PCs Are In Free Fall, But Windows 8 Shouldn't Get All The Blame

A Samsung exec has smacked around Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, calling it out as a big reason why the global PC industry's numbers are tanking. But is this really the smoking gun?

"The global PC industry is steadily shrinking despite the launch of Windows 8," Jun Dong-soo, President of Samsung's memory chip division, said in an interview with The Korea Times last week. "I think the Windows 8 system is no better than the previous Windows Vista platform," he added.

Jun's remarks were in response to IDC reports of declining PC sales, which dropped 3.7% in 2012, and are expected to shrink another 1.3% in 2013:

"The U.S. PC market struggled in 2012, culminating with a 6.5% year-on-year decrease in the fourth quarter and -7.6% growth for the full year. Market saturation, a tough economic environment and weakness across the board, and lack of momentum for Windows 8, which led to 2012 contraction, are expected to persist at least during the first half of 2013," reported Rajani Singh, Research Analyst at IDC. "IDC expects the second half of 2013 to regain some marginal momentum partly as a rubber band effect from 2012, and largely thanks to the outcome of industry restructuring, better channel involvement, and potentially greater acceptance of Windows 8. We also anticipate a new refresh cycle momentum in the commercial segment driven by the end of Window XP life support."

If anything, Jun's scathing remarks echo what IDC is saying: Windows 8 hasn't given a lot of new juice to the PC market. And that's pretty much hard to argue. 

But — and I can't believe I am writing this — sticking the blame on Windows 8 is pretty much a dodge for a lot of other things that are going wrong for the PC world. Here are the quandaries I think about every time I need to look for a PC-type device.

  • Cloud-Oriented Devices Rule. PC makers, get a grip. The rise of smartphones and tablets was bound to cut into your sales. When you sold PCs to consumers all these years, consumers who were doing little more than Facebooking and watching YouTube, essentially you were selling them a Mustang Shelby GT500 when all they needed was a golf cart. And guess what? They figured that out. Home consumers aren't always interested in productivity and creative apps, so devices that connect on cloud-based services are Perfectly Fine.
  • Stationary Form Factor. Say I still want the productivity power. (Which I do.) PCs are big. They take up space. Even if you have a hockey-puck device like a Mac Mini, you've still got to factor in the monitor, keyboard and mouse. I need a desk for this thing, and it's not portable. Productive workers are getting used to the notion of mobility, and old-school PCs are not fitting the bill.
  • Cost. We've had laptops and notebooks for how long, and they're still coming in with a price premium? I get that making laptops is harder than PC-form devices, due to size, power and complexity issues, but it would be great if I could walk into a computer showroom and not have sticker shock for top-of-the-line notebooks and laptops. You can make the argument that you pays for what you gets, but unless you need these things for your livelihood or a serious hobby, why buy?

Windows 8, frankly, doesn't even enter into the equation. That's because I can either (1) buy a machine pre-loaded with Windows 7, (2) pick up a Mac or (3) just rip out whatever and install Linux on the machine (my most likely scenario). And, since no one would argue that options 1 & 2 are not beyond the technical expertise of most PC users (and I would dispute that option 3 is all that hard), then pointing the finger at Windows 8 seems incongruous at best.

There's no love lost between me and Windows anything, to be sure. But hardware manufacturers have options to better reach customers, which they need to take. Plus, I'm not sure Jun and his colleagues in the PC industry have much to worry about. Yes, PC sales will contract, but eventually the core business/productivity market will be reached, and sales will stabilize.

And as IDC's Singh noted, the end of life for Windows XP is coming, which is going to drive more new PC sales as consumers and IT managers alike start upgrading their hardware to be compatible with Windows 7 and even Windows 8.

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