Global PC sales suffered a dramatic drop in sales the last three months; the numbers were startling even considering PC sales in general have slumped over the last year. The news took a bite out of PC makers and Microsoft stock prices with HP losing 6.5 percent and Microsoft losing 4.4 percent.
While it would be easy to blame Microsoft and Windows 8 for the sudden collapse of PC sales, and as a Linux user I would find that somewhat satisfying, this is really a problem that runs deeper than the operating system for the PC industry.
Even my big Linux PC doesn’t see as much use lately, there just isn’t any compelling reason to fire it up. I have a laptop that meets my needs just fine, so why bother with the big hardware? Sometimes when I’m doing photo editing I miss my big, dual monitors but that’s about the only time. The problem for the PC market may not be Windows (for once) but the improvements in more compact hardware and connected devices.
One could have predicted the continued popularity of smaller connected devices by looking at Japan where the connected device market is nearly a decade ahead of the U.S. and has continued to eat away at PC sales as most consumers just don’t need big applications.
Productivity Applications In The Cloud
Probably the most disruptive change for the technology market is the easy availability of productivity apps. If you still need desktop productivity you have many options; gone are the days when Office was the only serious game in town. Online apps like Google Docs and Zoho are quickly replacing desktop applications all together, even for big companies like KLM and Disney. Those tools will only get more functional and ubiquitous as time goes on.
Without productivity apps what does that really leave for big boxes? Video editing, gaming, maybe big graphics work, not really a long list.
So it’s not just an operating system issue. There’s enough power in relatively modest hardware to do most of the tasks users require. New tablets, netbooks and smartphones don’t need an outside monitor or mouse and even keyboards are optional. Storage and applications are moving to the cloud, reducing even the need for external storage. Connected devices are light, convenient and powerful, cheap enough to be almost disposable and you don’t need Geek Squad or an IT department to set it up for you. The OS is largely peripheral to the equation.
To be fair Windows 8 does deserve some of the blame. Instead of separating the desktop and device markets, Microsoft went for a one-size-fits-all solution that didn’t really work for anyone. That was followed by the Microsoft admission that Office for Android will be delayed by at least a year. In the meantime Google is forging ahead with the integration of Google Docs and QuickOffice.
For the time being Microsoft Office still dominates the productivity market, but one wonders how long they can maintain the lead while absorbing a near continuous series of body blows, some of which are self-inflicted. It’s good to remember that RCA once dominated the personal electronics market and Kodak dominated imaging. In their day it seemed impossible that more nimble competitors could overtake them, but that’s exactly what happened.
Microsoft needs to pull it together or their legacy is going to be joining the ranks of those serving as a warning to companies of the future.