Recent reports don’t paint a very promising picture for the PC industry. Most PC companies are destined to report flat or sinking sales in the U.S. and worldwide. Apple is expected to report an uptick in Mac sales, but how much depends, as it has for a while, on overseas growth. At the same time, there will be another huge increase in iPad sales. But most of the firms that survey the PC industry don’t count a tablet as a “real” PC. At least not yet.
Now one view of this state of affairs has it that the very concept of a personal computer has expanded to include tablets and smartphones. Since you can perform many of the same functions on both desktop and mobile devices, this would seem to make sense. But it will probably take a while for industry analysts to change their ways, particularly if they depend in Microsoft or Microsoft’s OEM partners for a fair portion of their income.
No doubt the largest threat to the PC universe is the iPad. More and more people use iPads for all or most of their computing work. Yes, I understand the limitations, particularly when typing long documents, and having an accessory keyboard may not always be so convenient. But there is so much stuff you can do, that a few inconveniences may not deter many people from using the iPad whenever they can. Notice I am not referring to tablets in general. Few have shown any sales potential aside from the iPad. The one that did for a time, the Amazon Kindle Fire, was designed primarily to consume content, particularly from Amazon, and other functions were given lower priority.
Even if Apple does, as more and more mainstream journalists predict, deliver a smaller iPad, perhaps with a 7.85-inch display, it will still work the same as the full-sized iPad. Assuming a list price in the $249 to $299 range, it will no doubt gut sales of the Google Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. It may even cannibalize sales from the regular iPad, but will, at the same time, expand the user base, particularly with people who find the regular iPad a bit too pricey. If the iPad mini or whatever it’s to be called does actually appear, it may also be a hit in education, since it will be a far easier purchase for budget-strapped school systems.
But I have to tell you that I’m still somewhat skeptical about the possibilities of the smaller iPad, although the form factor being talked about seems to make sense. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, compared to the widescreen layout on other tablets, it will deliver far more screen real estate, and be a much more sensible product to use. Again, that assumes it really happens, and that may depend on whether there is any evidence of substantial customer demand for smaller tablets, or Apple wants to head other companies off at the pass.
To Microsoft, however, it’s a PC+ era, because they imagine that everyone wants a true Windows experience, whether it’s on a smartphone, a tablet, or a traditional personal computer. It’s not that there’s any evidence that this is so. Windows Phone hasn’t exactly taken control of the smartphone market. AT&T just halved the price of the flagship Nokia Lumia 900, which doesn’t auger well for the long-term prospects.
Of course, the fact that you won’t be able to upgrade the thing to Windows Phone 8, the next major OS upgrade, because of a curious design decision by Microsoft, doesn’t help matters. You might as well regard the Lumia 900 as a closeout, similar to selling the current year’s autos at a sharp discount after the new models arrive. Only there is no Lumia 900 replacement yet, no flagship that will feature Windows Phone 8.
As far as tablets are concerned, you all know that I’m not at all convinced the Microsoft Surface will see the light of day, or even if it does, that customers will lap them up. When you look at the design, with the traditional Windows style keyboard and trackpad on the detachable cover, you come away with the impression that the Surface may be regarded as little more than a slim netbook. Don’t forget that Microsoft has demonstrated, so to speak, an ARM-based model and one that uses a regular Intel x86 processor. Of course, the latter is simply another proposed entrant in a market that has so far failed miserably.
On the larger scale, it’s not even certain that there’s much demand for Windows 8, which essentially throws the traditional Windows interface out the window; well in part at any rate. You will still be able to use existing Windows software in a slimmed Windows interface on x86 computers, shorn of the Aero flourishes that graced Windows Vista and Windows 7. But you’ll be left with a schizophrenic experience because you will have to navigate back and forth through two entirely different interfaces. Customer confusion is a given, and I can’t see why the enterprise would embrace such a misguided scheme, even though Microsoft can find a few who will agree to be quoted in promotional literature.
It seems clear Microsoft is caught in their own walled garden, one where they cannot see that their hope for “Windows Everywhere” won’t succeed. Unfortunately, there’s no exit strategy to help in case their grand scheme fails, and the walls come tumbling down.