Windows 8's lagging phone hampers PC sales, analyst says

The problem with Windows 8 sales isn't Windows 8, it's Windows Phone 8, says a Gartner analyst.

As consumers move from PCs to tablets they are more likely to buy tablets with a familiar touch interface, says Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa.

So users of Android phones are more likely to choose an Android tablet, Kitagawa says, and users of Windows Phone 8 devices are more likely to choose a Windows 8 tablet. But Windows Phone 8 lags far behind Androids and iPhones, so the coattail effect has less impact on Windows 8 tablet and PC sales than it would if Windows Phone 8 were more popular.

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Windows 8 itself was a step in the right direction by creating a touch-centric user interface; now it has to become one that consumers are comfortable with, she says.

Kitagawa says she doesn't think Windows 8 had much effect on PC sales one way or another during the first quarter of this year, putting her at odds with analysts at IDC, which squarely blames Windows 8. "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," says IDC Program Vice President Bob O'Donnell in a written statement.

But consumers don't buy PCs based on operating systems, Kitagawa says. "New OS releases don't affect the PC market in general," she says. "It's a big deal for OEMs but for consumers it's not a big deal. That's one big myth about the industry."

Even a wildly successful Windows 8 wouldn't make a difference. "If Windows 8 is an absolutely fantastic product and everybody loves it is that going to increase the PC market size? No," she says.

Windows 8 suits tablets better than PCs

O'Donnell says the Windows 8 user interface without the traditional Start button and the cost of touch hardware make PCs less attractive than tablets.

Looking at the same timeframe, though, Kitagawa says the problem is the increasing popularity of tablets and smartphones among consumers—and makes no mention at all of Windows 8. But she does say that demand for PCs in businesses will continue to grow at single-digit rates.

"Unlike the consumer PC segment, the professional PC market, which accounts for about half of overall PC shipments, has seen growth, driven by continuing PC refreshes," she says in a written statement. "Despite the fact that some regions already passed the peak of PC refresh, overall professional PC demand continued to grow."

Sale of Windows 8 PCs into businesses will be slow as it always is with new versions of operating systems. "They don't go to new OSes right away, for at least 18 months," she says, as they test it in their business environments. While many businesses will buy Windows 8 licenses, they do so with the option to downgrade to Windows 7 instead, and that is the OS they wind up using, she says.

IDC says worldwide shipments of PCs hit 76.3 million in the first quarter of this year down 13.9 percent from the first quarter of 2012—the worst such decline since IDC started tracking PCs in 1994.

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