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.
There are two questions here: (1) whether Win8 would help boost PC sales, and (b) whether tablets and smartphones are taking away from PC sales.
For a laptop or desktop PC, everything I've read about Win8 says that it offers no improvement over Win7. On the contrary, if anything. One problem a lot of people seem to have is the lack of the "start" button. Then again, there are third party apps that restore that start button, in Win8. Win8 appears to be tuned for touch screen type devices, and everything I read says that when used with keyboard/mouse and more distant screen, it is or feels compromised.
As to tablets and smartphones, my take is, only the Surface or similar, which can work like PCs, would potentially take away the need for PCs. Or the smartphone/PC hybrid concept:
Aside from these hybrid devices, which IMO could take away from bona fide PC roles, if PC sales are slacking off it is because people are spending their holiday money on portable toys instead, and/or because the PC market may be reaching saturation?
I'm curious, actually. Is the rate of toaster sales increasing rapidly? I doubt it but don't really know. And yet, few people would conclude that toasters are no longer in demand! (My wife likes "toaster ovens." So maybe that's a wrinkle, similar to comparison between desktop and notebook PCs? Overall, I doubt the sales of these devices is increasing.)
Agree fully with the previous poster. The death of the PC has been mis-characterized ever since the iPad came out.
That IHS graphic presents a distorted picture, in that it shows bars starting from something other than zero. People visually integrate the change on a bar chart, and the graphic violates some basic principles of presenting data. Very non-Tufte, and a pretty poor graphic to boot. To paraphrase Dona Wong, a bar chart starting at something other than zero is like a misspelled word in a headline. Paint the picture correctly and the situation doesn't look so dire, it looks like noise in a flat market.
The IHS graphic is indeed visually misleading - it sure looks foreboding, but in fact the "decline" is merely 1.2%.
The real story is more that the PC industry has hit it's peak in shipments... which is a totally different message than an industry "collapsing".
Steve, I agree with you on both counts. The graphic does look pretty foreboding. Still, the first decline in 11 years is significant. Not a collapse, but as you say, this may well mean PC shipments have peaked.
Tablets cannot do everything a PC can do. However, they can do some things a PC can do and some of those things they can do better. It just so happens that those things are the things that most people do most of the time with computers.
I've been playing with the Beta version of Windows 8 on my MacBook Pro using the Parallels virtualization software for a few months now. Yes, Windows 8 has some new eye candy with the tiles and Microsoft has managed to cobble together a single OS for both touch and mouse devices. Once you click the Desktop tile it looks and works like Windows 7. Apple has a two OS approach where desktop/laptop users have Mac OS X while iPhone/iPad users get iOS6. With iOS6 I do miss having multiple user accounts on the iPad because everyone in my family wants to use this device when I get home from work.
If Win8 is as big a disaster as Vista, ME, etc., I'll wait for Win9. My experience w/ Microsoft is that their new releases follow a pattern of junk ... decent ... junk ... decent, almost as though they rush something to market, then take the time to fix it in the next revision. XP and Win7 (both 32 and 64-bit) have served me well, but I had a LOT of grief w/ Vista, which did not play well w/ many of my apps.
Yes, I have been toying with Win 8 since Aug 2011 (stand alone and in Parallels on Mtn Loin.)
There is a point that I am not seeing discussed.
Redmond continued to re-tool the sub-systems across the board. It now runs the O/S IE and MS Speech in less than 1GB of RAM on the 32-bit version.
The 64-bit version has a number of security improvements over the 32-bit version.
Both are more responsive and have a greatly reduced attack surface.
I'll grant you the end user doesn't care about security (until they do), and having a more responsive machine for $40 seems like a fair trade.
I don't see Windows-8 as a savior for PCs. (I also don't think PCs are not in need of being saved either.) In fact, quite the opposite might be true for PC sales.
All my machines in my household are dual-boot machines for Linux and Windows. I just bought a new one less than a month ago, because I found out that dual booting will become a real pain with Windows-8. (Linux vendors are scrambling hard to overcome the ridiculous hurdles Microsoft built into the OS.) If you use dual-boot machines, don't wait for Windows-8. I think all of these will be smoothed out again by the time Windows-9 comes out, but Windows-8 is no boon for PCs(only for tablets perhaps.)
A friend tells me of the day in the past when microwave oven sales fell off. Seems most households had purchased one, and there was no need for 2 of them.
A pc is overkill for most homes - read emails and surf the web. We now have TVs that can do that and more (netflix, hulu, ..) as well as blueray players.
How many people really need a PC because they are writing software, which you can probably do on an ipad, but let's assume it has million's of lines of code, requires TB's of data, and huge screens with mutli-gpu's.
Seems like a kindle or $99 tablet can browse the web, read & write emails, write small documents (~100 pages), play music, purchase online, ... Why do so many people need a PC? A 10kb spreadsheet is fine on a phone. A 100MB spreadsheet might only work on a pc. ...
You are quite ambitious, spreadsheets on a phone and writing documents on a tablet...most people I think prefer the PC interface for activities like that. It's not just the processer power, screen size and interface matters for many applications.
I personally know a little old lady (she is retired, 60+) and she uses her ipad for all those activities, her computer is sitting idle.
I also have 2 teenagers and see what a teen can do with a phone and their thumbs.
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.
I don't know if we are a unique household, but I doubt it. We have two PCs, A Kindle e-reader, and a Kindle Fire. The PCs are constantly in use, the Kindle might go unused for days at a time.
My wife does all manner of things on her PC, including paying bills, bank stuff, scrapbooking, playing "words with friends," all things that she finds much easier with the large, wide screen and keyboard/mouse. She also uses the Kindles, but that's exclusively for reading books or the news, weather reports, and that sort of info consuming.
I do the same, and also watch most of my TV now with the PC acting as the settop box, feeding the 42" HDTV, with remote keyboard/mouse.
And there's more. Whenever I receive e-mails with the little discalimer, you know, like "sent from experia," or other such, it always sounds like an apology. The way I read those disclaimers is, "please forgive the overly cryptic message and the typos, because honestly, I can't do this right on this little device."
Am I the only person who thinks this way?
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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 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.