Microsoft says tablets will outsell PCs next year

Adam Oxford at

More Surface news today, and while we know that Microsoft is very proud of the tablets that they announced last week, it still may come as a surprise to find out just how popular the company thinks slates will be. Speaking at TechEd Europe in Amsterdam last night, VP for Windows Web Services Antoine Leblond claimed that by the end of next year, more tablets will be sold than desktop PCs.

Is it time for PC gamers to panic?

I'd argue not. Tablets outselling PCs might seem like a dramatic statement from Microsoft, but it's not actually news. Apart from the fact semantic objection that laptops are the bulk of the PC market anyway, the company has been making optimistic predictions about tablets for the last 12 years. Its latest pronouncement on things will probably come to pass: analysts have been suggesting the same thing for a few months now, and there's just one problem with the forecasts for Redmond.

The vast majority of tablets aren't going to be running Windows.

According to IDC's latest quarterly report into tablet and PC sales (released last week), the number of tablets sold is expected to hit 107.4 million by the end of 2012, rising to 142.8 million by 2013. IDC actually desktop PCs pegged to sell fractionally more than that in the same timescale – 161.5m units in 2013 – but there are other analysts whose figures back up Microsoft.

IDC, however, predicts a split of 60.8% iPads and 38.3% Android in the tabelt market, even by 2016. That leaves very little space for Windows devices. Admittedly, these figures were drawn up before Surface was announced and analysts have been pretty dreadful at forecasting tablet sales so far, but there are plenty of other high quality Windows tablets we did know about that they presumably based their thoughts on. The biggest problem for Windows tablets (other than iPad) is that Amazon and Google are both rumoured to be about to announce high quality Android competitors for Surface at a prices no Windows tablets can match.

Far be it from me to suggest Microsoft may be missing something in the stats, but there was something arguably more important for use, at least, in the IDC figures. I rather hope PC games developers picked up on them though.

Sales of tablets are incredible, but sales of laptops and desktops are still rising. Even in Europe and the US, where desktop sales are expected to decline, IDC thinks the number of laptops will increase by 10% between 2012 and 2013, and that by 2016 the total number of portable and desktop PCs sold worldwide will increase by nearly 45% over last year.

Before you get too excited though, every silver lining has a cloud. Analysts at Gartner have just released a statement to the effect that they believe Windows 8 is, to paraphrase, a death knell traditional desktop computing.

Michael Silver, Gartner Vice President, said “[Windows 8] is also the beginning of the end of Win32 applications on the desktop." He did add that he expected the desktop to be around for ten years or so yet, but the point is that developers who are making apps and games for WinRT will be the ones that receive most support from Microsoft in the future. Personally, I think the bigger problem is that Microsoft isn't planning on making an easy way for WinRT apps (the Metro ones) to run on older versions of Windows - that would surely encourage indie developers to look at it more favourably as a platform for selling games.

Incidentally, one of the best write ups about Surface I've seen yet, which looks at the reasons behind Microsoft wanting to become a hardware vendor, is at Asymco. The breakdown of relative operating profits between software and hardware is especially interesting (that link came via this one).