PC sales have stagnated and older PCs aren't being replaced as consumers gobble up tablets and smartphones for work and play. Can Windows 8 possibly turn this sea change around?
Eye on Microsoft
By Shane O'Neill, CIO
Is the “post-PC era” we keep hearing about real or just a marketing slogan to sell tablets and smartphones?
I would argue that at work, PCs still matter most. This depends on what kind of work you do, but by and large, to do our jobs most of us still need an attached physical keyboard, a bigger screen than 10 inches, rich Web browsing and a full client operating system.
Lately, my three-year-old personal laptop has been gathering dust on the coffee table more than usual. That’s because the tasks I tended to use a laptop for (Web browsing, email, paying bills, watching videos, listening to music) are now doable on a tablet or even a smartphone. These devices have an immediacy that a laptop lacks; just tap and start your browsing on a light-as-a-feather device with way better battery life than any laptop.
More and more, mobile devices are making laptops feel like household appliances. They are useful and maybe even necessary, but having the latest and greatest is not that important anymore because all the innovative application development has shifted to mobile devices. It’s clear that the days of the PC being the only machine you use to consume information and get work done are numbered. The larger question is: Will the PC be pushed out of the equation completely?
The serious problem facing Microsoft and its PC-maker partners is not that we aren’t using PCs, it’s that we have been much slower to replace them since smart mobile devices have entered our lives. Microsoft is betting the farm that Windows 8 can revitalize interest in laptops and ultrabooks but that might be mission impossible given how developer interest and the market in general is migrating to mobile.
Microsoft has been touting that Windows 8 will allow touch-screen capability on the PC. Is there a pent-up need among PC users to touch navigate on laptops? Not that I know of, but it wouldn’t hurt to have the option. What PCs need even more though is to be lighter, have better battery life and be able to boot up in seconds. And in defense of Microsoft, Intel and PC-makers, there is a concerted effort to bring all these features to upcoming Windows 8 ultrabooks and ultrabook/tablet hybrids. And Microsoft’s own branded Surface tablet, with its thin plastic screen cover that doubles as a keyboard, could be bring worlds together if consumers warm to the tricky Windows 8 UI.
But still, the news on PC sales over the past few years has been grim (PCs here defined as any x86-based PC or tablet). Since 2007, according to research firm Gartner, PC shipments have stagnated and the percentage of PCs being replaced has dropped by 50 percent. In the past three years, shipments of tablets and smartphones, most running Android and iOS, have skyrocketed. In an insightful article, mobile technology analyst Sameer Singh runs some numbers to show a causal relationship between mobile devices shipped and PCs not shipped.
Singh’s conclusion is that “consumers have held off replacing their PCs because they purchased mobile devices instead. Since PC penetration has been incredibly high, this trend, if it continues, would lead to sharply dropping PC sales.”
So who’s going to save the PC’s soul? Windows 8? An OS with an intimidating new user interface that ultimately works better on touch tablets than mouse-and-keyboard PCs? I wouldn’t count on it.
In fact, as Singh points out, Windows 8 may do more harm than good by dragging down the PC market even more due to UI shock and expensive hardware.
What do you think? Can Windows 8 save the PC from the dreaded has-been dustbin?