In what should come as no surprise to anyone witnessing the effect of the bring your own device trend on the IT industry, the tablet market is poised to make huge gains within the next few years, according to a new forecast from research firm Gartner.
That's giving Microsoft's rivals—Google and Apple, for the most part—added ammunition to take on the giant software company.
In 2013, worldwide tablet shipments will rise 69.8 percent from 2012's levels. Apple, Samsung and other electronics makers will pour 197 million tablets into the market this year, compared with 116 million units in 2012. By 2017, Gartner predicts that the tablet market will grow to 467.9 million units.
Meanwhile, Windows desktop, laptop and notebook PCs, Microsoft's bread and butter, will suffer a big slide.
Desktop and notebook PC shipments totaled 341.2 million units in 2012, a figure that will dip to 271.6 million by 2017. And while super-slim "ultra-mobile" PCs are expected to cushion the fall somewhat, they'll do little to slow the blistering pace of tablet adoption.
In essence, tablets like the iPad will provide a compelling and capable-enough computing experience for the majority of users, argues Gartner research vice president Carolina Milanesi.
"While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device. As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis," said Milanesi in a company statement.
Since most tablets and smartphones are running Android and Apple's iOS operating system, this trend puts Microsoft at a disadvantage.
Gartner forecasts that in the coming years, Android, Google's mobile OS, will cement its leadership position in the overall device market, which includes PCs, tablets and smartphones. More than 497 million Android devices shipped in 2012, compared with 346.4 million for Microsoft Windows and 212.8 million for Apple iOS and Mac OS.
Android's lead will widen by 2017 to 1.4 billion devices, compared with 570.9 million for Windows and 504.1 million for Apple's OSes.
Windows 8 and the company's Surface tablet were meant to pave the way for a rich Windows tablet ecosystem. Instead, the company suffered slow Windows 8 adoption and weak Surface and Windows tablet sales. It was a factor in Bank of America Merrill Lynch's decision to downgrade Microsoft's stock from buy to neutral on April 4.
Forbes' Chuck Jones noted in his report that for the past decade, Microsoft's stock has been range-bound between $24 and $31. The next decade doesn't look much more promising unless its mobile strategy pans out.
Jones wrote, "With smartphones and tablets putting pressure on some of the company's core businesses, I would expect the shares to continue to remain range-bound unless it starts to gain solid traction in the mobile space."
There are indications that Microsoft is getting the message. Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 Blue update—now widely rumored to be called Windows 8.1—will feature several new tweaks and optimizations, many of which center on expanding the operating system's touch-enabled and tablet-friendly features.