Microsoft’s Windows 10 will be released with the company in an unfamiliar place in an industry it helped to build. If Windows 8 was a leap into uncharted territory, its sequel is like Microsoft taking on heavyweight boxers with one hand tied behind its back. The heavyweights are of course Apple and Google, two companies that have changed the tech sphere far beyond anything we remember when Microsoft was in its pomp.
The seismic shift from PC to mobile has been underway for a decade (some would argue longer) and now customers consume their media on smartphones and tablets. Microsoft, the juggernaut of PC software finds itself in an uncertain place in the market, where even the company is unsure what it wants to be. A hardware company? Perhaps, but then Microsoft products are hardly flying off the shelves… so a software company then? Well, yes, but Microsoft is a dominant software company in a market consumers are turning their back on.
I am of course talking about the PC market, which has been in gradual and seemingly terminal decline for several years. The smartphone and tablet impacted on PC in massive ways, not least in the enterprise arena, an often overlooked battleground that Microsoft has been defeated on for cellular software. Yes, 90% of the world’s businesses are using Windows based computers, but they are using Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android too for their mobile systems… mobile is in, the PC is out… or is it?
In many ways, Windows 10 will exist in its much talked about form (Microsoft detailed the platform at its Build conference in April) because of the decline in PC sales. Looking at the computer market there is simply no way back and sales are likely to drop for the remainder of the decade and beyond. Saying the “personal computer” is dead is probably premature, but the concept of what one is seems to be changing forever.
IDC says that PC sales will decline by another 6.2% through 2015, with or without Windows 10; it will be the fourth consecutive year in which sales have slumped. With that in mind, it seems that Windows 10 is not the answer to the PC problem, but oddly it could be the answer to Microsoft’s, at least short term.
Windows 10 will likely become a “significant contributor” to PC sales this year, and will take a step further and start to dominate the market in 2016. The platform will give Microsoft some rest bite to enhance its other strategies, in other words it will give Redmond a dominant modern base in a massive global market. Of course, that global market (the PC one) is slowly collapsing, but nevertheless Microsoft will remain the top dog and reap the immediate rewards for that.
However, that will only aid the company for so long, so any thoughts that Windows 10 will boost the PC market and even save it are very wide of the mark. Instead Microsoft is counting on how the platform could allow Microsoft to break free from the home computer market and become a main player in other areas. That other area is of course mobile, where Windows 10 Mobile will offer virtually the same experience as the desktop platform.
Microsoft has struggled to get really involved in the smartphone market, sure the company’s Windows Phone platform is third globally, but it holds less than 3% of the market. Windows 10 is unlikely to change the situation, but in another mobile area Microsoft could have the chance to grow and even redefine what the consumer thinks is a personal computer. That area is of course tablets, where the company has the kind of third party support that it has for PC’s but lacks for smartphones.
Traditional OEM’s from the PC market are building slates for Microsoft’s platform, with that trend likely to continue in the wake of Windows 10. Redmond’s own Surface Tablets are elegant portable products that run full Windows and with others slates could be redefining what we think a PC is or should be. However, there are some caveats to Microsoft’s growth in the market space, chief among which is the presence of Android and iOS are here too, and Apple’s iPad is dominating the market. True, Windows tablet sales are low, but if Microsoft can convince the consumer that these are the next home computing solutions (a fully baked OS is one thing Microsoft has in its favor) then the company could at the very least have a sizeable slice of the tablet market.
It is worth noting that much of that is speculation and “what if” scenarios, but there is one area where Microsoft and indeed Windows 10 are on a much surer footing. Enterprise has been a long-time friend to the company and in fact has been the foundation of Windows dominance down the years. Everything from companies, to schools and governments use Windows and Microsoft has a near 90% share of the enterprise PC market. While mobile has certainly encroached on Redmond’s territory here, Windows is still the OS of choice for PC’s, and enterprise is one area where the humble personal computer is still very much a necessity.
With Microsoft ending support of Windows XP last year, the door is open for Windows 10 to sweep in and mop up millions of enterprise PCs worldwide. The company has been clever by opening its software to be cross platform, giving users of Android and iOS products the chance to use Microsoft’s core services, such as the much copied but never bettered Office suite.
Reports that the PC market will recover post Windows 10 are wishful thinking, but the PC will live on in various avenues, and even if Microsoft has to redefine the form factor, it is likely to still be the leading company in this market in the years to come.