PC shipments slump, Windows 8 may be to blame

A new report from IDC shows significant shrinkage in the PC market. 

An attendant checks a computer during the launch of the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system in Hong Kong in this October 26, 2012 file photo. Personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records, according to analysis firm IDC.

Despite the launch of the Windows 8 operating system – or perhaps because of it – sales of PCs appear to be in free fall. 

According to a new report from research analysis firm IDC, PC manufacturers shipped a total of 76.3 million units globally in the first quarter of 2013, down from 87.1 million in Q1 of 2012. IDC called it the "steepest decline ever," or at least the worst year-over-year contraction "since IDC began tracking the PC market quarterly in 1994." 

The slide has affected all of the major manufacturers, IDC reports. For instance, HP, the industry leader, shipped 15.7 million units in Q1 of 2012 and "only" 11.9 million in Q1 of 2013. Third-place Dell shipped 10.1 million units in Q1 of 2012 and a little over 9 million units in Q1 of 2013. Gartner, another analytics company, also predicted a sizable drop for PC sales in this quarter. So is the PC market in trouble? 

Well, yes, says Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet. He ticks down a long list of influencing factors, including the relatively high price of PCs, the increasing power of tablets – which will become "capable of taking on tasks that currently require a PC" – and the fact that many consumers, in an era of rapidly-updated operating systems such as Android and iOS, simply don't believe Windows offers much value. 

"Windows is no longer the driver of sales that it once was," Kingsley-Hughes writes. "Windows used to be seen as a core component of a PC, and people would upgrade in order to stay ahead of the curve, but over the past few years has been seen as little more than a platform for other applications. Twitter, Facebook, Word, Excel, Photoshop, and almost every other app looks and runs the same whether you're using XP or Windows 8."

Windows 8, which was officially launched last October, was received warmly by critics, who praised the tiled interface; the improved security; and the snappy performance. 

"It's noticeably faster than Windows 7," one reviewer wrote, "yet its hardware requirements are no more demanding – it runs fine even on older machines. Not only does it start up and shut down quicker, but it's also faster at copying files and loading web pages. More than ever before is hardware accelerated, so even something as basic as word processing is slicker and more responsive."

But in a statement, IDC exec Bob O'Donnell said that the "the radical changes to the [Windows] UI" may have turned off many consumers. 

"At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," IDC exec Bob O'Donnell said in a statement. "Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market," he added. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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