Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
4/12/2013
04:47 PM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%
Repost This

Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump

Blaming Windows 8 for the PC market's ongoing woes misses the bigger picture.

You might've heard this week that PC sales are tumbling downhill. Rest assured, this is definitely the case -- and the decline will continue. What may also happen is that some companies will see their market position crash and burn along the way.

You might also have heard that Windows 8 is to blame for all this -- and that assertion is harder to defend. Microsoft hasn't helped, but the PC's free fall involves bigger forces than Win8's inauspicious first six months.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we exonerate Microsoft. Windows 8 has definitely underperformed. One could try to defend the OS by pointing out that touch-enabled hardware was too costly, but if electronics-buyers were really champing at the bit for tactile-minded Windows 8 models, products such as the Surface RT and Surface Pro would have made bigger waves. It's possible that Windows Blue could inject some life into the market. But that was the same hope that analysts had for Windows 8 before it entered the holiday season. Consumers were overwhelmingly indifferent to the new options during their annual gift-giving, so even though Windows Blue will help, it's unlikely to compel a massive shift.

[ Will price cuts help? Read Windows 8 Tablets: Why Microsoft Must Slash Prices. ]

Wall Street seems to agree; as soon as IDC and Gartner announced their grim PC forecasts, investors started dumping Microsoft, HP, Intel and others rooted in traditional computing. The stock market is a capricious beast but the reaction is reasonable. The three companies I named are all diverse enough to absorb shrinking PC sales. Though tablets are taking over, traditional laptops and desktops will continue to generate revenue for years to come -- just not as much revenue as they do now. But while the survival of Microsoft and its partners isn't at risk, their clout is on much shakier ground. A world in which Qualcomm, Android, and iOS will have the influence to match Intel and Windows is very different from the de facto monopolies that have reigned for more than a decade.

Even so, it's clear in retrospect that Windows 8 couldn't have done more than mitigate the damage. That it ended up exacerbating matters is unfortunate for Microsoft, but the conventional PC was already a boat taking on water. The tide has turned toward tablets and there aren't many good reasons to think that will change. Windows 8's Live Tile-focused attitude actually testifies to this fact, but even if Microsoft had applied more effort to refining the desktop, would it have actually made a difference?

The answer is no. PCs have always been capable of doing more than what most people used them for. Tablets, by virtue of their mobile-friendliness if not their more intuitive UIs, handle users' most frequent activities -- Web browsing, email, games, consuming media, etc. -- better than PCs do. Smart mobile devices have provided more meaningful generational improvements in recent years than laptops have, and they're generally very affordable. It's therefore unsurprising that consumers are replacing more of their old PCs with tablets than with new, expensive Ultrabooks.

Consumers still need PCs, of course. Word processing, the hype for an iOS version of Office notwithstanding, is still a compromised experience on a tablet. It's not impossible to create compelling content on iOS or Android, but most options are pretty watered down compared to their Windows or OS X equivalents. Smartphone users seem pretty content with Instagram, for example, but I'm sure I'm just one of millions who will keep buying PCs as long as it's the only real option for Photoshop, After Effects and other high-performance, hobbyist-friendly software.

Moreover, businesses will still be buying PCs in huge volumes. Salespeople, doctors and educators are among those who've quickly found ways to use tablets to improve professional workflows, and tablets will creep into additional business applications over time. But it's not clear that all business tasks can even be translated to a touch-friendly UI, and even if ubiquitous benefits were obvious, enterprises aren't known for rapidly redefining their IT ecosystems.

Still, it's clear that PCs no longer are the only type of computing device the people care about. And there are going to be more choices and options becoming available in the coming months and years. Indeed, it's worth noting that Windows 8's fate isn't intrinsically bound to that of the PC. Redmond and its partners will continue to push out clamshell Ultrabooks and even touchscreen-equipped desktops, so the PC isn't an irrelevant factor in Win8's success. But as Microsoft's rumored plan for a 7-inch Surface attests, the company knows short-term Windows 8 adoption lies in affordable tablets, not $1,000 laptops.

