Editorial

Windows 10: Three years, one billion devices - how is Microsoft doing so far?

It’s official: the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is coming on August 2, a few days after the first anniversary of its original release. As part of that announcement this week, Microsoft revealed that Windows 10 is now installed on over 350 million devices – and that’s a pretty big number whichever way you slice it.

Microsoft always expected significant growth for Windows 10. In April 2015, it set itself a seemingly ambitious goal: within 2-3 years, it said, the new OS would be running on over one billion devices. So, how is it doing so far?

Let’s take a look at the raw numbers that Microsoft has provided about Windows 10 installations over the last eleven months, since the OS officially launched for PCs on July 29, 2015. For the figures below, we’re pulling in a little help from our old friend, Microsoft MVP and former colleague, Michael Gillett, who has put together a handy online resource to help track the progress of Microsoft’s Windows 10 installations, based on a three-year target.

Date (official figures only) Rolling total Progress towards 1 billion Time elapsed (out of 3 years) Days since total last updated Average new additions per day
Jul 30, 2015 14,000,000 1% 0% 1 14,000,000
Aug 27, 2015 75,000,000 8% 3% 28 2,180,000
Oct 6, 2015 110,000,000 11% 6% 40 875,000
Jan 4, 2016 200,000,000 20% 15% 90 1,000,000
Mar 30, 2016 270,000,000 27% 23% 86 814,000
May 5, 2016 300,000,000 30% 26% 36 833,000
Jun 29, 2016 350,000,000 35% 32% 55 909,000


Unsurprisingly, the greatest growth for Windows 10 was in its first 24 hours of availability, as many users scrambled to get the new OS as soon as it was released (and of course, many of them had already been using it for months before as part of the Windows Insider Program). It’s also not surprising that the growth rate during the subsequent month – while considerably lower than on that first day – was still remarkably high, as the ‘novelty’ of a major new version of Windows was still very much alive.

Since then, the rate of new installations – including both upgrades and new devices – has stabilized, roughly within the range of 800,000 to 900,000 per day, with the exception of the period from October 6 to January 4, where it rose to an average of 1 million.

Microsoft released its ‘New Xbox One Experience’ in mid-November, bringing Windows 10 to millions of its consoles. Additionally, the first Windows 10 Mobile handsets also went on sale during the same three-month period – although we know that Lumia sales fell by 49% in that same quarter, so their sales impact on total Windows 10 installations was likely minimal.

Of course, that quarter also included the all-important holiday season, when buyers traditionally indulge in a shopping frenzy around Black Friday and in the weeks before Christmas. According to IDC, around 71 million PCs were sold in Q4 2015 - although that figure also includes Apple desktops and notebooks, as well as Google Chromebooks. And of course, a hefty chunk of the Windows PCs sold during that time were older Windows 8.1 machines, which wouldn't have immediately counted towards the Windows 10 total, and many more of those PC sales will also have gone to businesses, which are generally hesitant to upgrade to the latest OS versions.

It's likely then that the overwhelming majority of the 90 million additions to the Windows 10 installation count from October to early January was made up of upgrades to existing devices, rather than new purchases.

The total number of devices running Windows 10 has steadily risen since then, despite an apparent slowdown in the rate at which new devices were activated in the first quarter of the calendar year. But since Q1 2016, that growth rate has moderately increased too. That’s at least partly attributable to Microsoft’s aggressive efforts to push users to upgrade their Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs to the new OS – a strategy that has attracted scathing criticism from around the world (although it’s also provided a few laughs along the way).

Earlier this year, the firm made Windows 10 a ‘recommended’ update, rather than an optional one, as it had warned it would do last October. But the company was also accused of trying to ‘trick’ users into upgrading, when it changed the behavior of the ‘X’ button on the upgrade notification screen. Previously, that button would simply close the upgrade prompt; but after Microsoft began pre-emptively assigning a date and time for upgrades, the ‘X’ button suddenly became an implicit agreement, giving the go-ahead to install Windows 10.

Following a huge backlash, the company finally backed down to some degree earlier this week, but its pushy approach up to that point undoubtedly scored it plenty of Windows 10 installations. In terms of pure numbers, that strategy can only be viewed as a success – but Microsoft also eroded some goodwill and trust among its customer base, so that success certainly came at a price.

Assuming Microsoft follows through on its promise to end its free Windows 10 upgrade offer on July 29, 2016 – which would subsequently require those wishing to upgrade to purchase a new license, priced from $119; or simply buy a new device – it seems inevitable that Windows 10 growth towards the one-billion target will rely far more heavily on new device sales after that date.

But while many of us obsess over Microsoft's consumer offerings, its business and enterprise customers cannot be overlooked. And it's especially important to note that while organizations of all sizes did their best to resist the upgrade to Windows 8 and 8.1 - desperately clinging to Windows 7 for as long as possible - many appear far more open to Windows 10.

