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Windows 8 Kills PC Sales? Really?

In recent days, IDC has reported that PC sales fell in the aggregate by a whopping 14% for the final quarter of 2012, the biggest decline ever recorded since they started keeping tabs on such things about 20 years ago. In the wake of this report, some interesting headlines have begun to appear in the computer trade press online and off. Here’s a sampling, just to give you a flavor of what’s making those headlines (please, hover your mouse above the links to get the full versions of these sometimes-truncated link listings):

1. Is Windows 8 Killing PC Sales? (Forbes)
2. Should Microsoft Kill Windows 8 Immediately? (The Motley Fool)
3. PC makers need to refocus after Windows 8 pushes PC sales off a cliff (The Inquirer)
4. The real reasons to blame Windows 8 for plummeting PC sales (PCWorld; here, like me, author Tony Bradley downplays an overt causal link between Win8 and PC sales)
5. Tepid Reception To Windows 8 Blamed for Drop in PC Sales (NPR News blog)

Of course, headlines are designed to suck readers in, so those who write them aren’t above using a little hyperbole or sensationalism to attract more eyeballs, but the notion that Windows 8’s less-than-stellar market reception is related to the decline in PC sales seems to have struck home with lots of writers, as a quick look at this Google News search will attest with over 300 hits on this presumption.


Do Windows 8’s lagging sales explain why PC sales in general slumped by 14% for Q4’12?
[Image credit: PCWorld]

I’m not sure I buy into this notion, for lots of reasons. First, Windows 8 didn’t become commercially available until one-third of Q4 had already elapsed (its GA date was 10/26). Second, new Windows OS sales seldom take the world by immediate storm, even when they’re timed to (somewhat) accommodate the all-important holiday shopping season. Third, I think it’s unfair to blame Windows 8 for the well-appreciated tablet and smartphone phenomenon that’s occurring worldwide. That is, technology buyers are opting in enormous droves to eschew PCs in favor of smaller, cheaper, touch-oriented computing devices that don’t begin to match PCs in overall functionality, but that do meet needs for access to communication, email, social networking, and a little light-duty Web surfing quite nicely. Why should those buyers spend money they don’t have to obtain more functionality that they don’t need? This is especially true for those in the developing world where the difference between a $50-100 smartphone and even a $300 laptop translates into  “limited computing” versus “no computing” for those who simply can’t afford $300 or more to get into a budget PC or notebook (including Chromebooks, outside the Windows umbrella).

I really don’t think this is a decline that can be laid entirely at Windows 8’s door. Sure, sales are not as robust as OEMs or Microsoft would like. Sure, there are well-documented issues with Windows 8’s mind and market share, and it’s failed to capture the imagination of the buying public. But there’s a lot more at work here than just a stubborn and well-intentioned attempt to remake the user interface for Windows, and to pick up and run with a touch-friendly runtime environment. In fact, the real problem is not Windows 8, as far as I can tell: it’s the fact that even the cheapest PC of any kind costs at least twice as much as an acceptable smartphone, and that a good tablet looks and feels like a better buy to those with a little more money to spend than does a bottom-of-the-barrel notebook or desktop PC. That’s what’s causing PC sales to plummet, IMHO, and it doesn’t look likely to stop any time soon, either.

Call me a Pollyanna if you like, but I don’t even think Windows 8 is a turkey at all. It may pose some interesting challenges to those not ready for a remake of a familiar desktop environment, but those challenges can be overcome with a little time and elbow grease (or the application of a low- or no-cost Start menu replacement program). There are much bigger forces driving PC sales down than a not-so-popular Windows OS, and no amount of software development is likely to reverse those trends either. Get ready for the “post-PC era” — looks like it will soon be upon us!

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