The PC market isn’t looking good

On the other hand, you should be able to get some great bargains.

Let’s get straight to the numbers. According to statistics giant IDC, PC shipments are down 14% year over year. That’s the biggest decline since anyone began tracking these things, and that means it’s probably the biggest decline ever. Let’s be straight, though… these are desktop and laptop computers, not tablets, smartphones, e-readers, or other media consumption devices. We’re talking about that box on your desk.

To make matters worse, a year ago PC shipments were actually up 5%. That means a 20% year-over-year drop in PC shipments. If that doesn’t count as “the bottom falling out of the market” it’s hard to say what does.

What happened? Windows 8. That’s not just our opinion. Check out this quote from a much smarter person:

“At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” said Bob O’Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays. “While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market.”

See, this time last year there were smartphones and tablets a-plenty. That’s not what’s killing the market right now. What’s killing the market is good old fear, uncertainty and doubt. Microsoft bet big on Windows 8 and that bet isn’t paying off. Rather than embracing the new features of its desktop OS, consumers are just staying away. Don’t think they are running to the new Windows 8 tablets either… they barely register on sales charts.

There are a few other factors as well, the most important being that there just isn’t anything new in the PC world. Intel hasn’t announced a new processor line in a while (and current processors do just fine) and there’s just nothing out there that demands the use of a newer computer (except Windows 8, which really prefers touchscreens.)

The most likely next step is that PC makers will start offering computers with a “Windows 7 downgrade option” to draw in fearful customers. Short of that, they may start “skinning” Windows 8 by putting back the familiar start button and removing the touch-enabled features.

Really, these short-term fixes aren’t going to make anything better. Microsoft simply needs to acknowledge the role that PCs play. They aren’t glamorous anymore. They appeal to office workers, high-end gamers, professionals… specific groups with specific tasks. Microsoft can keep innovating touchscreen tablets but people are clearly saying they don’t want a radical change in their productivity machines. There’s nothing wrong with building the machines that keep businesses humming, keep students writing term papers, and keep grandparents skype-ing.

Once Microsoft acknowledges the real market for their OS, the answer becomes obvious: Slow the train down. Put the start menu back, give users an easy option for disabling touch, and give people a few years to grow into the new idiom. That’s what they want. Let them hide all those “modern” apps away until they’re ready.

Maybe then PC shipments will begin to improve again.