Sales of devices based on Apple's Mac OS and iOS will overtake those of products running all flavors of Windows in 2015, a Gartner analyst predicted Monday.
The switch in leadership would come roughly 13 years after Steve Jobs reinvented Apple, launching the iPod and plotting the company on a new path that has seen it conquer and define new markets, beginning with music players and continuing through cellphones and tablet computers.
Last year, shipments of products running Windows still handily outnumbered those running Mac OS and iOS, by 347 million to 213 million, according to figures from Gartner published Monday. The lead will be slashed to 23 million in 2014, and the Apple OSes will likely outnumber Windows devices in 2015, said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.
"When you break down the numbers, Apple is already leading the consumer market. They are selling more than Windows today," said Milanesi in a phone interview. "Microsoft remains relevant thanks to enterprise and professional users."
The shift mirrors the changing computer landscape, where desktops and laptops are increasingly being replaced by smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has struggled to gain mass adoption for Windows Phone 8, and the duelling Windows 8 and Windows RT have confused some tablet buyers.
To be sure, Windows will remain an important operating system. While more devices might be sold based on Apple's operating systems in 2015, the installed base of Windows remains very large and Gartner sees some traction for Microsoft in tablets with the upcoming Windows 8.1.
Beyond Apple surpassing Windows, an equally symbolic landmark will be passed this year when sales of devices based on Google's Android operating system beat the combined sales of Apple and Windows products.
Android is already the number-one computing platform on new devices, having shipped on just over half a billion devices in 2012, versus 559 million for Apple and Windows combined. This year Android is expected to ship on 867 million devices, while the combined total of Apple and Windows products hits 636 million, according to Gartner predictions.
Android device shipments will rise over a billion in 2014, said Gartner.
The surge in Android and Apple comes as a result of the popularity of smartphones and tablets.
Gartner expects tablet shipments to jump from 120 million last year to 202 million this year and 276 million in 2014. Smartphone shipments over the same period are expected to rise from 1.7 billion to 1.9 billion.
Meanwhile, sales of PCs will continue to fall over the next two years as tablets and new "ultramobile" hybrid computers attract consumers and enterprise customers. Gartner said it expects sales of desktop and notebook PCs to fall almost 11 percent this year and 5 percent next year, largely due to weakening sales of laptops.
Ultramobile computers, which are thinner and lighter than traditional notebooks, often have a touchscreen and often can be transformed into a tablet form factor, will find favor with enterprise users, said Milanesi.
"For enterprise users, it cuts down on the number of devices they need to run," she said.
Overall, the device market will rise from 2.2 billion devices in 2012 to 2.3 billion this year to 2.5 billion in 2014, according to Gartner estimates.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org