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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2734

Extinction Scenario of Humble PC

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Two rival research organizations confirmed this week what we have instinctively been feeling since Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, came up with the tablet computer in 2010 – the accelerated fall in sales of PC.

According to International Data Corp (IDC), the percentage drop in sales is a staggering 14% which is translated into a figure of nearly 80 million personal computers. Gartner Inc., the rival research group, meanwhile, declared the figure as 11.2%.

The inability of the two giants in the data-research field to agree on a number is perfectly understandable in business sense. If we do our simple maths, however, the number still is alarmingly high: the average – (14 + 11.2)/2 – is 12.5% and it is equivalent to a drop of 71 million PCs worldwide – no reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
The plummeting sales figure is not the only thing that IDC and Gartner Inc. failed to agree upon. They cannot see eye to eye on the principle causes either: Gartner says that the fall is due to the immense popularity of tablet computers and smartphones; IDC, on the other hand, blames it on Microsoft for introducing an operating system, Windows 8, rich in features, which potentially confuse the average PC user, instead of making the user-experience pleasant, while cashing in on the breathtakingly fast growth of hardware.

There is no doubt that the rapid expansion of tablet computers did have an impact on the use of PCs. This is the first time, however, that a well-known research organization saw a correlation of the decline of PC with the introduction of a new operating system which came into being to appease both camps. If the finding is statistically true beyond any doubt, the progress in Microsoft style has not seemed to have struck a chord with average PC user.

I have come across users recently, relatively old by PC standard, who swear by Bill Gates not to forgive post-Bill-Gates Microsoft for messing around with the ‘Start’ button on the desktop in the new Windows 8 operating system.

For them, the ‘Start’ button is a sort of oasis in the wilderness of advanced user experience. Take it off the screen, most average users are at a loss with fingers emulating the role of disgruntled masses in European capitals, bitten by endless austerity measures – running riots.

The substantial fall in sales is shared both by ‘big boys’ in the industry like Hewlett Packard and Dell as well as relative newcomers such as Lenovo of China. All three players are hopeful that the trend can be managed, if not reversed, though.

The development has made both the investors and decision makers of HP very nervous, as the company is struggling to maintain its global position while addressing a series of serious issues, not least the acquisition of Autonomy Software, a Cambridge based Software Company in 2011 for $11.1 billion only to write down $8.8 billion of its value, approximately a year later citing accounting irregularities of the latter, while triggering off a localized trade war across the Atlantic.

Microsoft, meanwhile, having come under pressure from PC manufacturers, has agreed to slash the price of Windows software for small PCs, known as netbooks; it seems to be a square plug in the round hole. If Microsoft thinks that a netbook user wants to buy another netbook, just because it has Windows 8 Operating System installed in it, it is going to be another monumental miscalculation on the part of Microsoft, which only add to its exiting catalogue of policy blunders.

Goldman Sachs has been undiplomatically blunt while issuing a warning against buying Microsoft sales since the release of disappointing PC sales. It wants Microsoft to focus on average PC users rather than the corporate customers that bring in more revenue for the company.

Just as Microsoft underestimated late Steve Job’s influence on PC sales – and the revenue of Microsoft for that matter – the company seems to be underestimating another visionary in the technological sector. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, a serious player In his own right, is capable of driving the final nail in the PC coffin, unless Microsoft comes up with some innovative features to make its new operating systems much more attractive than they really are now.

There are signs that corporate customers are warming to Amazon’s cloud computing model after all, despite the concerns about the security aspect of the data of the companies and individuals alike. If the trend catches on, companies will not invest in expensive hardware such as servers – and software too – while minimizing their overheads in terms of storage space and of course, manpower – hardly a blessing as far as the beleaguered hardware manufacturers are concerned.

Despite the grim news, it is far too early to draw a parallel with the fate of typewriter in the presence of word processor. For most of the users, tablet computers are still reading devices – or devices for playing games or do things that do need heavy resources. Even a high-end product like Apple’s iPad , is not in a position to become a viable substitute for a laptop; as far as I am concerned, even the mere thought of writing this article on my iPad, has got enough psychological ingredients to drive me crazy, before making a single move in that regard.

In that context, if Microsoft can keep its innovative spark on PC radar, it still can save PC before the remarkable technological icon slips into the anticipated oblivion in an unceremonious fashion, much sooner than analysts expected.

They got their number wrong, yet again, by predicting a drop of sales by 7% when it turned out to be a figure between 11.2% to 14% . Otherwise, Microsoft will not only go down in history with an unflattering scar on its famous brand name, despite the company’s immense contribution to the progress of mankind in the 20th century, but also accelerate the dawn of what late Steve Jobs used to call, post-PC era.

Although, the two famous research bodies claimed to have discovered the reasons behind plummeting PC sales, a turn-around is still feasible provided that the hardware in question and Microsoft work in unison as they used to do in pre-iPad era, while not being caught up in the blame-game.

The tendency to single out one factor for the depressing news of PC sales is on a par with the assertion under the influence of banned substances that dinosaurs became extinct due to lack of dating agencies during their time.

- Asian Tribune -

Extinction Scenario of Humble PC
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