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Microsoft can’t win at the expense of Apple and Google

Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) foray into tablets has been a disaster, but industry tracker IDC sees better days ahead for the software giant.

Microsoft’s Surface line of tablets has been a disappointment since rolling out late last year, and hardware companies putting out tablets based on Microsoft’s Windows RT or Windows 8 haven’t fared any better.

It hasn’t helped that Windows RT and to a lesser extent Windows 8 lack the same developer support that Apple‘s (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iOS and Google‘s (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) Android are commanding. Windows 8 on tablets offers greater PC compatibility, but that also comes at the expense of hogging up precious storage space for entry-level models.

It also doesn’t help that potential Windows hardware partners have little reason to abandon the freely available Android. It’s there. It’s working.

But IDC does see Windows gaining ground in tablets in the coming years, and it naturally will come at the expense of iOS and Android. Let’s take a look at IDC’s market share forecast for the three leading platforms.

Operating System 2012 2013 2017
Android 52% 60.8% 58.8%
iOS 45.6% 35% 30.6%
Windows 0.9% 3.4% 10.2%

Source: IDC.

Making matters worse, IDC sees tablet growth slowing considerably in a few years as consumers gravitate to larger smartphones and phablets that make outright tablet purchases less compelling. Yielding market share in a growing pie isn’t the end of the world, but fading in a pie that is itself expected to diminish is problematic.

The good news for Apple and Google investors is that it doesn’t have to play out that way. The tablet market could continue to expand, especially if tablets continue to gain at the expense of desktop and laptop computers. There’s also little reason for Microsoft to succeed in tablets if Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are living up to consumer and corporate expectations. That seems to be the case right now. Between Apple’s iPad on the high end, and a growing fleet of Android tablets all across the pricing spectrum, it’s hard to see how Microsoft plans to make itself viable at a time when the market’s moving away from chunky operating systems.

IDC and fellow PC industry trackers underestimated the shift away from Windows-fueled PCs in recent years, and now IDC appears to be overestimating the role that Windows will play in the future of tablets.

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A version of this article, written by  Rick Munarriz, originally appeared on fool.com.

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