Gartner tablet forecast oddly overlooks Microsoft

Research firm Gartner yesterday gave Microsoft a hard diss on the tablet front by not including Redmond in its recent tablet-OS four-year forecast.

Apple's iOS, according to Gartner, will continue to be the tablet leader through 2015, but will lose some ground to Google's Android in that time period.

Between now and 2015 the iPad will drop from owning 83 per cent of the tablet market to 47 per cent as competitors' devices, including Android-based tablets and Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Playbook make steady gains, Gartner says.

Android's tablet market share will rise from 14 per cent to 38 per cent between now and 2015, Gartner predicts, and RIM will slowly find its way into the market and take third-place in the tablet space with 10 per cent of the market in 2015.

Applications, more than hardware, are what really matter, according to Gartner, and that's where iOS and Android shine.

"Tablets will be much more dependent on the apps than smartphones have been, and the sooner vendors realize that the better chance they have to compete head-to-head with Apple," says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.

However, the Gartner report goes on to notably omit the Windows OS as a tablet player. Two fringe tablet operating systems, WebOS and MeeGo, round out the top five market leaders with three per cent and one per cent respectively. But Microsoft will not be able to produce a competitive tablet in the next four years, according to Gartner.

This is rather strange considering Microsoft said that the next version of Windows (currently referred to as Windows 8) will be designed for tablets and will run on the ARM-based chips used in smartphones and tablets like the iPad and others running the Android OS. The next version of Windows will likely be released a year and a half from now if Microsoft sticks to its usual three-year cycle.

It's also a curious projection since Gartner recently predicted, along with IDC, that Windows Phone 7 will surge in the next four years, as the mobile OS makes its way to Nokia hardware, to become the number two smartphone OS behind Android.

Stranger still: Milanesi says in a release about the new tablet report: "Smartphone users will want to buy a tablet that runs the same operating system as their smartphone. This is so that they can share applications across devices as well as for the sense of familiarity the user interfaces will bring."

While Microsoft's smartphone OS (Windows Phone 7) is not the same as the company's pending tablet OS (Windows 8), it behooves Microsoft to provide as much application compatibility as possible between the two OSes. Let's face it, the company would be insane not to.

So all the Windows Phone 7 users that Gartner predicts will rise up over the next four years should have a Windows tablet counterpart available to them starting late next year. If Gartner predicts smartphones and tablets of the same ecosystem will be tied together, how can Windows Phone 7 quadruple its market share in four years and a Windows tablet not even show up on the radar screen?

Gartner likely left Windows tablets out of the forecast because the devices simply don't exist yet, and that's Microsoft's main problem overall: It's too slow to market with crucial products. And Microsoft is being left out of the increasingly important tablet conversation.

Nevertheless, a four-year technology forecast should be taken with a healthy grain of salt. So much can change in a week, never mind what will happen in 2015.

But still, given how the phone-tablet ecosystem is converging, it's hard to imagine that a vendor like Microsoft could ever be a smartphone success and at the same time a tablet failure.

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

Read more about mobile/wireless in CIO's Mobile/Wireless Drilldown.

Tags telecommunicationioswirelessRIMwindows phone 7AndroidPhonesBlackBerry PlaybookmobileiPadGartnerwebOSAppleGoogleconsumer electronicsMicrosoftlaptopstablet PCstabletsresearch in motion

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Shane O'Neill

CIO (US)

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