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By | Gavin Clarke 30th April 2015 12:57

ONE BEELLION Windows 10 devices?! OH REALLY

This word 'billion' cannot mean what you think it means

Windows chief Terry Myerson in the thick of friendlies at Microsoft’s Build conference has predicted one billion devices will be running Windows 10 in its first two to three years.

He reckons the big lift will come from a wave of Windows 7 users upgrading to Windows 10 and people buying 2-in-1s – laptops that double as tablets. He apparently believes Windows 10 will unleash a demand, pent up since Windows Vista, for something new.

Myerson told Bloomberg:

“One thing we haven’t had – a great Windows release could drive people to refresh their PC... I see people with these Windows 7 PCs and I look at a great new 2-in-1 device with touch and I think there’s so much more you could have. I’m a little more optimistic.”

It's not clear how Myerson expects Microsoft to hit that number. Bloomberg didn't push him. What is certain, however, is that you should forget the Redmond brainwashing on mobile first, on devices and on HoloLens.

None of these are going to shift Windows 10 anywhere near that billion number. It’ll be the good, old-fashioned PC – and that’s a important given just how far Microsoft is trying to persuade Android and iOS developers they should have their applications run on Windows 10.

First, the numbers.

Myerson has set Windows 10 a goal of hitting one billion devices in the three years after it’s launch, expected later this year. Can Microsoft hit that? Gartner expects 422,726 million units running Windows will ship by the end of 2015 – that's expected to be a 17.4 per cent up increase over 2014. Gartner’s number include devices, desktops, notebooks and other mobiles, and the lead-like Windows Phone.

By Gartner’s numbers, Microsoft must double the 2015 number in 2016 and add it again to break the one-billion threshold within three years – 2017.

Microsoft doesn’t just make Windows for PCs: as before, there’s Windows Phone and Xbox. Microsoft sold 10 million Xbox units in one 12-month period to October 2014 and 34.9 million Windows Phones for 2014, according to IDC.

Let's be kind and assume those numbers stay static, rather than getting worse or even growing, and you still get Gartner’s predicted 2017 figure. Unless, that is, there’s a radical pivot in the Windows business that sees Windows phones explode and falling Xbox console sales bounce back. Without such a pivot, PCs will still account for the vast majority of those Windows 10 “devices.”

Microsoft PR has been moving towards conflation of PC and phone on the “what is Windows” thing for some while now. This is the final instalment.

The shape of the past could walk in the present tense

Of course, Windows has evolved and the past is not the future: Windows on Phone is architecturally closer to Windows on PC today than it has been.

Also, Microsoft has introduced Universal Apps – apps from its store that can run on PC, phones, Xbox and 3D HoloLens.

So what can these new platforms of Windows Phone, Xbox and HoloLens do to counter balance the PC?

HoloLens and Windows Phone were the flagship PR initiatives at BUILD, but – tellingly – these weren’t mentioned by Myerson in his Windows 10 forecast.

Of the two, HoloLens is the exciting new innovation. Yet there’s a big difference between exciting the inner nerd, as it’s done again so successfully, and in turning a product into a sustainable commercial hit.

Right now it’s not looking like anything can lift Windows Phone; sales are somewhere between flat and negative, trailing a long way behind Android and iOS; the new hope is growth for low-priced handsets in emerging economies and markets, such as India.

Microsoft’s been here with Surface, the multi-touch table, and Kinect, the hands-free controller for Xbox. The latter became a niche product. Kinect set a Guinness World Record for units sold and helped drive record sales of the already-old Xbox 360 in the Christmas 2011 shopping period. But Kinect became a liability for Xbox and Microsoft was forced to sell it separately to Xbox One in June 2014, after which the console’s sales doubled, hitting that eventual 10 million number.

The lesson is clear: cool, new ideas quickly become disposable gimmickry. Does the fate of Surface and Kinect await HoloLens? The omens are not promising.

All of this poses a problem for Microsoft. BUILD saw the company once again try to attract developers from larger and more successful mobile platforms. Past efforts have fallen flat and there is nothing here to make us think Microsoft will succeed this time.

Microsoft has released a limited set of its own Visual Studio tools for what is a particularly demanding class of IT person. It has a track record of rolling limited or low-priced and free editions of Visual Studio for different platforms without robbing the core Visual Studio business. Further, Android and iOS apps won’t be accorded write-once-run-on-Windows-10 status by Microsoft.

Redmond talking up Windows 10 with Windows Phone and HoloLens is an attempt to wow developers and bring them over to the Windows platform in general, to help boost the fortunes of these two platforms and – yes – Windows 10 as an operating system.

But why should devs trade already popular mobile platforms for Microsoft’s lame nag, or go with something that’s very likely to see its bubble burst?

This brings us back to the PC.

Myerson is right to think it’ll be laptop, notebook and desktop that shove Windows 10 forward. It won’t, however, be upgrades from Windows 7 – upgrades are always a tiny number of any new Windows operating system’s uptake curve. It’s sales of brand-new PCs that deliver true volume.

That will leave Microsoft right where it’s always been: betting on the swinging pendulum of consumer PC sales and business PC sales.

The question is whether the Android and iOS developers will think that’s a target worth their time. The answer is likely to be “no.” Again. ®

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