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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 9, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Mixed messages on PC decline, Windows XP effect

The demise of Windows XP boosted computer sales last quarter and perhaps fixes to Windows 8 helped. But beyond that, it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s happening to the PC market.

The two big analyst firms that track the market, Gartner and IDC, today issued markedly different reports on the current situation.

Both said sales picked up in the U.S. and Japan, nudged ahead by the push to replace Windows XP systems, which Microsoft no longer supports.

But IDC offered a bleaker assessment. It said sales fell 4.4 percent, continuing the market’s multi-year slide, and doesn’t expect growth to return.

“PC shipment growth in the United States remained slightly faster than most other regions in the first quarter,” analyst Rajani Singh said in the release. “However, the passing boost from XP replacements, constrained consumer demand and no clear driver of a market rebound are expected to keep growth below zero going forward.”

Gartner estimates the market fell just 1.7 percent last quarter and its analyst, Mikako Kitagawa, was more upbeat.

“While the PC market remains weak, it is showing signs of improvement compared to last year,” she said in a release.

Business sales are picking up in areas such as Europe and the Middle East and the U.S. “saw the gradual recovery of PC spending as the impact of tablets faded.”

Both firms ranked Lenovo as the leading PC seller last quarter, and Hewlett-Packard as the largest vendor in the U.S.

Apple’s PC sales in the U.S., it’s strongest market, fell 4 to 7 percent depending on which firm you ask.

Both firms said Dell, the second largest PC seller in the U.S., saw sales increase just over 13 percent during the quarter.

Gartner’s Kitagawa said the “structural shift” in the PC market is happening first in the U.S., where the market is saturated. Some 99 percent of households have one or more desktops or laptops and more than half own both.

“While tablet penetration is expected to reach 50 percent in 2014, some consumer spending could return to PCs,” she said.

Neither firm mentioned Windows 8 in their press releases, but I’ll bet changes made last fall to the operating system were a factor. The 8.1 update last fall began to fix the biggest complaints about the new software, letting users boot the machines to a traditional desktop rather than its new tiled interface.

The company is being even more conciliatory with the “Windows 8.1 Update,” which is now available. It automatically detects whether it’s running on a traditional PC or a tablet, and launches with the appropriate interface. It also restores power and search buttons to the main “Start” screen.

Perhaps PC sales will perk up even more if complaints about Windows 8 subside and people think Microsoft has finally got it right on the third version.

UPDATE: Kitagawa told me that she doesn’t think Windows 8.1 has been a significant factor yet because last quarter’s growth in the U.S. came largely from companies upgrading to Windows 7. Consumer sales picked up a bit but remain slow – not because Windows 8 is unpopular, she said, but because people are buying and using different devices.




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