Gartner today said Windows will recover from its two-year slump, with total device shipments running the operating system climbing by nearly 10 percent in 2014 and almost 18 percent in 2015.
For 2013, Windows' share of the operating systems on all "smart devices" -- smartphones, tablets, PCs, ultra-light form factors, and PC-tablet hybrids -- dropped 5.3 percent compared to the year before, an additional percentage point from the 4.3 percent decline the research company predicted in October, and nearly three times the 2 percent pegged in June.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Windows 8 regains uptake mojo, XP restarts death slide. | Find out what Microsoft's latest updates mean to you in InfoWorld's "Windows Server 8 Deep Dive" PDF special report. Download the PDF today! | Stay up on key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
Gartner's figures for 2013 put the blame for Windows' weaker performance on the continued contraction of the traditional PC business -- desktops and notebooks -- as well as slower-than-expected shipments of "ultramobiles." That category includes hybrids and 2-in-1 designs -- devices that can convert from tablet into notebook, and back -- as well as ultra-light "clamshell"-style laptops.
For 2013, those device groups slumped by 10 percent, a larger drop than the 8 percent Gartner forecast a little more than three months ago.
This year will be flat for PCs and ultramobiles, said Gartner, with shipments of approximately 318 million units. The form factors will make a small recovery in 2015, climbing 5 percent to 332 million.
That figure, however, would still represent a 5 percent shortfall from 2012, when nearly 351 million such devices shipped.
"Users continue to move away from the traditional PC, ...as it becomes more of a shared content-creation tool, while the greater flexibility of tablets, hybrids and lighter notebooks address users' increasingly different demands," said Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal in a statement.
Windows overall will do better, thanks to increasing sales of smartphones and tablets, especially the former. "The upside on mobile phone is so much bigger for Microsoft given the size of the market," Atwal said in a follow-up interview Tuesday. "Even though Microsoft's share of mobile phone will remain small, the volume [of that market] is very large. The tablet market, on the other hand, is still small in comparison."
For 2014, Gartner predicted Windows device shipments of 360 million, a 10 percent increase over 2013's total of 328 million. Atwal expects Windows to pick up even more momentum in 2015, when the operating system should ship on 423 million devices, up 18 percent over the year before (and up 29 percent from 2013's relatively dismal 328 million).
Microsoft will have a tougher time generating growth from tablets than from smartphones, Atwal said. For 2014, Gartner has pegged Windows' share of the tablet market at between 4 percent and 5 percent, or 11-12 million shipped by all OEMs, Microsoft included.
But while Gartner was bullish on Windows' future, at least on a shipped device level, Atwal isn't certain that translates into success. Or profits. "Whether that growth is enough to sustain their investment, I don't know," he said. "That's the question."