Why are PC sales falling?

The eventual decline of the desktop PC market has been predicted for over a decade. Contributing factors included eventual natural market saturation, newer and emerging technologies, and an increase in performance and power on the desktop that could eventually outpace its standard three to five year life cycle, increasing the compatibility and longevity of older computers.

During the last five years, the approaching death knell for the desktop computer was blamed on the Mobility Factor, the expectation that an ever-increasing dependence on mobile devices and technologies would eventually draw nearly every user away from the PC to leave it collecting dust on the desk while they cavorted about wirelessly, conducting both personal and professional business while on the move.

First, it was predicted the netbook would take over. It never happened. Then, it was predicted the smartphone would do it all. Sure, it does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything, at least not as well as a desktop PC. For instance, it isn’t easy to write long blog posts or edit podcasts on a smartphone, at least not for me. Now, rumour has it that tablets will take over. Sure, they are popular. I do a lot of work on mine. But I still use my desktop. In fact, I’m using it right now to write this. Why? because when I write, I prefer to use a full keyboard. It’s faster and more efficient. It is also more comfortable. When it comes to writing on a smartphone or tablet, I’m all thumbs.

Apparently I am not alone. smartphones and tablets are great for some applications, but when it comes to heavy duty computing or serious multitasking, they can’t touch the desktop for performance. At least, not yet. Sure, a lot of folks don’t do all that much with their computer other than check e-mail, write an occasional letter, surf the net, watch YouTube videos, or play solitaire. Any smartphone or tablet can do that.

But when they need to do a little bit more, at the end of the day they still find themselves going back to the desktop computer.

PC sales may have declined during the past year or so, but they certainly aren’t dead. I don’t personally know of anyone who has actually ditched their home computer to do everything on a smartphone or tablet. At least, not yet.

We still use desktops, and we still like them, but we aren’t buying them. Why the decline? What is the real reason behind the lackluster sales of personal computers?

Could it be because of Windows 8?

I think so. That’s not an original thought. It has been widely speculated that Microsoft’s poorly received operating system may be one reason why PC sales are soft, although not the only reason. I disagree. It may not be the only reason, but I contend that it is the primary reason we aren’t buying desktops today.

Remember when Windows Vista debuted? Users rejected it. PC sales dropped. When Windows 7 launched, PC sales seemed to be somewhat stable. The dramatic drop in sales after the launch of Windows 8 was obvious. The public did not like the operating system at all. When Microsoft told OEMs it was Windows 8 all the way with no rollback option to Windows 7, the continued drop in sales was a shout out to Redmond that users did not like being force fed something they clearly did not want shoved down their throats.

They aren’t buying desktops because they don’t like what is on them, and unless they purchase an overly expensive Mac or unfamiliar Linux based machine, they don’t seem to have any other options.

Yet there is something missing from all the sales data. Everyone seems to be reporting on sales of desktops from major, name brand OEMs. What about white box systems? Small system builders still exist, and there are plenty of local computer shops that build their own PCs. In addition, a growing segment of the population is building their own. No one seems to have the numbers on the sales of new computer parts.

Microsoft requires the major OEMs to install Windows 8 on new PCs, but Windows 7 product is still available, and smaller white box builders can and do build boxes with Windows 7. So can just about anyone else.

Is it possible that the desktop isn’t dead at all? Is it possible that there is another market for new PCs that is undocumented or under-reported, but may be currently experiencing a resurgence in growth? We don’t have the hard numbers, but casual discussions with other techs in the business indicate to me that their system builds are actually up, largely because their customers specifically want custom builds with Windows 7. 

In other words, the desktop market may actually still be alive and well. It may just be thriving in a different market place.

Perhaps I’m wrong about tablets and smartphones, and they will eventually relegate PCs to the attic under a cache of cobwebs and an inch of dust. But not in my house. Not yet.

If and when it does happen, it will likely be because we can no longer use a PC like a desktop, because it will no longer have an operating system that lets it work like one.

If and when the desktop is discarded, it won’t be due to netbooks, smartphones or tablets. It will be Microsoft that does it in. Whether it’s intentional through forced migration or a botched redesign due to corporate incompetence, the end of the desktop will be Microsoft’s fault.

I predict the PC will not die of from obsolescence. Microsoft will probably kill it.

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