Microsoft will place a distant third in worldwide tablet sales by 2015, according to new research from Gartner, which also predicts Apple's iPad will maintain its lead despite a burgeoning number of Google Android tablets.
"We expect Apple to maintain a market share lead throughout our forecast period by commanding more than 50 percent of the market until 2014," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in a Sept. 22 statement accompanying the research note. "This is because Apple delivers a superior and unified user experience across its hardware, software and services."
Competitors need to offer something similar, she added, if they want to carve away market share from Apple. "Apple had the foresight to create this market and in doing that planned for it as far as component supplies such as memory and screen," she wrote. "This allowed Apple to bring the iPad out at a very competitive price and no compromise in experience among the different models."
For the past few weeks, Microsoft has unveiled aspects of its Windows 8 operating system, which is being designed to run on both tablets and traditional PCs. It will do so by offering two distinct user environments: the desktop, instantly familiar to anyone who's used Windows, alongside a touch-enabled interface featuring colorful tiles that link to applications.
Microsoft executives have spent considerable time over the past few weeks trumpeting Windows 8's "no compromises" ability to provide both a lightweight mobility experience and the sort of features desired by power users. But Gartner's analysts seem to be reserving judgment for the moment.
"The current buzz around Windows 8 driven by the demonstrations seen at [September's] BUILD conference might be short-lived if Microsoft's push to use the new OS across devices comes at a compromise in usability," suggested the firm's research note. "Moreover, the late arrival might limit its appeal, especially to consumers, as Apple and Android will be more entrenched by then."
Windows 8 is expected to release sometime in 2012, although Microsoft has offered no exact date. An executive at a major Microsoft partner recently told eWEEK that the operating system would arrive on devices sometime in the second half of next year.
No matter how well Windows 8 fares in the tablet arena, Gartner suggests it will do far better than Hewlett-Packard's webOS and Research In Motion's QNX. HP recently made the decision to terminate production of its TouchPad tablet, which ran webOS, although the company apparently wants to license the mobile operating system to other companies. RIM's PlayBook tablet runs QNX, although the device's sales have proven anemic in comparison to those for Apple's iPad.