Hopes that the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system would revive the flagging PC market have been dashed, with the release of a report from industry watcher IDC pointing to a worrying 6.4 per cent decline in sales year-on-year.
According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker
report, sales of desktop and laptop computers dropped 6.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 compared to the year before - the first time in over five years that the market hasn't grown during the lucrative Christmas sales period. While a slip was predicted, the reality is worse than expected with original estimates pointing the drop in sales closer to 4.4 per cent.
The news is a serious blow to the PC industry: the Christmas period is traditionally the most lucrative of the year, and poor sales earlier in 2012 had been blamed on consumers waiting for the release of Windows 8. With that next-generation operating system becoming available in October, the hoped-for explosion of interest in buying new computers hasn't materialised.
'Although the third quarter was focused on the clearing of Windows 7 inventory, preliminary research indicates the clearance did not significantly boost the uptake of Windows 8 systems in Q4,
' claimed Jay Chou, senior research analyst at IDC. 'Lost in the shuffle to promote a touch-centric PC, vendors have not forcefully stressed other features that promote a more secure, reliable and efficient user experience. As Windows 8 matures, and other corresponding variables such as Ultrabook pricing continue to drop, hopefully the PC market can see a reset in both messaging and demand in 2013.
The US market was a particularly poor performer in Q4 2012, while the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) market performed significantly better with a single-percentage point drop over Q4 2011. The Asia-Pacific region was again below expectations, but Japan surprised everyone with sales that were a slight growth year-on-year - but not enough to calm market worries.
Breaking the preliminary results down by vendor, there are a few interesting points: demand for systems from Dell and Acer fell 20.8 per cent and 28.2 per cent year-on-year, while Asus enjoyed a 5.6 per cent increase in shipments. By far the biggest winner, however, was Lenovo, which saw shipments for Q4 2012 increase 8.2 per cent compared to the same quarter last year - a record high of 14 million units.
But why the massive difference between companies? 'Consumers expected all sorts of cool PCs with tablet and touch capabilities. Instead, they mostly saw traditional PCs that feature a new OS [Windows 8] optimised for touch and tablet with applications and hardware that are not yet able to fully utilise these capabilities,
' opined IDC's research director David Daoud of his team's report. 'Despite a generally weak performance, some leading brands managed do to well relative to the market. HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung were among the top performers, taking advantage of some consumer interest in Windows 8 and a push to build up their presence ahead of 2013.
With figures like these, however, it's clear that the market as a whole is going to have to figure out what to do in order to convince the public to splash out on new computers - and it's going to have to do so fast in order to keep investors on-side.