When Microsoft announced that Windows 10 installations had passed 200 million in January, over 22 million of those were in the enterprise and education sectors. Microsoft also touted a stunning win for the OS in February when the US Department of Defense announced plans to upgrade 4 million of its devices to Windows 10 within just twelve months.

With more business, enterprise and education customers open to adopting Windows 10 - whether by migrating existing devices to the new OS, or purchasing new ones - the likelihood of Microsoft reaching its billion-device target in the next two years appears even stronger.

Beyond PCs, in the short term, at least, Microsoft can expect little growth from its smartphone platform. The latest figures from AdDuplex indicate that Windows 10 Mobile growth is already slowing, and while Microsoft’s own handset sales crashed by 73% year-over-year in Q1 2016, sales of its partners’ devices remain statistically insignificant. Just over 1% of devices running its new mobile OS were manufactured by other companies.

Curiously, despite there being millions of Windows Phone 8.1 handsets eligible to upgrade to the new OS, Microsoft seems to be doing its best not to upgrade them. The company requires that users download its ‘Upgrade Advisor’ app to be able to install Windows 10 Mobile on their handsets. But that relies upon users being aware that the upgrade is actually available for their devices – and most remain unaware, given that Microsoft isn’t actively notifying them of that availability.

If Microsoft pushed its mobile upgrades with some of the enthusiasm it demonstrated in encouraging PC users to upgrade, it would clearly offer a further boost to the total number of Windows 10 installations, and it’s not at all clear why the company seems so reluctant to do so, especially given its repeated insistence that it remains firmly committed to its mobile OS.

But given the continuing decline in the PC industry, and the catastrophic collapse in Windows 10 Mobile sales – according to Gartner, the platform’s sales share of the global smartphone market is now just 0.7% - that may well look like disastrous news for Microsoft’s goal of reaching a billion devices within three years.

But if that's what you think, you really need to be thinking a lot bigger.

Windows 10 isn’t just an operating system for PCs and phones, and it doesn’t end with notebooks and tablets either. Microsoft developed Windows 10 as a universal operating system with the potential to run on virtually any type of device, such as smart TVs, set-top boxes, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and many more, including Microsoft’s own Surface Hub and Xbox One consoles. Even its remarkable HoloLens headset runs a version of Windows 10, known as Windows Holographic, and it says that its hardware partners will launch their own mixed reality devices with its OS onboard in a matter of months.

The potential for growth here is staggering. Many of the market segments in which Microsoft has established its presence with Windows 10 are in their infancy, but are predicted to rapidly explode in popularity.

Tens of millions of virtual and augmented reality devices are expected to be sold before the end of the decade, and Microsoft has laid down some strong foundations with its OS on which it hopes its partners will build their own hardware and experiences.

The nascent IoT market is expected to boom in the coming months and years too. As with the mixed reality space, Microsoft is similarly prepared for IoT, having developed an ultra-lean version of Windows 10 designed specifically for the tiny, inexpensive and extremely versatile devices that promise to spark a new computing and data revolution for both organizations and individuals.

And with greater availability of data – on everything from our personal wellbeing and home maintenance, to complex systems management, and real-time stock monitoring for businesses – there will also be a much greater need for individuals and organizations alike to be able to easily interrogate that data, and glean quick and useful insights from it. Here too, Microsoft is well prepared, thanks to its considerable investments in machine learning capabilities, its efforts to establish itself as a leader in bot development, and the continuing improvements to its Cortana digital assistant. Integrated into Windows 10, Cortana still has a long way to go in its development, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envisage how the assistant could become more conversant, proactive and intelligent – and perhaps even indispensable, to consumers and businesses alike.

Of course, some of the potential that Microsoft has been gradually building up won’t be fully realized for a while yet, but even in the near future, it’s clear that Windows 10’s growth isn’t limited by a shrinking PC market and the decline of the company’s phone business.

Microsoft has managed to get Windows 10 onto 350 million new and upgraded devices in less than a year, although its approach to doing so hasn’t exactly won it many friends. But the removal of its free upgrade offer will pave the way for more sales of new devices – which will surely please its partners – and the aggressive upgrade prompts will finally be removed, to the delight of many users.

Microsoft’s vision for Windows 10 is far greater in scope than anything it’s developed before, and it’s already off to a very strong start. It will no doubt make more missteps as it executes its plans, and inevitably, not everything will come together exactly as it hopes – but between its grand ambitions, the strong foundations it’s built so far, and the promising future that many predict for the new market segments it’s now targeting, it’s well placed to achieve success on an extraordinary scale.

But the question remains: can Microsoft really reach a billion Windows 10 devices in the next two years? The answer is simple: absolutely.

Of course, a lot can happen in two years…

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