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PC Sales Slip as Shoppers Wait

With Windows 8 expected in a matter of months and new tablets arriving, even ultrabooks aren't enticing enough to loosen pocketbooks.

Not even Ultrabooks could spur recent PC sales as prospective buyers wait for new Windows 8-powered hardware to debut in October or look to alternative devices such as tablets and smartphones. That's the word from market research firms Gartner and IDC along with their estimates of PC shipment volume for the second quarter of 2012.

Both analyst firms said PC shipments shrank in the U.S., with Gartner pegging a decline in PC shipments at 5.7 percent compared to the same time in 2011. IDC's forecast was even more bleak, with the company saying PC shipments in the U.S. shrank by 10.6 percent. (IDC and PCWorld are both owned by International Data Group).

Windows 8 Expectations

Microsoft is offering anyone who buys a new PC before January 31, 2013 a $15 upgrade to Windows 8. Despite that deal, many prospective buyers appear content to wait for hardware designed for the new OS, according to IDC. That's not a huge surprise, considering past Windows upgrade headaches such as endless reboots, product key issues, and delayed driver updates

The dramatic shift in user interface and basic functions in Windows 8 compared to Windows 7 may also be inspiring people to wait for new hardware in the fall. Unlike Windows 7, the newest version of Windows is designed for touch from the start, with a new Metro-style UI similar to Windows Phone.

The traditional desktop still exists in Windows 8, but the first thing you see when you boot into Windows 8 is the new Metro Start screen featuring live tiles showing information such as social networking updates, calendar appointments, weather, news headlines, and e-mail. With touch playing such a central role, new laptop-tablet hybrids are expected to accompany the Windows 8 launch. New touchpad gestures designed for Windows 8 will also be included in new PCs later this year.

IDC also points to economic slowdown as part of the reason for sluggish PC sales between April and June.

PC vs Mobile

Gartner had a different take on the U.S. PC shipment slowdown, blaming mobile devices -- particularly tablets such as the iPad and Google's new Nexus 7. Consumers are less interested in buying PCs than smartphones and tablets, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa says in a statement.

While tablets may not yet be able to replace all PC functions, the race between tablets and PCs will be an interesting one to watch over the next few years. Market research firm NPD Group predicts that tablets will overtake PC shipments by 2016, and the iPad long ago shed its initial reputation as a content consumption device. The iPad is already being used as a full-time workhorse by programmers and small business owners, and (along with a smattering of Android tablets) is becoming a common accompaniment of coffee shop patrons, subway riders, and air travelers.

Both Gartner and IDC also say that Ultrabooks do not impact PC sales in any significant way. Ultrabooks are a new class of ultraportable laptops introduced in 2011 to energize the notebook market. The failure of Ultrabooks to catch on is due in part to higher prices. First priced at $1000 or more, Ultrabooks prices are only now starting to drop below a grand with the second generation of Ultrabooks powered by Intel's new Ivy Bride Core processors.

PC sales are expected to pick up again in late 2012 after Windows 8 launches in October.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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