Both Apple and Microsoft take tumble in Gartner's latest device forecast

iOS and macOS will recover in 2017, but Windows will struggle to post gains

Shipments of devices powered by Apple's and Microsoft's operating systems will end 2016 down from the year before. But Apple's will recover next year, while Microsoft's will continue to struggle toward growth, research firm Gartner said this week.

In 2017, Apple's combination of iOS and macOS -- the former powering iPhones, the latter Macs -- will have taken second place from Windows on the devices shipped during the year. The gap between the two will widen slightly in 2018.

According to Gartner, which provided Computerworld with its forecast broken out by operating system, Windows will power about 260 million devices shipped in 2016, a 12% decline year-over-year. The 260 million represents 11.2% of the total of 2.3 billion total devices, which overwhelmingly run Google's Android.

Gartner has progressively downsized its estimates of total devices shipped and Windows' portion of those shipments, throughout 2015 and 2016. In March 2016, for example, the research firm projected that more than 2.4 billion devices would ship this year, and that Windows would power 283 million, or 11.7% of the total.

Microsoft's shrinking share of the operating system market has been both ongoing and well documented. This year, however, Windows took a new hit as Microsoft quit the battle with Apple and Google when it walked away from the smartphone business.

But Windows now has company: Gartner also downgraded its 2016 forecast for Apple's operating systems.

In 2016, iOS and macOS will account for 259 million of the year's shipped devices, or 11.1% of the total. The 259 million represents a 7% decline from 2015's 276 million, and is down 14% from the March 2016 forecast. The cause: Soft sales of the iPhone, Apple's dominant device, by far.

iOS and macOS, however, will recover in 2017, Gartner predicted, climbing 9% to 280 million -- admittedly only a few million more than during 2015 -- and adding 3% in 2018 to reach 290 million.

Under the latest Gartner forecast, Windows should drop another 3%, to 253 million, in 2017, then claw back a half a percentage point to 254 million in 2018.

Overall, Gartner's latest forecast was gloomier for almost every device category than earlier estimates. "All segments are expected to decline in 2016, except for premium ultra-mobiles and utility mobile phones (entry level phones), which are expected to show single-digit growth this year," said Gartner analyst Ranjit Atwal in a statement Thursday.

Even the smartphone category, which has seen a torrid growth rate, will slow in some segments. Gartner forecast a 1.1% decline in shipments of premium smartphones, for instance, in large part because of Apple's inability to keep growth in the black after the banner 2014-2015 arrival of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Despite the introduction of the iPhone 7 last month, Gartner is still betting on a year-over-year fall in iPhone shipments for 2016.

Windows' future looked particularly depressing to Gartner, primarily because the operating system is almost entirely dependent on personal computer shipments, which remain in a slump that increasingly appears unstoppable.

Gartner acknowledged that shipments of PC-like devices will continue to contract. In 2016, the PC market will shrink by 8%, just two-tenths of a percentage point less than the 2015 fall. Yet Gartner was cautiously optimistic that PC shipments would scratch back into a just-barely-positive gain of 0.4% in 2017 and 3% in 2018.

But Gartner has called the bottom of the PC business before. In September 2015, for example, its forecast cited zero growth in PC shipments for 2016 -- the trough, in other words -- and a 4.5% increase in 2017.

Gartner's tallies include personal computers, tablets, hybrids and smartphones, but not other categories like smart watches or streaming devices such as Apple TV.

device shipments Data: Gartner

Shipments of devices powered by Microsoft's and Apple's operating systems will be quite close this year, but Apple should open a gap between it and its rival in 2017 and 2018.

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Gregg Keizer

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