Holiday sales of Windows-based notebook PCs actually decline, despite (because of?) Windows 8

Meanwhile, in the “More News Microsoft Didn’t Need to Hear” department: sales of Windows-based notebooks actually declined 11 percent for the eleven-week holiday shopping period, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The period is designated from November 23 (Black Friday) until December 22,  and the decline is measured against last year’s sales during the same period.

The report is based on weekly data gathered from large consumer retailers such as Best Buy Co.,Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and retail websites, but it excludes sales of the company’s Surface tablet computer and other devices sold at Microsoft stores and websites.

Windows 8 “did little to boost holiday sales or improve the year-long Windows notebook sales decline,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group.

Microsoft declined to comment. In late November, the company said it had sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses, which included those sold to hardware manufacturers and consumers.

Notebook unit sales fell about 11% over the Black Friday shopping weekend and remained at that level through the period ending Dec. 22. Average selling prices for Windows notebook PCs were $420, up $2 from the same period a year ago.

Unfortunately for the PC industry, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. All that’s required is a Google search for “Windows 8 disappointing” to see all the stories about how the new OS had failed to grab users the way previous ones have.

For example: within that search there’s an in-depth story in The New York Times called “No Sales Pop for New Version of Windows” that goes into some detail:

It used to be that a new version of the Windows operating system was enough to get people excited about buying a new computer, giving sales a nice pop.

Not this time. Windows 8, the latest edition of Microsoft’s software, failed to pack shoppers into a Microsoft store in a mall here last week, at a time when parking lots in the area were overflowing. The trickle of shopping bags leaving the store with merchandise was nothing like the steady stream at a bustling Apple store upstairs.

Claude Ballard was among the customers at the Microsoft store who tried out Surface, a new Microsoft-designed Windows tablet. Mr. Ballard, who described himself as a “semiretired” computer systems manager for a real estate firm, said he was intrigued by the eye-catching design of Windows 8 — but not enough to scrimp to buy a new computer this year.

“It’s economics, really,” he said. “It’s going to be a better year for my mechanic than it is for me.”

Weak PC sales this holiday season suggest that the struggles of Microsoft and other companies that depend heavily on the computer business will not abate soon. Plenty of consumers already own PCs and seem content to make do with what they have, especially in a shaky economy in which less expensive mobile devices are bidding for a share of their wallets.

I think there should be a sense of perspective added here–which doesn’t mean that the situation is any better for PC makers, but maybe another view will help.

I believe that Apple CEO Tim Cook is correct, that we are entering a Post-PC world. In this new era, fewer and fewer computers will sit dumbly on desks. Nearly all will interact with the user in some way, even if it’s just as a touchscreen device. Perhaps there will be tablets not unlike what are being sold today that can be carried along with the user, then upon a return to the home or office, could be connected or synchronized to a larger device. Most of this exists today, but we are still a bit away from when it becomes commonplace.

In this atmosphere, current PCs cannot survive. Imagine a carriage maker in 1930 introducing a new six-wheel vehicle designed to be pulled by two horses. While it might contain every passenger comfort available at that time, and could be an enviably fine and elegant machine–it’s not an automobile.

To some degree we can thank television and motion pictures for this technological unrest. When the original Star Trek series debuted almost 50 years ago in 1966, viewers were treated to a world where fantastic devices (at that time) were commonplace. Things like tiny communicators, electronic tablet devices and medical scanning equipment were just some of what the future offered. In a bizarre twist of life imitating art, we now have all those things (at least, to some degree), perhaps because mankind saw, liked and demanded them.

Most people don’t want what’s perceived as yesterday’s technology, and Apple has succeeded largely by not copying but by innovating. Despite what one might think of the company, the fact remains that there was nothing like the iPod, iPhone or iPad until Apple invented them. Perhaps the problem many PC makers have is that there is innovation–but more from a common theme, not groundbreaking products like the Apple devices I’ve just mentioned. An example are early tablet computers made by the likes of Toshiba and HP which failed to catch on in 1999, amongst other things because they weren’t marketed properly. No need was established for them.

Apple’s products have sold well, despite their generally higher prices and even through the recession of the past five years. Unemployment is up, automobile and other companies go bankrupt, and people struggle to pay their bills. Through all this, Apple sets sales records on the way to become the world’s most valuable (and valued) company.

The point to take from all this is, simply put: if you give people a product they want, they will buy it. Something that exploits a need, perhaps one that they don’t even know they have.

Few people knew in 2007 that they would want an iPhone. Apple was successful in getting people to understand why they would want one.

If PC makers can do the same, they will be successful again. It’s as simple as that.

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