All right, the good news is that the Mac’s percentage of PC sales in the U.S. is up, holding 13.6% of the U.S. market for the September quarter, putting it third behind HP and Dell. The survey was published by Gartner, but it also revealed declining sales, coming in at 2,078,000, compared to 2,213,826 for last year. Of course, the situation was worse with the two market leaders.
As usual, IDC’s numbers were slightly different. Apple was still in the number three spot, with 2,056,000 sales, compared to 2,211,000, or a 7% drop.
Global PC sales also declined, but the two market research firms differed on who took the number one spot. IDC said it was HP, Gartner reported Lenovo. But remember that these are estimates, and we won’t know Apple’s actual worldwide sales — or those from other companies — until the final figures are reported.
Now one theory for declining PC sales is that customers may be holding off until Windows 8 arrives. It’s a curious conclusion, inasmuch as recent PC purchasers can upgrade to Windows 8 without cost. While I grant it’s more convenient to have the operating system you want preloaded on a new computer, particularly a Windows PC, it doesn’t seem as if there’s this huge anticipation for Windows 8 that would keep customers on the sidelines. Nope, it’s not the same as the iPhone, where there is a major hardware change. It’s not as if the PC makers have come up with compelling new designs to welcome Windows 8, other than paying lip service to touch.
Of course, the real state of the PC market, and the impact of Windows 8, won’t be obvious until the end of the year. Certainly PC companies, confronted with fewer sales, are going to have high hopes for a turnaround. But it may well be that, as much as Microsoft believes in PC+, it is a PostPC era, where more and more people find a tablet or a smartphone a worthy substitute for many uses.
Microsoft is certainly hoping their “design point,” the Surface tablet, will be the harbinger of a new generation of PCs, although the photos for the tablet appear to resemble a slimmer netbook, and we all know how netbooks fared after the iPad arrived.
Is that a proper strategy? Is that a smart strategy? Or is Microsoft living in an alternate universe, disconnected from reality?
As for Apple, a theory that the Mac is doomed if sales remain flat, or decline slightly, isn’t necessarily correct. It may indeed be the realization of the prediction made by Steve Jobs that the personal computer will take on the role of a pickup truck, performing all the heavy lifting, while the tablet is the car. I’m already beginning to feel old fashioned, because I still prefer my desktop Mac. Yes, I have a MacBook Pro, but I don’t use it near as much. My comfort level still prefers a traditional computing environment.
But I’d be interested in seeing the spin the PC makers place on this turn of events. Aside from alleged anticipation for Windows 8, for which there doesn’t seem a whole lot of evidence, will they consider the impact of tablets and other mobile gadgets? What sort of vision will they offer to convince their stockholders that there is hope for the PC market, and that Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8 will somehow convince customers to rush to their neighborhood retailers to buy up PCs, any PC.
Is it possible the day of selling generic PCs is over, except for businesses? Besides, how is the enterprise going to treat the arrival of Windows 8, with tons of PCs still running Windows XP? However you regard the merits of Windows 8, it is nonetheless a sea change. While it’s not hard to use, I can see where IT people are going to be concerned about the need to retrain employees to adopt to a new way of doing things.
The larger question in the business world is productivity. Is Windows 8 demonstrably more productive than Windows 7? Can PC users actually get their work done faster, more effectively, more efficiently? Is that a case Microsoft can make to the enterprise to encourage adoption of Windows 8? Even if there was a slight productivity boost, and I cannot see how based on my encounters with Windows 8, the cost of training and the time it takes to adapt to new ways of doing things may offset any potential gains.
You’ll notice that, with all the changes Apple has made to OS X, the fundamentals of point and click and the menu bar are still present and accounted for. Take someone who used a Mac in 1984, have that person jump through time to 2012, and a Mac will still be a Mac.
But it’s clear from last quarter’s sales figures that the personal computing world is undergoing a change, and that’s not the change Microsoft has prepared for.
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