Android Could Overtake Windows in 2016

The past decade has included many wins for Linux and OSS, but 2010 has perhaps been the biggest year so far. The latest proof is the year end 2010 smartphone sales numbers, showing Android overtaking Symbian for the top slot in terms of OS share. This large growth got me wondering when we might see Linux powered devices overtake Windows-based PC’s (desktops, laptops, netbooks, etc.)?

First, let’s take a look where we are at today. Based on some IDC market reports, it looks like there has been around 321 million PC’s sold worldwide in 2010. This number includes desktops, large portables (e.g. laptops), and small portables (e.g. netbooks). We are also looking at a PC growth rate worldwide of around 10%, dipping slightly as the years move forward. In North America PC growth is even worse, generally forcasted between -1% to 1% over the next several years. There isn’t great way to determine what share of PC’s run some version of Microsoft Windows, so I will assume 90% do.

Smartphone sales on the other hand are surging. According to the latest Canalys numbers, 2010 saw around 101 million smartphones sold worldwide, with around 33% of them being powered by Android (a.k.a. Linux). Android saw around an 615% growth rate in 2010, and Google is expected to double their lead over competition next year.

With numbers like this, it gets fun to play with some spreadsheets and try to predict what the world might look like in a few years. I will look at two hypothetical scenarios. The first will be if PC and smartphone growth remains exactly the same as it was in 2010, and the second, if we make some predictions on what market growth might look like over the next several years.

I want to insert a disclaimer here that I’m not a market researcher and I have no way of validating the accuracy of these projections, so don’t use them for anything serious! If anything this is an exercise in what could happen, not what will happen. It’s fun (for me) nonetheless. 

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So where do we end up? If scenario #1 is correct, it looks possible that we will see Android smartphones overtake Windows-based PC sales in 2014; however, there are two obvious flaws in this model. 1) The numbers for smartphones shipped look pretty ridiculous when we get out to 2014 and 2015, and 2) While it is likely we will see an uptick in smartphone growth over the next couple of years, it it unlikely the numbers will continue to be so aggressive for several years.

The scenario #2 brings a bit more intelligence to the projection, and makes the assumption that smartphone growth will remain strong but not aggressive, PC growth will eventually decline, and Android will hold its market doubling it is expected to earn this year. This model looks a bit more realistic, with total smartphone and PC sales in 2016 looking reasonable. 2016 is also the year where Android could surpass the Windows PC.

What are some takeaways?

I don’t think anyone really knows what the smartphone market and Android are capable of yet. I read a market report just in September that stated that Symbian would continue to hold its lead over Android for many years to come. One fiscal quarter later and the world has changed. I also read reports that smartphone growth in 2010 was anticipated to be much lower than 89%. The year ends and the world looks different.

One other point to take into consideration is that these projections completely ignore potential growth for Android in the tablet space, and other Linux-based mobile offerings from Meego and Ubuntu.

Take what you want from the above, but my bets are still on Linux.

Posted on February 3, 2011