Ballmer bounce fails to materialise as PC sales drop

By John Leonard
30 Nov 2012 View Comments
Steve Ballmer is chief executive officer at Microsoft

PC manufacturers always look forward to a new Windows release, as it invariably boosts sales. Not this time it seems.

Compared with 2011, laptop sales for the three-week period following October 26 2012 -  when Windows 8 was launched - fell by 24 per cent, while desktop sales were down 9 per cent over the same period, according to analyst NPD Group.

Further reading

Windows 8 itself cannot be blamed for the fall. PC and laptop sales have been declining for months due to the proliferation of personal computing alternatives now on the market. Indeed, some analysts believe they will never recover. Consumers, it seems, are spending their money on newer, more fashionable, more portable technologies.

Microsoft saw this coming, of course, and Windows 8 is designed specifically to be compatible with a variety of form factors, with particular attention paid to the touchscreen interface of the tablets and smartphones which are displacing the more traditional PCs and laptops. Indeed, sales of Windows 8 on touchscreen devices (excluding Microsoft's own Surface tablet, for which figures were unavailable) were strong, accounting for 6 per cent of licenses. But whether sales of Windows on these mobile devices will make up for those lost on PCs and laptops remains to be seen.

In more traditional markets the lack of any sales bounce from Windows 8 will be a cause for concern for PC and laptop manufacturers, whose optimistic noises around the lauch of Windows 8 now sound like whistling in the dark.

In contrast to the non-event that Windows 8 appears to be, the launch of Windows 7 in 2009 was credited with boosting PC and laptop sales by about 9 per cent in October of that year. At that time, however, Windows 7 was installed on 83 per cent of new computing devices, compared with 58 per cent for Windows 8 in 2012 - another indication of the fragmentation of the market in recent years. Microsoft no longer enjoys its customary quasi-monopoly.

NPD's figures also stand in contrast to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's assertions a few days after Windows 8's release that: "We're seeing preliminary demand well above where we were with Windows 7," and "We're seeing retailers here in the United States and hardware manufacturers enthusiastic about the response."

Now itself a de facto tablet vendor, Microsoft said yesterday that it would price the new Surface Pro in the USA at $899 (£560) for the 64GB version and $999 (£623) for the 128GB model, excluding the optional cover/keyboard. This price point is well above that of equivalents from rivals Apple, Google and Amazon, suggesting that Microsoft is trying to make the high-end tablet space its own. 

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