipments of what IDC calls smart connected devices will reach 1.84 billion units in 2016, which is double what they were last year. So even with a declining share, Microsoft could still gain substantially in actual numbers of devices shipped that run its software.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/1058 blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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