It’s de rigueur, I think, for a tech blog to post predictions for the coming year. Because I don’t want to be left out, I’ll post some thoughts as well—although they’ll be short, and I’ll be posting well after the New Year has already begun due to a killer bug I caught on New Year’s Eve day. I’m not sure if that disqualifies my prognostications, but if so, I’ll have to live with it.
Prediction Number 1: Windows 8.1 Will Gain Market Share
Okay, this one is both obvious for readers of this blog (I’ve been harping on Windows 8.1 enough lately) and virtually guaranteed to succeed. There’s simply no way that Windows 8.1 won’t gain market share in 2014. In spite of the cannibalization of desktop and notebook PCs by tablets, and given my Prediction Number 2 below, I’m absolutely certain that millions upon millions of Windows PCs will be sold in 2014, and the majority of them will be running Windows 8.1.
The real question is, by how much will Windows 8.1 gain market share in 2014? And that’s a question I refuse to answer. I think Windows 8.1’s success in taking over from Windows 7, the planet’s currently dominant operating system, will fall somewhere between what the naysayers insist and what the most ardent supporters propose. Really going out on a limb here, aren’t I?
Seriously, though, I think that Windows 8.1 will be more successful in 2014 than many or perhaps even most tech pundits are speculating. I don’t believe that Chromebooks will gain appreciable share, or at least not at Windows’ expense (I think OS X will suffer the most), and I think that many people are already realizing the limitations of mobile operating systems and, like me, lust for an operating system that is good for both consumption and production of content (another topic I’ve harped on enough already).
Microsoft’s biggest challenge seems to be that not as many people are buying Windows machines any longer (if they ever really did, which is fodder for another discussion), they’re buying whatever device seems like it will best fit their needs. I think that cuts against Apple as well—I don’t think people are specifically seeking out iPads or iPhones to the same extent (except for the hardcore fan base, of course, but that’s also true for Windows). Rather, people are responding to whatever marketing message best catches their eye—and right now, a Windows 8.1 tablet’s ability to act as both a work and a play device seems to be resonating. That, and price, which helps account for the growth in Android tablets (as I suggested awhile ago).
So, solid pricing and a strong marketing message will propel Windows 8.1 to some unexpected level of success in 2014. We’ll just have to wait and see to what extent.
Prediction Number 2: Windows Phone Will Gain Market Share
This one’s a bit like my Windows 8.1 prediction, in that it wouldn’t take much to show a significant increase in Windows Phone market share. That’s the beauty of starting with a small base—increasing from, say, a 2% market share to a 4% share is a 100% increase. Wow! However, increasing from a 52% to 54% share still means the same number of units, even if the increase itself is less than 4%. And having such a large market share brings its own economies of scale that are hard to beat.
Of course, Microsoft is in this market for the long haul. They have to be if they want to survive, or if they want to avoid becoming solely an enterprise software vendor à la IBM. And, I’m a firm believer in Microsoft’s concept of one user interface, many devices. If they can transfer more of Windows 8.1 into Windows Phone, and solve some of the existing deficiencies in both, such as a lack of a persistent notification center, then there’s a real argument to be made that only Microsoft can provide a consistent experience on smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops.
Will that be enough to drive more success for Windows Phone in 2014? I think, again, the answer depends on just how much “more success” we’re talking about. Microsoft isn’t going to take over the market, but 2014 could finally be the year when they start convincing folks that they’re actually going to be around for awhile. And that boost in user confidence might be enough to get them over the hump.
Prediction Number 3: Apple Will Stagnate, and Remain Incredibly Profitable
According to Wikipedia, OS X remains stuck around 8% marketing share among non-mobile operating systems (so-called “desktop” OSs, even though of course they run on notebooks as well). Android dominates in the mobile space (more so worldwide than in the US), and nothing Apple does seems to be able to change that fact. The iPhone 5S sold tens of millions of devices, more than any other single smartphone, but combined the Android army continues to take over the market.
Of course, Apple remains one of the most profitable companies in the world, and they have an intensely loyal base of users who will continue to purchase their products in mass quantities no matter how well Android (or Windows) continues to do against them. They do seem to be returning to their pre-iPhone days of relatively low market share but relatively high profitability, but is that really a bad thing? I don’t think so.
