Android OS set to overtake Windows by 2016; Android loyalists share a knowing look

April 1, 2012
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We all have fond memories of Google’s and Verizon’s “Droid Does” campaign that first introduced Android to the world. Since Android 1.0, dubbed “Cupcake” was first launched, the OS has gone from strength-to-strength, currently featuring its most robust and refined feature set yet, the absolutely mouth-watering Ice Cream Sandwich – Android 4.0. In its meteoric rise to the top, the OS has created a lot of waves and left a lot of its competition behind. Attesting to this is the fact that the Android OS is the leading market share holder in the US, leaving behind iOS in 2010. But according to some, Android is just getting started on its path to worldwide domination.

According to the latest report by IDC (International Data Corporation), Android is set to overtake Windows as the premier Operating System, by 2016.

The Good News

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According to the report, we are expected to see even more massive growth in shipments of “smart connected devices.” With the number reaching close to one billion shipped at the end of 2011, it is expected to reach a whopping 1.84 billion by 2016. Given the explosive sales of smartphones and tablets, with a majority boasting the Android OS, we can expect Android to dominate this market by 2016, and in the process, overtake Microsoft’s crown jewel, Windows.

While the iPad and Apple’s iOS have been dominating the tablet market, Android-based tablet devices are expected to overtake iPad sales in a few years as well. Don’t get me wrong, as the sole vendor of the iPad, Apple will dominate in terms of worldwide vendor shipments and will also enjoy higher revenue till 2016 and beyond. But purely in terms of market presence, the sheer number of low-priced, yet high-end, Android devices set to enter the market will help the OS reach the number one spot.

Smartphones and tablets of today are increasingly able to accommodate every requirement a person can reasonably ask of a digital device, whereas  previously, people would only be able to do this with their PC. The increased mobility, performance, utility and durability of these devices are leading consumers to demonstrate with their dollars an obvious preference for them. With over three billion phones sold each year, it’s easy to envision a future where nearly everyone will have a computer ala smartphone in their pocket. And, with most of these devices now featuring the Android OS, this is certainly not good news for Windows or Microsoft.

We are also part of an era of “multi-device” ownership. What these means is that a lot of consumers are opting to buy smartphones and tablets along with their laptops or desktops. When it comes to these “additional” devices, we also see a certain amount of “loyalty,” i.e, an Android smartphone user will most likely choose an Android tablet. That being said, the market is still too young to make accurate judgements, as most loyalty for multi-device ownership belongs to Apple and their highly popular iOS. Realistically though, if Ice Cream Sandwich takes off as it should, and increased numbers of individuals continue to purchase Android smartphones, it’s hghly conceivable that many consumers will opt for Android tablets too.

The Not-So-Good News

The whole premise of the report and the subsequent numbers they have (intelligently) thrown together are based on the fact that the term “smart connected devices” lumps smartphones, tablets, and PC’s together. Put together, we see a rise of the Android OS market share from 29.4% to 31.1%, with Windows falling from its leading share of 35.9% to 26.1%.

But individually, Microsoft is completely dominant in the desktop and laptop environment, with over 90% of such devices featuring a Windows OS. While Google has had a few false starts with their Chrome OS and Netbook, and Apple enjoys a certain air of exclusivity with the MacBook series, Microsoft will still be far ahead with the Windows OS, albeit in the Personal Computer playing field.

While IDC analysts still predict a dramatic shift in favor of Android, I think the numbers will get further complicated with the imminent release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS, which is touted as being “tablet-friendly.”

Other major factors that bolster the impressive growth behind Android devices is the low-cost availability and the sheer volume of vendors manufacturing Android devices. Despite enjoying a market lead, this might not entirely be a good thing. The report states that due to this, profitability will be difficult to sustain for these manufacturers because of their reliance on increasingly lower prices just to stay competitive with each other. On the other hand, Apple’s iOS, while only increasing their market share from 14.6% to 17.3%, will still see higher earnings than the Android OS.

According to Tom Mainelli, IDC’s research director for mobile devices, we may also a larger percentage of app developers focusing their efforts on iOS, because, regardless of the platform’s lower overall market share, iOS end users have proven to be willing to pay for high-quality apps.

Conclusion

While the numbers about market share are an indication towards the dominance and huge success of the Android OS, it is only one of many factors that go into sustaining such an enterprise. Leading the market share will certainly be a huge achievement for the OS itself, but it seems that all is not rosy on the path to true success.

We also know that the world of mobile technology is changing on a daily basis. Because of this, I think it is especially difficult to make predictions about the state of the market for the next five years. If you stop for a second and consider what things were like five years ago, then you will certainly realize that it’s very difficult to make accurate predictions of anything in the mobile space. Either way, the rise of the low-cost, do-everything device powered by Android, the unification of the platform via Android 4.0 and Ice Cream Sandwich, and heightened competition between the world’s most powerful technology companies will certainly be an interesting fight to watch. It is one that will, ultimately, benefit the consumer by providing them access to extremely powerful technology, at competitive price points, with unparalleled user experience.

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