gartnerA new report from the Gartner research firm paints a dire picture for the traditional PC market, predicting that tablets will quickly become the primary method of computing for most people around the world, exceeding shipments of desktop and notebook computers within two to three years.

ipadminiThe prediction raises the stakes for Microsoft’s attempt to expand into tablets and smartphones. The research firm predicts a decline of 7.6 percent in traditional notebook and desktop computer shipments this year — warning that it’s not a temporary decline but part of a long-term change in user behavior.

Taking into account the entire market for smartphones, tablets and computers, Gartner predicts that Microsoft and Apple will be neck-and-neck in market share in the coming years — with both of them well behind Google’s Android operating system in overall shipments. That’s very different from the traditional view of computing, with Microsoft holding upwards of 90 percent market share in desktop and notebooks, and Apple playing more of a niche role.

“When you look at the numbers together, it’s clear that Microsoft is playing a defensive strategy in trying to keep the PC market but is not taking advantage of the huge opportunity that tablets and phones represent,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, via phone this morning.

But from a practical standpoint, can tablets really become our primary computing devices? Milanesi says some people will use both a traditional PC and a tablet, but most will be happy with a tablet as their main computing device, plugging in external monitors and keyboards when needed.

In one scenario, that could give Microsoft the upper hand, if Apple maintains its current strategy, which positions the iPad as a mobile device vs. a full-fledged computer. Microsoft is taking a different approach, expanding Windows further into tablets with the release of Windows 8 and its touch-friendly interface. (Windows 8 can run traditional desktop applications on tablets, although the companion Windows RT operating system for ARM-based processors can’t.)

However, sales of the Surface and other Windows tablets have been tepid so far, and Windows Phone is still trying to gain traction in the smartphone market. Milanesi said Microsoft hasn’t done enough to make its traditional applications, such as Microsoft Office, work well on tablets. She pointed to the rise in popularity of apps such as Evernote as evidence that Microsoft is not moving quickly enough.

Milanesi said widely predicted changes in Windows to support smaller screen sizes would be a step in the right direction, making Windows tablets more effective as portable consumption devices. But the bigger issue, she said, is that consumers have far more choices now for computing, defined broadly.

“That is where the challenge comes in,” she said. “As a default I don’t have just Microsoft anymore.”

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  • Extended Results Inc

    Yes, tablets have made a MAJOR impact on the PC business.
    We have seen this first hand with our mobile business intelligence solution
    (PUSHBI). But is it displacing the PC? A little bit, but what it is
    really doing is delaying PC upgrades. People are willing to stay
    with their PC longer because they extended some of their internet needs to the
    tablet. Within a year or so, people will be upgrading all those old
    laptops that are slowing down. People are still their MOST
    PRODUCTIVE on a laptop/PC when it comes to business or even at home.
    I have to purchase another 25 laptops for my business, not tablets. :o)

    • Kitty Burgers

      Of course, people are more productive in front of their PC, at their desk, in most cases. The PC isn’t going away anytime soon. Mobile devices, although useful for businesses for employees on-the-go, are more of a distraction for most people.

  • arcana112

    Windows 8 is a tablet-first OS and even if the market share is predicted to be down the total is actually going up. In addition to that more Android devices = more license fees for Microsoft to cash in as Android violates a gazillion MS patents.

    • voleheart

      everyone wins but google right? too bad they don’t charge like idk $2 to license Android.

    • Douglas Jenkins

      “a gazillion” ? Go ahead, name three…

      … my guess is it’s all about filename format or using FAT in partitions….nothing more…

    • guest

      It’s a tablet-first OS alright, but so far W8 has had very little traction there. So the net of PC declines and minor tablet gains is a net loss of units for MS. And most of the Android patent revenue is being reinvested into WP, which similarly hasn’t had much traction and is losing money. When you sum it all up, the market for alternate devices to the PC has exploded over the last five years. It’s now more than five times the size of the PC market in units. But MS’s incremental share of that vastly expanded pie is virtually non-existent, and insufficient to even stem the decline in its historical slice of that pie.
      That is abject failure. And it means that MS’s future is now very uncertain.

      • Rann Xeroxx

        Microsoft is actually well suited to the future of computing. Without the risks MS took with Vista, we would not have W7. W9 will be the same from the risks of W8 in that Microsoft knows the future is touch tablet hybrids and W8 was the risk they had to take. Apple is really the company in trouble unless they start innovating as MS and Google leave them behind.

        But the frontend is only the vener of future computing and MS has spent over a billion $ in R&D to develop their cloud solutions such as Azure. Workstation VDIs, SAS, RemoteApp, etc are about to explode. Some see WinRT as a failure but again, this is MS taking a risk at developing a low cost appliance PC to be used as a thin client for SAS and VDI.

        MS is not a one trick pony.

  • Derek Schlicker

    Putting MS on the same level as Apple in terms of market share is painting an awfully optimistic view of MS’s execution on growth in mobile in the coming years.

  • storm14k

    Posted in wrong box.

  • guest

    MS is so screwed. And I say that as a shareholder (soon to not be one).

    • Guest

      Anybody holding MS stock is an idiot. It’s been in a downtrend for thirteen years already. Now Windows is being disrupted and Office will soon follow. And the clown responsible for that is still in charge.

  • teralgoe

    If you look at this month web usage in global stat counter, win8 just surpassed iOs as the fifth OS in the world, and android is well bellow iOs! Is possible that android surpass both apple an MS in terms of units, but the truth is that android is a bottom feeder OS, millions of cheap tablets and phones are powered by android, but barely make a dent in the market profits.

  • Shauri

    Extending tablet use in business means apps need to run on the tablet. An advanced app development environment for iOS and Android tablets is corporatecentral. A real benefit for creating apps in the field.

  • Hej,det är Dilski

    couldn’t see it happening TBH. The majority of people i know with tablets (me included) still need a laptop or PC in order to get the most out of it, such as getting music or taking photos from a camera. Tablets are also held back by games. A huge portion of Desktop buyers is for gaming building fancy rigs. The powerful computers needed to play these games won’t be compact enough to fit in a tablet.,

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