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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Janet I. Tu.

September 26, 2013 at 3:58 PM

NPD: Back-to-school computer sales better than expected

Yes, PC sales are declining. And yes, PC sales in the back-to-school period went down this year compared with last year.

But, hey, the dip wasn’t as bad as expected.

And partly to thank for that? Touchscreen Windows notebooks.

That’s according to research firm NPD Group, which says for the 10-week back-to-school period between June 30 and Sept. 7, computer sales in the U.S. went down 2.5 percent from the same period last year.

That was slightly better than expected, according to NPD Group, and certainly better than the almost 4 percent decline in the first half of the year.

The research firm attributed the better performance this year to Chromebooks and to touch-based Windows notebooks.

Chromebooks, which run Google’s Chrome OS, “provided all the growth in the challenged notebook market,” according to NPD Group news release.

Touchscreen Windows notebooks, meanwhile, accounted for 25 percent of all Windows notebook sales, while sales of sub-$300 Windows notebooks increased 14 percent.

Windows notebooks in the $300 to $700 range, however, which constitute the largest segment of Windows notebook sales, posted a 16 percent decline. And overall Windows notebook sales declined 6 percent, with the average selling price flat at $478.

During the same period, Apple’s MacBook sales fell 3 percent and the average selling price plunged from $1,445 to $1,286.

“Chromebooks and Windows Touch helped offset what could have been much steeper declines in this back-to-school season,” NPD analyst Stephen Baker said.

The increase in touch-screen notebook sales resulted from the drop in prices, which typically came down more than $100 since the beginning of the year.

“If the product’s available at attractive price points, consumers are going to buy it,” Baker said. “Looking out to the holidays, we’re going to see more of those devices at more of those price points.”

This would seem a validation of Microsoft’s bet on Windows 8, which departed radically in design and user experience from previous versions Windows largely because it was designed to be touch-friendly.

But it took a long time for a significant number of Windows 8 touch-screen devices to reach the market and then to drop in price.

“Windows 8 has been out for a year,” Baker said. “We knew it was the right thing to do a year ago. So, yes, it  [the rise of touch-screen Windows notebooks] was validation of Microsoft’s strategy. But it also speaks to a huge amount of missed opportunities.”

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