With competition from more convenient, less costly mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets taking its toll on PC sales, will Microsoft's latest Windows operating system help get the PC market on firmer footing?
Worldwide PC shipments are now projected to decline in 2012 for the first time in 11 years, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. In its latest forecast, released Wednesday (Oct. 10), IHS said it expects PC shipments to decline 1.2 percent this year to 348.7 million units.
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To put this in perspective, the last time PC shipments contracted year-over-year was 2001, the year the dot com bubble burst.
PC shipments are widely expected to get a boost from the release of Windows 8, set for Oct. 26. But it appears unlikely that the release of the new Microsoft operating system will provide enough bounce for the market to avoid contraction this year.
IHS points to a number of culprits responsible for the projected decline, not the least of which is ongoing economic malaise throughout much of the world. But PC shipments appear to be suffering at least in part due to the tremendous growth in smartphones and tablets. In the past two weeks, IHS and others have blamed changing customer preferences brought on by the success of a new kind of mobile computing.
Simply put, tablets and high-end smartphones offer consumers and businesses much of the computing power they need for many tasks. And they are more convenient, lighter, less expensive and, well, more fun than a stodgy old PC.
I am not sure that this readership is representative of the PC / tablet / smartphone debate. I believe that many users can do all they want to do with their smartphone / tablet more convienently than they can irrespective of the operating system. I use windows (xp and xp pro) to create content and find every windows upgrade a pain in the hind end. My wife has stopped using her PC altogether and uses her ipad for all she does. When I use her ipad for reading, I am amazed how much of the screen is available for the task at hand. When I am using xp on my 10" netbook, the screen area for the task at hand is no bigger than a 4x6 card. No wonder we need huge screens with windows.
BTW, tablets are for consuming content. PCs are for creating content. There will always be more consumers than producers. Until tablets, consumers were forced to use PCs to consume. But the shift is inevitable. More content means more consumers means more content, rinse and repeat...
I used a package called Documents to Go on my old Palm OS PDA to view Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. It was fine for *viewing* and simple edits, but the assumption was the documents would be *created* elsewhere.
Screen size is an issue. The PDA I still have was gotten in part to get a larger screen than the unit it replaces, and do a better job of viewing things like spreadsheets.
Form factor is critical depending upon applications. My cell phone, for example, is the smallest, cheapest feature phone Nokia makes. It has a mono screen and all it does is calls and SMS, which is all I *want* it to do. Web surfing, email, and productivity applications are something else's job.
A tablet might be a decent substitute for a PC, simply because there screen is larger, but I'd want an external keyboard for most of what I do.
The 'app' model for deploying, installing and removing software is greatly needed in the PC world. It's so much cleaner and easier to use. Don't understand why we haven't had this already, it's not rocket science. Add to that the QA and security from getting an application from an App store that scrutinizes the sw before users get it.
Touch would be useful for the PC, but not on the main viewing area (fingerprints are annoying when reading), but a sidebar would be useful.
These features would provide a migration path from tablets to PCs for those who need more power or bigger viewing area.
I think that the timing is important. People start spending money on stuff in November. All of my families cell phones are up for renewal. Most of the "household" computers are a bit long in the tooth. If no Windows 8 is available, I will be pretty unmotivated to upgrade the computers and the 5 phones that will be upgraded will probably stick with Android and/or Apple. I am tempted to get the least technical person of the group (my wife) a Windows phone because the reviews have been good, even though the adoption has been poor. Hurry up Microsoft or you're going to miss another opportunity.
It's far from surprising that smart-phones and tablets have taken some of the PC market. Anyone who needs lightweight and compact mobile computing for email, web and a little 'office'-type computing is likely to choose the phone/tablet. Anyone who needs more with buy a laptop or PC, many will buy both.
It was always pretty much inevitable that there would be an overall increase in units sold and that a percentage of PC sales would migrate to mobile devices.
How was it ever likely to be otherwise?
I personally think Win8 is a red herring in the equation.
My thanks go to 'fundamentals' for mentioning the dual-boot issues. Most of my machines are Linux, but I always have a couple that dual-boot. It sounds like I'll not be getting Win8 any time soon on those!
I don't see the PC market in need of saving.
The underlying issue is simply that the market in the US is largely saturated. Everyone that might want a PC probably has one.
This is an issue for Microsoft and Intel, since virtual all PCs are shipped with Windows and most have Intel chips. Their problem becomes "Where will growth come from?"
MS with Windows 8 is seeking growth in things that aren't PCs, and sees tablets and smartphones as areas where things can run Windows. Win8 runs on ARM, though that's not exactly new: Dave Cutler, the principal architect of NT (and of DEC's VMS OS before that) was insistent that it be portable, and there were flavors of NT for DEC Alpha workstations and MIPS R300/4000 processors. NT underlies Win8, and I expect the port to ARM was relatively straight-forward.
The big change is something everyone seems headed towards: the *same* OS running on any device the user might have. With Win8, MS covers PCs, tablets, and phones. Apple is converging OS/X and iOS. Android is providing a unifying point for Linux, with an X86 port in alpha.
In the US, the PC market is replacements, and the average life of an installed unit is probably about 3 years before a faster more power model replaces it. (I'd also bet that most Windows upgrades happen *because* a user buys a new machine with a newer version of Windows installed.)
Every couple of years Microsoft comes out with a new operating system whose "improvements" are usually trivial, but which is ever more bloated and obsoletes otherwise perfectly adequate software and hardware. There are jobs which PCs do better, and jobs which tablets do better. Let's not freak out because of a market fluctuation.
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