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Windows 8 brings zero 'pop' to consumer PC sales

U.S. notebook and desktop sales down 21% in Windows 8's first month, says NPD, showing the new OS hasn't moved the meter

Windows 8 has delivered no bump to flagging consumer PC sales in the U.S., a retail research analyst said today.

"There wasn't any pop at all," said Steven Baker of the NPD Group. "The hope was that Windows 8 would shift the market to a more positive stand, add some momentum to sales. But that hasn't happened."

Since the Oct. 26 launch of Windows 8, consumer notebook and desktop sales in the U.S. have fallen 21% compared to the same period last year, said Baker. Laptop sales were down even more -- 24% year-over-year -- while desktop numbers were off considerably less, just 9%.

NPD's numbers did not include sales of the Surface RT, the Microsoft-designed tablet that runs Windows RT, an offshoot of Windows 8. Surface RT hit retail in limited distribution Oct. 26.

The computer industry has been flat or down through 2012, Baker noted, so on one hand the continuing trend wasn't a shock. "This is consistent with what's happened throughout the year," Baker said. On the other hand, many had pinned hopes on Windows 8, since new Microsoft operating systems have historically bumped up sales.

Not happening, Baker said.

Part of the problem, he said, was that Windows 8 didn't get a fresh start at retail, but had to fight for space -- and consumer dollars -- with large supplies of PCs equipped with 2009's Windows 7.

"It didn't start with a good, clean shelf," said Baker of Windows 8, adding that the Windows 7 glut was due to lethargic sales overall, and especially because of a disappointing back-to-school sales season that never cleared out inventories.

The retail data shows the extent of the problem. In the four weeks since Windows 8's launch, only 58% of the sold systems were powered by the new OS. That's markedly less than three years ago, when during the first month of sales after Windows 7's debut, 83% of the PCs sold had the then-new operating system installed.

While PC sales were down, Windows tablet sales were virtually nonexistent, Baker said. Tablet sales represented less than 1% of all Windows 8 device sales to date. With the new operating system's emphasis on touch and tablets, at the expense, many think, of familiar UI (user interface) elements on the traditional Windows desktop, that number must be especially galling to Microsoft.

The only bright spot in the data was an increase in the ASP, or "average sales price," of consumer PCs, from $433 last year to $477 over the last month. Baker attributed the ASP gain to sales of higher-priced models equipped with touch-sensitive screens.

Touch-enabled notebooks accounted for 6% of all unit sales in the last four weeks, and garnered an ASP of $867.

"We are seeing some differentiated, higher-priced products for Windows 8, those in the $700 and above range, including touch screens, convertibles and the like," said Baker, who added that the higher price and resulting higher ASP provided a note of optimism for OEMs around Windows 8. "They're pretty differentiated from what Apple is doing."

Traditionally, Apple has owned the bulk of the premium personal computer market, accounting for large majorities of the over-$1,000 systems sold in the U.S. Windows 8's touch capabilities, Microsoft's aggressive marketing of those functions, and some of the OEM products may be able to rejuvenate the moribund premium PC market, said Baker.

Baker's take on U.S. retail sales was the latest of several pieces of Windows 8 uptake news in the last weeks. On Monday, a senior Microsoft executive said the company had sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses so far -- a number that included sales to OEMs for PCs that have yet to end up in customers' hands -- while last week a Wall Street analyst claimed that orders by OEMs to their Asian manufacturers slipped in October, hinting at lowered expectations for the year.

But NPD's data has to be particularly depressing for Microsoft and its OEMs because they are the first hard look at Windows 8's market performance.

"Even if the Windows 7 machines had not been there [in inventory], we would have seen better results if Windows 8 had any impact," said Baker. "We still have the whole holiday selling season ahead of us, but clearly Windows 8 did not prove to be the impetus for a sales turnaround."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.


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