I see 2014 as being more of the same as 2013. Apple will introduce products that are in many ways superior, while in other ways behind the curve (anyone who’s read this blog knows I don’t consider Apple to be the true innovator that some others do). They’ll remain the darling of the tech press, while failing to maintain the dominance they threatened during the halcyon days when the iPhone and iPad grabbed the majority of market share across the board.
But tens or hundreds of Android smartphones and tablets, coupled with an onslaught of new Windows 8.1 devices of all shapes and sizes, will push them back into the niche player that they once were. Maybe it won’t happen during 2014, but this year will set the stage. And that’s not to mention Intel’s alleged gambit of putting Windows and Android on the same devices, a move that I remain undecided as to whether it will hurt Android or Windows more.
Prediction Number 4: Android/Windows 8.1 Hybrids Will Be Mildly Successful
So, regarding the rumor (at this point, with CES starting this week) that Intel wants to run Android and Windows 8.1 on the same Intel devices, I only have this to say: I think they’ll succeed in selling some devices, but I don’t see Android/Windows 8.1 hybrids as being dominant. Let’s say they’ll end up in an attractive and comfortable niche.
I’ll admit to being a bit biased here. I was very excited about the Samsung ATIV Q, especially with that ultra-high-res screen. The thing never saw the light of day, but it’s been mentioned in the last few days as still being a potential product. Heck, if they released it, I’d probably still buy it in spite of my unemployed status (the kids can go without food for awhile, right?). It’s just fits what I’m looking for to a tee. And the ATIV Q also demonstrates that Intel isn’t proposing anything actually new here; there’s even a shipping product that runs both Windows and Android, if not at the same time (the ASUS Transformer Book TRIO , if you’d like to buy from Amazon and toss a few bucks into the tip jar).
The fact is, I want a machine that can run both Android and Windows 8.1, preferably one that has a keyboard and pointing device and so can be a magical combination of consumption and production devices. I’d love to be able to use Android for what it’s best for, and then immediately and without muss or fuss switch to Windows 8.1 when I have real work to get done. Whether I’m in the minority here remains to be seen, but I suspect that if I am, it’s not a small minority.
The deeper question is, will this be better for Android or for Windows? I’ve speculated on this in the past, and I remain convinced that it actually helps Windows 8.1 more than it helps Android.
First, Android doesn’t really need much help, and many people already use some combination of Android tablets and smartphones and Windows notebooks and desktops. Again, I’m a prime example: I use my Nexus 10 for a variety of uses, but I pull out my MacBook Pro running Windows 8.1 or go to my desktop when I want to write something significant (and for other tasks such as home finance, job hunting, etc.). And so a device that runs both Android and Windows 8.1 would be a natural for me.
Second, Windows needs more modern, touch-centric apps, and especially the ATIV Q model, which was going to run Android apps side-by-side with Windows 8.1 apps, gives Windows exactly what it needs. I don’t think that Windows 8.1 developers would be dissuaded from making apps because a machine can run Android apps. I think they’d have more incentive to make good modern UI apps. After all, unless they also make Android apps, they’re already competing against Android—Intel’s solution simply means that they’re now competing on the same machine.
Eventually, sure, Windows needs its own stable of high-quality modern UI apps, and I think it will get them. The ability to run Android apps in the meantime, I think, just gives the platform a chance to catch its breath. After all, the key here is that these are Windows machines running Android, meaning that every one sold is another Windows 8.1 unit taking market share from earlier Windows versions, OS X, and even Android-specific devices.
Maybe Microsoft is concerned that the combination exposes Windows users to Android, but I think they’re missing the point—that’s already been happening for years now. And that’s not even considering iOS, which has always threatened to pull Windows users toward OS X (but doesn’t seem to have happened the way that Apple would like). The bottom line is that Microsoft should welcome the direct comparison that such hybrids offer up—Windows 8.1 has some nice advantages over Android, and the more people that run them one after the other and even side-by-side, the more people that can be exposed to those advantages.
That’s all, folks. I won’t delve into what might happen with Android, given Samsung’s dominance of the platform, the legal battles that loom on horizon, and the effect of conflict between Chromebooks and Android. Nor will I predict what happens to the cloud due to the recent rash of security fiascos. I might comment on them separately, but trying to predict what might happen is, I think, a bit premature at this point.
Let me know what you think of my prognostications in the comments. Will this be Microsoft’s year, will Apple introduce something stunning that pulls the market back in their direction, or will Google continue to dominate?