Microsoft (MSFT -0.31%) was all over the map in 2015. Its stock experienced huge moves, both up and down, earlier in the year, but has finally settled about 20% higher. The year also brought new versions of Microsoft's Surface tablets and Lumia Windows phones, Windows 10, and the debut of the new Surface Book.
What can investors expect from Microsoft in the coming year? I think there's plenty for the company to look forward to in 2016, but I doubt it's enough to make it Microsoft's best year yet.
Surface tablets on the move
Revenue from Surface tablets gained in 2015, only to fall to $672 million in fiscal Q1 2016 (reported in October), down from $908 million in fiscal Q1 2015. In its defense, Microsoft said part of the drop came from consumers waiting for its new Surface Pro 4 to debut.
Estimates from IDC predict that 2016 will be a turning point for Microsoft in the tablet market. The company is expected to grab more than 10% of the tablet market for the first time ever, and keep climbing from there. By 2019, IDC believes that Windows tablets will have nearly 18% of the market, with most of the gains coming at the expense of Android. Meanwhile, iPad market share is expected to remain stagnant.
Sales in the detachable market (tablets with detachable keyboards) are expected to rise by 75% in 2016. With Microsoft now selling three devices in that category, it's certainly poised to benefit from that trend.
Wait a bit longer for significant Windows 10 impact
Windows 10 is arguably the best Windows operating system that Microsoft's put out in a long time. But in the last calendar quarter of 2015, Windows OEM revenue was down 6%.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on an earnings call in October that there are already 8 million business PCs running Windows 10 (and 110 million devices total), but that more growth will come from the enterprise market starting in 2016. "We expect the enterprise deployment to start in earnest the beginning of next calendar year or the second half of this fiscal year," Nadella said.
Windows 10 may not really get off the ground until closer to 2017 though, if projections from Gartner pan out.
"In 2016, we expect currency impacts will negate and while Windows 10 products on the Intel Skylake platform will increase in volumes throughout the year, Windows 10 adoption among businesses will ramp sharply in 2017, where we expect the PC market to return to a 4% growth," analysts at Gartner said recently.
Don't expect much from Windows phones
This year certainly wasn't a banner one for Microsoft's Windows phones. The company ended up writing down $7.6 billion in 2015, mainly from its purchase of Nokia's mobile division, and announced 7,800 layoffs. Most of those came from Nokia employees who moved over to Microsoft, and an additional 1,000 layoffs came from Microsoft's phone division just recently.
In the most recent quarter ending in October, Microsoft's phone revenue plummeted 54% and the Windows smartphone OS currently holds about 1.7% of market share worldwide. And, unfortunately, Gartner doesn't think the release of Windows 10 on smartphones will change Microsoft's position much.
"Despite the announcement of Windows 10, we expect Windows smartphone market share will continue to be a small portion of the overall smartphone OS market as consumers remain attracted by competing ecosystems," Gartner said.
What to look for in 2016
Sales of Office and cloud services spurred Microsoft's stock uptick at the end of 2015 (the company's commercial cloud annualized revenue run rate exceeds $8.2 billion), and investors need to see more of this going into the new year, along with improvements to Windows sales and phone revenue.
Microsoft is just hitting its groove under Nadella's leadership and I expect that 2016 should see even more positive news for the company than in 2015. But with the stock spiking at the end of the year, it's now trading at about 37 times earnings. Microsoft would have to put up some serious growth in 2016 to have its best year yet, and I have my doubts that it can make that happen.