Windows 8 will shoulder part of the blame for a worse-than-expected dip in Q4 PC sales because it didn't offer clear enough benefits that might spark a surge in PC buying, according to IDC.
During the fourth quarter of last year worldwide PC shipments were down 6.4% compared to Q4 2011, the first time in more than five years that such a decline has occurred between back-to-back holiday seasons, according to IDC's most recent Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker report.
BACKGROUND: Ultra-hyped ultrabooks ultra-flopped in 2012
FIRST LOOK: Surface RT
"Although the quarter marked the beginning of a new stage in the PC industry with the launch of Windows 8, its impact did not quickly change recently sluggish PC demand, and the PC market continued to take a back seat to competing devices and sustained economic woes," IDC says in a press release. Those other devices included tablets and ultrabooks.
The actual decline in PC sales was worse than projections of a 4.4% drop, and may have been made more severe by questions about use of touch in Windows 8 PCs versus in tablets, IDC says.
As a result, the fourth quarter of 2012 marked the first time in more than five years that the PC market has seen a year-on-year decline during the holiday season. Contributing to the problem was marketing emphasis on touch capabilities in Windows 8 that may have overshadowed other important capabilities that might have better boosted sales, IDC says.
"Lost in the shuffle to promote a touch-centric PC, vendors have not forcefully stressed other features that promote a more secure, reliable and efficient user experience," says Jay Chou, a senior IDC research analyst, but that can be fixed going forward. "As Windows 8 matures, and other corresponding variables such as Ultrabook pricing continue to drop, hopefully the PC market can see a reset in both messaging and demand in 2013."
A lack of available hardware customized for Windows 8 contributed to the problem. "Consumers expected all sorts of cool PCs with tablet and touch capabilities," says David Daoud, an IDC research director. "Instead, they mostly saw traditional PCs that feature a new OS optimized for touch and tablet with applications and hardware that are not yet able to fully utilize these capabilities."
CES: Windows 8 hardware on the way
PC vendors wheeled out touch-capable PC/tablet portables at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 this week in Las Vegas.
At the show Asus, Dell, Gigabyte, Lenovo, LG, Panasonic, Razer, Samsung, Toshiba and Vizio all demoed touchscreen devices suitable for Windows 8. Some of them won't be available until later this year.
Intel promised showgoers that by the end of the year Windows 8 ultrabooks will be available for as little as $600, supporting Windows 8 Pro with full Windows capabilities, not the more streamlined and limited Windows RT version of the operating system, which is available for about that price in the shape of Microsoft's Surface RT tablet/notebook.
Notable among the CES-debuted products were a 27-inch Lenovo tablet that doubles as a gaming table and a ruggedized Panasonic tablet for field work in challenging environments. The Lenovo tablet is called IdeaCentre Horizon and will sell for about $1,700 when it's available this summer. Panasonic's Toughbook FZ-G1 tablet will cost $2,900 when it's available in March.
Surface Pro test drives
Microsoft rented a room nearby CES this week where it let a few journalists play with one of its Surface Pro tablet/laptops. The Surface Pro differs from Surface RT in that Pro supports all Windows 7 applications as well as Modern applications designed just for Windows 8 and that are designed around Windows Runtime, the application architecture meant to support apps that can run on Windows desktops, tablets and phones.
Impressions ranged from praise that said this was the device everybody wanted when they heard about Windows 8 to criticism about poor battery life. It's got a hi-res, 10-point touchscreen, and a stylus for notebook mode.
With Windows 8 touch support, the device can be a tablet when stripped of its detachable keyboard, but also becomes a full laptop when the keyboard (which doubles as a cover) is attached. It's due in stores by the end of the month for $899 or $899, depending on storage.
Windows 8 apps contest
Startups with Windows 8 apps to sell can enter a Microsoft contest that might give their efforts better visibility.
Called The Windows Startup Challenge, the competition seeks applications that are written for Windows 8 -- called Windows Store apps -- that are innovative, address a specific need and stand the chance for commercial success.
Winners get free travel to DEMO Mobile in San Francisco April 17 and the opportunity to make a presentation there about their apps to the press and investors.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
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