So, time to dust off and figure out where to go from here. Three months ago, I pointed to a problem that would hold back fourth-quarter sales: Windows 8's new UI is touch-centric, but there aren't very many systems available with touch. I don't point this out to say I told you so. (Although I did tell you so.) I mention it because it's still a problem.
The percentage of touch-enabled laptops that were shipped in the fourth quarter was miniscule -- less than 1%, according to Digitimes Research. That number is forecasted to grow only to about 10% in 2013.
[ What's the best strategy for Microsoft? Read 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8. ]
The flip side is that 90% of laptops won't match well with Windows 8. Which means that more disappointing sales are on the horizon.
As I see it, that leaves the PC ecosystem two options if it wants a shot at salvaging 2013: 1) Find a way to reverse that 90:10 ratio, so that the vast majority of systems are touch-enabled, or 2) start marketing non-touch systems to end users.
The sooner the market transitions to touch-enabled displays, the sooner this thorny problem will be behind us. PC makers are still a bit shell-shocked from 2012, so they're understandably gun-shy about investing in 2013. So don't expect them to force the transition to all-touch displays this year.
That leaves us with option number two: showcasing non-touch Windows 8 systems. That might be the right way to go regardless, because there are a lot of end users who are resisting the Modern UI, Windows' new front software interface. They're pining for the good old days of the Start button.
So give it to them.
Windows 8 should default to the Start button on non-touch systems. I know that Microsoft wants to hurry the transition to the Modern UI, but the company needs to accept the fact that it's an annoyance on non-touch systems. Showcase the fact that, Modern UI aside, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. The PC industry would be well served if that message got out.
Microsoft could still plant a Modern UI icon on the system tray of non-touch PCs. Eventually, consumers will play with it. And as compelling apps emerge, they'll find themselves spending more and more time in the Modern UI. Letting demand grow organically for Modern UI makes much more sense than shoving it down consumers' throats, as Microsoft has been doing. Thus far, consumers have responded to the tactic by spending their money on other things, right? So what is there to lose?
None of this is to say that PC makers should stop designing sexy new systems. Keep the sleek, power-efficient, responsive ultrabooks coming. And make them all touch-enabled.
What's needed now is a two-pronged approach to the market. Keep showing us how cool the touch-enabled systems are. But also show us why we would want a non-touch Windows 8 system.
Up to now, the unspoken message in all the Windows 8 marketing is that there's no reason to buy the non-touch systems. As we've seen thus far, consumers have received that message loud and clear.
Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research firm focusing on client technologies. You can reach him at [email protected]