For a long time (early 2017 until earlier this month), Microsoft has claimed that somewhere around 700M users were actively running Windows 10. As of early March, 2019, MS has upped that tally by 100 million. If you check item 5 (of 14) in the current version of Microsoft By the Numbers, you should see something that looks like this:
It’s been a long time coming, but MS is finally claiming a new level of Win10 usage globally: 800 Million.
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What Goes into the 800M Number?
This number is still somewhat inflated, though, because it includes Xbox One X game consoles that run a Windows 10 variant, and also still includes a small (and shrinking) base of Windows 10 Mobile users. The real number of desktop users is now probably somewhere north of 700 million, but by how much, nobody really knows. Except Microsoft, of course, and they choose not to provide a breakdown that provides those subtotals. Their wording in the preceding chart reads “800 million devices” to include more than PCs in the total.
When Windows 10 first appeared in 2015, MS indicated it sought to hit the 1 Billion mark in two-to-three years. This target was quickly amended to “by the end of 2018” as growth figures began to make themselves known. We’re now coming up on 4 years into the Win10 era, and the total is still 20% shy of the 1B mark, counting active Win10 devices as generously as possible. Is this a problem? Not really, though Microsoft is no doubt both chagrined and disappointed to fall short of its original goals.
A big part of this phenomenon is, of course, the abject failure of Windows 10 Mobile in the marketplace. I have to believe that when MS made its original projections, those numbers may have included 300 million or more Windows 10 Mobile users. And, as we all know by now, that simply isn’t happening. MS has pretty much abandoned Windows 10 Mobile, and must rely on other devices to grow the tally of the installed base (or count of active users, if you prefer). I have to think that one reason why MS still hasn’t hit the 1B mark is because most casual computing users now turn to Android (74+ percent) or Apple/iOS (most of what’s left at 22.85%, with 2.7% for “Other”; source MacWorld,co.uk) rather than to PCs for their devices of choice.
If you visit PC market tracking sites like Statista, the graph trend shows a distinct if gentle downward slope from 2012 through Q4’2018 (the most recent quarter for which data is available), at an average of just under 75M units per quarter (or around 300M units per year). By contrast, global smartphone unit sales come in at over 1.5 B (or 5x the number of PCs) for 2018. MS is fighting the tide to look for growth in a sector where purchasing activity is gently declining over time. The upcoming retirement of Windows 7 may offer some temporary relief for this trend. But long-term, the number of desktops will stay flat at best. I believe they can’t help but resume their gentle descent into irrelevancy as “Systems-on-a-Chip” (SoC) offerings in smartphone come closer and closer to PC parity.
I’m pretty sure that Windows 10 may crack the 1 B barrier in another year or two. But I’m also pretty sure that it will never crack the 2B mark. Smartphones and tablets already rule the world by the numbers. Over time, they may also come to rule the user device world as well, even in the workplace. Stay tuned, and we’ll see.
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.