Whether consumers will care about these forthcoming options is debatable, of course, but Microsoft's efforts to distance Windows 8 from traditional computing are an acknowledgement that PC sales will continue to slide downhill. Redmond might've done more to slow the momentum but the company is hardly at fault for the shift in marketplace dynamics. The more appropriate -- and controversial -- issue is whether Microsoft is making the right moves to keep pace.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/19/2013 | 9:34:40 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Mac sales have also taken a hit, adding - like Intel's rough earnings - to the overall argument that PCs as a whole are losing steam. Windows 8 has poured gasoline on the fire-- but the fire was already burning.

That said, Apple has fared better than most other PC-makers (though it's not clear how much better, as Gartner and IDC seem to frequently disagree about Apple). One factor could be this: Apple brought features to market this year that are obviously useful-- like the Retina displays, or the iMac's Fusion Drive. Those aren't mass market appeals, but for some of Apple's core users, they're pretty compelling. Microsoft seemed to assume that a dual-personality OS would be a bigger attraction, and consumers have so far suggested they'll need more from Windows before opening their checkbooks. So I think there's some merit to the idea that Apple and Microsoft used different tactics to drive PC sales, and that these strategies imparted impacts that should be separated from the larger "decline of PC" narrative.

But the two companies still constitute an imperfect comparison. Microsoft has a much bigger and much more diverse install base that includes both enthusiastic fans and those who've settled with Windows because it's what their workplaces have always pushed. OS X, in contrast, has a smaller but more rabid fan base. It is still selling computers primarily to developed markets, and even there, OS X is a niche player compared to Windows. So we can't expect the signs of the PC's decline to manifest similarly in each company.

Apple also targets a much more confined market than Windows. Even if you're on a budget, you can find some cheap Windows 7 laptops. Cheap Windows 8 Ultrabooks might soon enter the budget market too. Apple relies on tablets in this space. Even the Mac Mini and MacBook Air - its two cheapest computers - aren't exactly budget friendly. The iMacs, MacBook Pros and long-neglected Mac Pros, meanwhile, are exclusively aimed at the high-end user. Sales in this segment might not be indicative of overall PC sales, limiting the extent to which we can point to Apple successes as a surefire sign that Windows 8 - and not PCs in general - are the problem.

So, yes, I think Windows 8 has contributed to Windows PCs performing worse, in percentage terms, than new Macs. But we can draw only so many inferences, given that Macs target more specialized users and are less crucial to Apple's overall revenues than PCs have been to Microsoft's. And even the inferences that more concrete suggest that Macs aren't immune to the tablet rise/ PC decline. So though Windows 8 hasn't helped, I still think the shift toward tablets is the biggest driver of the "PC downfall" trends. Apple demonstrates that Windows 8 isn't helping, but it doesn't change the fact that PCs aren't the only device competing for consumer dollars.

- Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor
bkohlhepp287
50%
50%
bkohlhepp287,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/19/2013 | 6:27:11 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
How do Mac sales compare to Windows PC sales? If they show the same decline, then it's a universal rebuff to the traditional format, not a reflection on Windows 8. If the curves are significantly different, then Windows 8 is a key factor.
mmuldoon52501
50%
50%
mmuldoon52501,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/16/2013 | 9:34:44 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Of course you are implying that the Windows 8 "mini" would a) be priced reasonably enough to be on par with the best of the other minis, i.e. around $200, and b) run actual Windows 8, not the abomination called RT.
Palpatine
50%
50%
Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/16/2013 | 7:18:40 AM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Indeed, funny is not an appropriate term. I would ask to Dell layoffs a better term. And to the much more that will come due MS errors killing an entire industry.
midmachine
50%
50%
midmachine,
User Rank: Strategist
4/15/2013 | 6:49:52 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Okay, I agree with Michael and I also agree with you; at least at first. You said that not only are PC sales down but tablets as well which makes sense considering the economic doldrums we are in. Then you go on to say that Win8 is a huge mistake and costing PC sales. On that I don't agree.
Consumers don't have the scratch to buy new computers when they are more concerned keeping up with the mortgage, food, gas in their cars, etc. Shiny new toys are on the bottom of the list which is why I agree that since PC's AND tablets are n9ot setting sales fires it must be something else.
I think with a Win 8 "mini" tablet at a good price point it would blow Android and IOS machines out of the water. I'm a PC guy (network admin) and a tablet can't do most of the work I need to get done. Win 8 Pro however opens many doors. I would much rather run around with a 7" full blown PC in my hand than a laptop, ultrabook, etc.
Leo Regulus
50%
50%
Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2013 | 6:32:38 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
PC Sales Slump? No, we're just experiencing the normal evolution of man and industry. PCs are finding their place in the pasture along with horses and asses. The question here is, are you going to dwell on the past or move forward into the future?
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2013 | 4:58:22 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
I think it'll take more than Windows 8 to send Microsoft out of business. Office revenue would have to fall off a cliff before the conversation can turn that grim, and even then, Microsoft would have to make other mistakes along the way. I've written on several occasions now that Microsoft is poised to lose its influence-- but "out of business" is a leap I don't yet see. Even so, as you point out, this article will still be online if Redmond's day of reckoning ever arrives-- so everyone will be free to come back and laugh at how much I under-estimated Microsoft's impending downfall. :)
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2013 | 4:53:07 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Thanks for reading, melgross. It's certainly bothers me when I see other journalists conjure up fake enemies as an excuse to write a column-- so I see where you're coming from. But I don't think that's what this column does. It certainly wasn't what we intended with the column.

