Android dominated worldwide “connected device” (smartphones, tablets, and PCs) shipments in 2014, and will continue to build its lead over the next two years, according to a report released this week by research firm Gartner. More than 1.1 billion devices running some variety of Google’s operating system shipped during the year, with Windows OS and Windows Phone devices combining for second place at 333 million. Apple-powered devices running iOS and OS X totaled 262 million shipments, while all others combined for 626 million.
Of the roughly 2.3 billion devices shipped worldwide, the vast majority (1.8 billion) were mobile phones, followed by traditional PCs, including standard notebooks (279 million), tablets (216 million), and “ultramobile premium” notebooks (39 million), which includes devices like the MacBook Air and Microsoft Surface.
Tablet shipments, which saw double-digit growth in 2012 and 2013, declined sharply in 2014. This decline may not have been enough to change each platform’s position overall, but it’s a factor that will have a noticeable effect going forward. The reason? Companies like Apple are making tablets that last too long.
Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, argues that one of the primary factors reasons for the steep decline in tablet shipments last year was that “the lifetime of tablets is being extended.” Devices like Apple’s iPad can be upgraded to the latest software version (iOS 8 supports all iPads dating back to the iPad 2, released in March 2011), extending their useful life for both the initial owner and the family members or friends to whom the device may eventually be passed down.
A lack of radical innovation in tablet design and features may also be at play, Mr. Atwal said, with new features such as Touch ID and Apple Pay not enough to entice customers to upgrade.
Looking forward, Gartner predicts that Android-powered devices will take an even greater share of worldwide shipment share, reaching an estimated 1.6 billion devices shipped in 2016. Apple’s iOS and OS X will continue to grow as well, but at a slower rate than Android or Windows, the latter of which is expected to reach shipments of 393 million by 2016. The stronger growth predicted for Google and Microsoft’s platforms is due in large part to their focus on developing and low-cost market segments, while Apple continues to focus on high-end markets.
“The smartphone market is becoming polarized between the high- and low-end market price points,” said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner. “On one hand, the premium phone with an average selling price at $447 in 2014 saw growth dominated by iOS, and on the other end of the spectrum you have Android and other open OS phones' growth area in the basic phone segment, where the average phone costs $100.”
Google’s continued dominance of device shipments is unsurprising, although the company and its partners’ longterm profitability on these shipments remains to be seen. The same applies to Microsoft, which has recently made Windows licenses free for certain low-cost devices in an effort to regain ground lost to Google and Apple. As traditional PC sales continue to decline, Microsoft will have to significantly increase its share of the mobile market to remain competitive in Gartner’s predicted landscape.