[UPDATED 4p PT 6/25/13] Sales of devices based on Apple's OS X and iOS will nearly overtake those of products running all flavors of Windows -- Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone -- in 2015, a Gartner analyst predicts. The loss of Microsoft's dominance would come roughly 13 years after Steve Jobs reinvented Apple, launching the iPod and plotting the company on a new path that has seen it conquer and define new markets, beginning with music players and continuing through cellphones and tablets.
But Android will do even better, outselling the Apple and Microsoft operating systems combined. And it will do so this year.
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Last year, shipments of products running Windows still handily outnumbered those running OS X and iOS: 347 million versus 213 million, according to figures from Gartner. The Microsoft lead will be slashed to 23 million in 2014. Sales of Apple devices will likely outnumber that of Windows devices in 2015, said Carolina Milanesi, a research vice president at Gartner. "Apple is already leading the consumer market. They are selling more than Windows today. ... Microsoft remains relevant thanks to enterprise and professional users."
But after this story was published, she recanted, saying that Microsoft would regain momentum and the gap, saying a new category of ultramobile devices -- such as today's Acer Iconia W510 and Lenovo ThinkPad Twist -- would give Microsoft a rebound.
The shift in OS dominance mirrors the changing computer landscape, where desktops and laptops are increasingly being replaced by smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has struggled to gain mass adoption for Windows Phone 8, and the dueling Windows 8 and Windows RT have confused some tablet buyers, leading to poor wales of both.
Beyond Apple coming close to supplangting Microsoft in 2014, or actually surpassing Microsoft in 2015, there's no question an equally symbolic landmark will be passed this year when sales of devices based on Google's Android operating system beat the combined sales of Apple and Microsoft products. Android is already the Number 1 computing platform on new devices, with more than 500 million devices shipped to stores in 2012, versus 559 million for Apple (OS X and iOS) and Windows (PC, tablet, and smartphone versions) combined. This year, Android is expected to ship on 867 million devices, while the combined total of Apple and Windows products will hit 636 million, according to Gartner.
The surge in Android and Apple comes as a result of the popularity of smartphones and tablets. Gartner expects tablet shipments to jump from 120 million last year to 202 million this year and 276 million in 2014. Smartphone shipments over the same period are expected to rise from 1.7 billion to 1.9 billion.
Meanwhile, sales of PCs will continue to fall over the next two years as tablets and new ultramobile computers attract both home buyers and enterprise customers. Gartner said it expects sales of desktop and notebook PCs to fall almost 11 percent this year and 5 percent next year, largely due to weakening sales of laptops. Ultramobile computers, which are thinner and lighter than traditional notebooks, often have a touchscreen and often can be transformed into a tablet, will find favor with enterprise users, said Milanesi. "For enterprise users, it cuts down on the number of devices they need to run," she said.
Overall, the device market will rise from 2.2 billion devices in 2012 to 2.3 billion this year to 2.5 billion in 2014, according to Gartner estimates.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for the IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.