If you type "Windows 8" and "blame" into Google, you'll see a whole lot of recent headlines that aggressively link Windows 8 to the PC's decline. Here's a quick, non-exhaustive sample:

"Windows 8 blamed as PC sales slide" - Washington Post
"PC sales plunge, Microsoft and Windows 8 blamed" - Seattle Times
"Windows 8 takes blame for 'brutal' PC sales slide" - Computerworld
"WIndows 8 has put the world's PC market to sleep" - The Register
"IDC Reports 'Worst Ever' Q1 PC Sales, Points to Windows 8" - eWeek

Some of the articles contain a bit more context or a bit of additional nuance but some don't. Either way, there's no shortage of people trying to pin the PC woes on Windows 8.

Also, I didn't write that anyone is saying Windows 8 is the "sole" cause (although a few headlines do call it the "main" cause); my point, rather, is that Windows 8 is getting more blame than it's actually due. That's not to defend Windows 8 but rather to redirect the conversation to include other factors. Yes, IDC said that Windows 8 has actually exacerbated the decline (a point made in this column), but the analysts were also pretty insistent that Win8 was but one of many factors, and that even if Windows 8 had been better, we'd still be talking about declines. That's not the implication being trumpeted in a lot of headlines, and this column was simply intended as a response to the hyperbole I'd seen elsewhere.

Indeed, this column isn't even the only "Windows 8 is getting too much blame" story that ran this weekend in tech news circles. I'm sorry to hear that you thought this article seemed like a response to phantom claims, but I assure you, the claims are out there.
melgross
50%
50%
melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2013 | 4:06:59 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
Too expensive! That's been stated many times. With Ultrabooks failing to sell in nearly the numbers predicted when they were first arriving, because of the cost, adding what is being said as the cost for a touchscreen ($150), brings that cost up well beyond what most individuals, and businesses are willing to pay.

This is also why the Surface Pro will fail to get much traction. At a price of $1100 for the meager amount of 64GB of flash, which leaves too little available to the user, and $1200 for the 128GB version, these are also priced way too high for much market penetration.
melgross
50%
50%
melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2013 | 4:01:51 PM
re: Windows 8 Did Not Cause PC Sales Slump
The only one I know stating that Win 8 is the sole cause for the big Windows PC slump, is Michael Endler stating that others are saying that.

No one is saying that! What is being said, as he says in the actual article, is that it's contributing to the slump.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Audio Interviews
Archived Audio Interviews
GE is a leader in combining connected devices and advanced analytics in pursuit of practical goals like less downtime, lower operating costs, and higher throughput. At GIO Power & Water, CIO Jim Fowler is part of the team exploring how to apply these techniques to some of the world's essential infrastructure, from power plants to water treatment systems. Join us, and bring your questions, as we talk about what's ahead.