ScreenHunter_10 Feb. 24 10.41BusinessInsider recently published “STEVE BALLMER’S NIGHTMARE: How Microsoft’s Business Actually Could Collapse”. And while you may think that this is an extreme scenario used as linkbait (and by all means read their entire post as well), here are some data points that show that some of the pieces of the puzzle have already been falling into place:

1) Windows Phone 7 isn’t really going anywhere, and Nokia’s new Lumia 800, etc. offerings don’t feel (price) competitive enough to make much of a dent in either that trend, or Nokia’s own downfall.

2) While Android tablets have failed to make any meaningful inroads against the iPad thus far, at least they have sold somewhere between 1-2 Million (U.S.), and shipped many more (sitting in inventories, waiting for drastic price cuts…).

But Microsoft won’t even be in the game until some time later this year (what will the actual date be? Q3? Q4?!), when tablets with Windows 8 are expected to ship in quantity. So Microsoft is starting from way behind in third place.

3) More importantly, there are no guarantees that the tablet/touch-centric bet of Windows 8 is going to pay off. In fact, it could well be that because the touch UI (User Interface) is bolted onto a relatively heavy-weight, resource-intensive Windows NT OS base, Win 8 will require too-expensive, high-end spec’d tablets, while as a standard desktop/laptop OS, few consumers and companies will see a true need to upgrade to Win 8 from 7.

It’s just a few years after 7 was introduced, and for all apparent purposes, it is running everything anyone would need on a Windows laptop/desktop just fine. So why spend money on 8 in a difficult/uncertain macro-economic environment?

4) Windows developers have been relatively unhappy about having to massively retool for writing apps for Windows 8, so there could be trouble brewing here as well.

5) While all of this still doesn’t spell immediate collapse for Microsoft’s business, legacy sales of Windows 7 upgrades, MS Office upgrades, and various enterprise software is not going to suffice in the long run.

6) It is also telling that Windows 8 was being completely overshadowed by… just about everything else thus far at CES, including Google’s Android 4.0 version “Ice Cream Sandwich”. Keep in mind that CES had until now been Microsoft’s showcase, even though it is now withdrawing from the event for the future.

(This apparently due to the timing creating a mismatch with Microsoft’s own internal launch calendar, which may explain the long history of relative vaporware coming out of Redmond at CES.)

But this has got to smart: Windows 8 is Microsoft’s major bet on a unified OS to run “on all three screens”, desktop/laptop, tablet, and smartphone. It is a bet so large, one might say Ballmer is betting the farm on Windows 8 being a hit, and that if it isn’t, Microsoft is in real trouble.

7) As Robert Scoble recently stated in the discussion on his Google+ thread here, Windows Phone might already be done:

…What matters is the PRODUCT THAT SHIPS TODAY. Microsoft is missing 450,000 apps TODAY and NOTHING you say can make that go away. Microsoft knows it’s in a deep hole. So do most consumers. …the problem is that THE MICROSOFT PRESS thinks it’s doomed. It’s not just one guy, either. It’s people who cover Microsoft for a living and live in Seattle and they think Microsoft Mobile sucks. So you’re on the wrong side of the line. It’s not getting better, it’s only getting worse. Android and iOS aren’t standing still, you know.”

So if Windows Phone (WP) isn’t catching, and Microsoft is actually indirectly telling developers with the Windows 8 unified strategy that WP (7 or higher) is going away sooner rather than later anyway, where are the Windows 8 prototype/show/reference phones at CES?

Even the CES-announced (promised for March) LG phone featuring the new Intel (!) “Medfield” CPU for smartphones will be running, wait for it… Android!?

8) The Q4 sales figures tell the tale that Microsoft is running behind on a PostPC Era that appears to be upon us (and them) a lot faster than just about anybody predicted:

From GigaOm’s Macs sales growing, but U.S. PC market stagnates:

Things were so bad, IDC has dubbed 2011 the “the second-worst year in history” for the U.S. PC market. The overall 5 percent contraction of the market since 2010 is second only to the 12 percent decline after the Y2K buildup and the dot-com bust of 2001.

Ouch!

This while Apple managed to sell about 300,000 more Macs and grow 18% to a U.S. market share of nearly 11%. But I consider that more of a Halo-Effect from the mindshare captured by the iPhone and iPad. Yes, the 2011 Macbook Airs were really sexy which is why everybody copied them since late last year and at this CES as (Wintel) “Ultrabooks”.

But that doesn’t explain how U.S. PC shipments dropped by nearly 1.4 Million in the quarter Y/Y, or even more with the Mac growth factored back out. Despite some macro-economic headwinds, the only thing that explains this is the “iPad effect”:

Apple has likely sold around 40 Million iPads in 2011 globally (just under 15M in 2010). Let’s say half of those are U.S. sales, so 5M per quarter on average. And the actual numbers for the Q4 Holiday Shopping quarter should be a good bit higher than say Q1/2011 where additionally the iPad 2 wasn’t even shipping yet, so 5M for Q4 is actually pretty conservative. [UPDATE: Apple announced 15.4M iPads sold globally in Q4 at their earnings call. So my 5M number for the U.S. sales estimate still feels conservative.]

That would mean that Apple has taken 5M of 23.5M (18.5M PCs + 5M iPads) = 21.2% share with the iPad alone! Add to that the 11% (of the 18.5M) Mac share and Apple is at about 29%. It’s not that COMPUTER sales are really dropping, it’s that a lot of iPads and other tablets are replacing a lot of new PC purchases for the mainstream user.

And this phenomenon is only expected to grow, analysts think Apple might sell 55M total iPads in 2012. One must wonder if there so much pressure on Windows 8 on tablets to be a success that it is setting it up for failure?!