Global PC sales are experiencing the longest decline in history after falling for the fifth consecutive quarter according to research firm Gartner. The traditional PC market is being squeezed by low cost tablets and smartphones as Windows 8 fails to ignite customer enthusiasm.
Shipments of PCs worldwide accounted for 76 million units in the second quarter; a fall of 10.9% from the previous year with all regions experiencing a decline. Gartner attributes the decline to low cost tablets, used primarily for consumption, replacing low-end machines in developed markets while in emerging markets, inexpensive tablets have become the first computing device for many people.
It is a worrying statistic for Microsoft with the popularity of Android tablets eroding their traditional Windows monopoly. Windows tablets have failed to make significant inroads and the data provided by Gartner includes x86 Windows 8 based tablets. Perhaps of greater concern for the Redmond giant, is the news that emerging markets are turning to inexpensive tablets as their first computing devices. With many experiencing life outside of the Windows ecosystem, they may have little incentive in the future to turn to Microsoft devices.
The question inevitably arises as to whether this decline will continue and lead to traditional PC’s being exclusive to the domain of professionals and gaming enthusiasts. To a certain extend this has already happened. Most people never go past using the web browser on their computers, so a tablet more than fits their needs. After the failure of netbooks, consumers embraced the tablet market and Microsoft recognised this through the introduction of Windows 8. However, Microsofts attempt to homogenise the tablet and PC markets have largely failed with many being confused by its strategy.
The challenge for Microsoft will be to convince users to choose its ecosystem over its rivals and while many in the Western world are used to Windows and would probably choose to stick with it, they have no such luxury in the developing world. The Microsoft Surface is a good example of how they might be able to revive the PCs flagging market share through hybrid type devices, however, its message so far has been confused at best. Microsoft might have some success though its partnerships at bringing costs down and improving battery life while maintaining performance as there is undoubtedly a market for portable power PCs, but it must do much more in the consumer space.
The landscape of computing has come a long way over the last few decades being almost unrecognisable from the large computing machines that would fill rooms to the super thin pocket computers of today. The changes should be embraced of course, but I cant help feeling that one day soon PCs will be on a shelf alongside other relics at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park.