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Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years

PC vendors, are you tired of losing sales to the cool new tablets? Take a page from the auto industry's playbook and introduce model years.

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In my last column, I offered PC vendors some advice on how to position Windows 8 systems. That's not a miracle cure for solving PC players' woes. All that will do is pry from the industry's hand the pistol it's using to shoot itself in the foot. PC vendors will need to do more if they want to re-inject excitement into their products and get their business back on a growth trajectory.

Let me get right to the point: PC vendors need to incorporate model years into their product positioning. You know, like the automobile makers do. I know this isn't something they want to hear. (I know they don't want to hear it because I've been telling them for years. And they tell me that it isn't something they want to hear.)

I'll take my own advice here and call this my Model Year 2013 column. Years ago, long before the first iPad shipped, I suggested employing model years as a way to combat saturation in maturing markets. That's why automobile suppliers implemented model years some 90 years ago. Most people who wanted a car already had one. And a six-year-old vehicle could do 35 mph as well as a new one.

[ Wondering if the next Windows operating system is for you? Read Windows 8: Why I Won't Upgrade. ]

Model years helped remind consumers that their automobiles were aging. That, as well as styling and performance upgrades, gradually convinced consumers that it was time for a new car even though the old one still worked. The primary objection I hear from PC vendors is that model years would complicate manufacturing plans and inventory management up and down the supply chain. That used to be a valid argument. But it's not any more.

That's because they're already being forced to deal with those headaches. Consumers have been adjusting their purchasing behavior to account for the PCs' annual rollout schedule. For a few years now, consumers have held off buying last year's models just as PC vendors were trying to clear inventory to make way for new systems. So PC vendors are enduring all the pain of a model-year marketing model, but enjoying none of the benefit.

Smartphones and tablets -- the devices that are eating the PC's lunch -- exploit the model-year concept. Suppliers leverage their annual rollouts to generate pull from consumers, and consumers respond. PC vendors, meanwhile, continue to manage new releases like it's 1999.

There are positive pieces of the model-year mentality that are already in place, as well. Intel's Core lineup gets a facelift once a year, for example. And it's beginning to look as though the Ultrabook spec will be refreshed at a similar pace. If Microsoft would get on board, then PC vendors could really update the entire platform annually.

Another hesitation I hear is this: What if there's a delay? What if we can't deliver when it's time to roll out the new model year?

Good point. But there are ways to ease that burden. Intel, for example, releases a new generation of its Core-series processors every year. But the company tackles major architectural enhancements only every other year as part of what it calls its "tick-tock" cadence.

PC vendors could take on a lighter load than that. The auto makers execute a major overhaul only every four years. The changes to their offerings during the other three years are cosmetic by comparison. Call it a tick-tick-tick-tock schedule.

Although I'm recommending a model-year marketing mentality, there's really no need to differentiate by years. Distinguishing a new model with '4,' for example, instead of '2013' would leave some room for schedule slop. Microsoft, the unofficial schedule-slop champ, abandoned the year designation on Windows releases more than a decade ago and eventually settled on a generation numbering scheme. Combine that with the tick-tick-tick-tock concept, and you'd expect systems rolling out this summer to bundle Windows 8.1 followed by Windows 8.2 next year.

Remember, the point of all of this is to etch into the product a milestone, so people don't just think they have a Core i5-based PC, but a three-year-old Core i5 system. It will serve as a gentle reminder each time a new generation is released.

And if PC vendors don't fix the problem this year, then keep an eye out for my all-new Model Year 2014 column next winter.

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research firm focusing on client technologies. You can reach him at

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Arnold Wright
Arnold Wright,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/19/2014 | 6:14:57 AM
re: PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
Now, most of the people like to use the new model car with comfort drive, so as per the requirement, the product company lunch the new model cars. After using a car in a long time, people like to change or sale the car and try to buy one new car, a well mainatin car always give a better comfort driving.

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stephen kel
stephen kel,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2014 | 7:32:03 AM
PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2014 | 9:01:59 AM
re: PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
I think everyone of us more like to have a new car rather keeping an Old car for longer run. Someone using a car and after several years the car will be old. At that particular time, the person definitely think for a new one. Similarly, the repair and maintenance of a car is something very needy for a car Owner. Car repair should be done in a good repair and service center for its better performance.
User Rank: Strategist
2/16/2013 | 1:03:54 AM
re: PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
I understand that there would be benefits for the vendors, but I do not see (in this article) any benefit for the consumer. This sounds like a plan to squeeze the consumer for more. Is that what you mean by "combat saturation in maturing markets"?
User Rank: Strategist
2/2/2013 | 3:58:19 PM
re: PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
Spot on. For a time, laptops enjoyed some of that public appeal. It gathered steam right about the time that coffee shops started offering WiFi ...

Increasingly, laptops are being run out of Starbucks by smartphones and tablets. That's dangerous for the health of the PC business. As I'm sure you know, buying patterns are very different for utilitarian devices than for fashion statements. Consumers typically spend less on utility and replace it less frequently. Nobody "updates" their hot-water heater, right?

I think that Intel's Ultrabook initiative is the best shot the industry has right now to reclaim some public appeal. It would help if Microsoft could coordinate a minor update of Windows 8 so the new crop of systems this summer felt fresh inside and out.
I give
I give,
User Rank: Moderator
2/1/2013 | 6:10:58 PM
re: PC Makers, Learn From Car Makers: Use Model Years
Having spent 15 years dedicated solely to consumer marketing research in the auto industry, I feel obligated to offer an opinion on your recommendation. My opinion is that the use of model years probably would not hurt the PC market. Compared to mobile devices (phones/tablets), PC's do not have the "visual statement" power they had prior to the advent of the more public and ubiquitous mobile devices. Cars/trucks have that statement-ability inherently. It is also accepted that PC's will find their survival relatively more dependent on the office environment than on the home environment. Even if the home PC morphs into a HAL for the home, it is unlikely to become a fashion or decorating statement. Technology design seems to be moving in the direction of behind the scenes rather than in your face. TV/video viewing is about the picture not the appearance of associated hardware, rather it is about the minimization of hardware visibility. We used to measure the consumer agreement with "a car or truck that a person drives says a lot about the person." Although that statement may apply to mobile communication devices, it is far less relevant to a PC.
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