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Windows 8 has put the world's PC market to sleep - IDC

Double-digit shipment fall 'both surprising and worrisome'

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The global PC market is dwindling, and Windows 8 could be to blame, according to the beancounters at IDC.

The analyst firm released its rundown of global PC shipments on Tuesday, and the year-on-year double digit decline blows a cold wind for traditional PC makers like Dell and HP, and OS-slinger Microsoft.

"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," Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president for clients and displays, said in a canned statement.

"While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."

Ouch.

Worldwide PC shipments for the first quarter of 2013 totalled 76.3m units, down 13.9 per cent on Q1 2012, according to IDC. This was much worse than the 7.7 decline that the company had already predicted for the quarter.

Besides a poor reception for Windows 8, the decline was "magnified" by HP and Dell's "restructuring and reorganizing efforts", IDC said. This seems like a polite way of saying that neither company could figure out how to stop itself bleeding. Scrappy Asian upstart Lenovo continues to do well, mind.

Demand was poor on a region-by-region basis, with a "dismal quarter" in the US leading to a 12.7 per cent contraction, a "constrained" one in EMEA causing a double-digit decline, and a "lukewarm" Windows 8 reception in Asia excluding Japan leading to the region's first double digit contraction.

As of this quarter, the top five worldwide vendors by shipments are HP (11,997,000 boxes shipped), Lenovo (11,700,000), Dell (9,010,000), Acer Group (6,150,000), and ASUS (4,363,000), according to IDC. All these companies saw double-digit declines in shipment growth for the quarter, excluding Lenovo which managed to put in respectable performance of holding steady at 0.0 per cent.

"Although the reduction in shipments was not a surprise, the magnitude of the contraction is both surprising and worrisome," IDC's Research Director for Personal Computing David Doud said.

Gartner also came out with broadly similar figures on Wednesday, which showed a corresponding decline in shipments.

Like IDC, Gartner blamed the fall on a migration by consumers to mobile devices, but the company made no mention of Windows 8.

Gartner projects a continued shrink in the US, and other PC-saturated markets. "This is because many of these systems will not be replaced with PCs; they will be displaced by other devices, or simply retired," Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa said.

What could be behind such a gut-wrenching decline? The companies indicated that Windows 8 (IDC), combined with the rise in popularity of tablets and smartphones (Gartner and IDC) are all working to pull folks away from PCs.

But we reckon another factor could be at play: PCs just aren't getting that much better, and by PCs, we mean the chips inside them.* As Intel and AMD have sought to stick to the self-fulfilling prophecy that is Moore's Law, they've had to go to multi-core due to the huge problems of scaling single core clockspeed.

This means that a new PC doesn't really have the "wow" factor that you used to get up until about 2005 when clock speeds just kept on going up, and up, and up.

Instead you get more cores so you can run more applications more efficiently, but some of the performance increases have been blunted by a lack of applications that have been coded to really get the most of multicore systems.

Unless developers smell enough money to invest time and energy into writing consumer desktop apps that properly use multiple cores, then these apps are unlikely to appear. And with PC numbers as poor as this, why would they? ®

Bootnote:

* Yes, GPUs are coming on in leaps and bounds, so if you manipulate imagery or like spattering high-res blood over pixellated walls, there's tech for you here.

But if that's your sort of thing then you're hardly likely to upgrade your entire system, rather you're going to buy a new graphics card, so you don't appear in IDC's figures.

Similarly, advances in SSDs, monitors, and RAM are all not to be sniffed at, but again, these are all components that the enthusiasts will chuck in and out, so they don't show up in IDC's numbers.

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