Nikhil Kumar: Tablets look like very bad medicine for Microsoft and the PC market

It’s many miles from being a serious rival to the more serious players in the tablet space

Once upon a time, windows were holes in the wall fitted with panes of glass. Then Bill Gates and his engineers at Microsoft came along and changed everything. Now, under the leadership of Steve Ballmer, we might be on our way back to simpler times.

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. But things are bad. Earlier this week, as talk in the tech world turned to hints from Tim Cook about what Apple might do to capture a slice of the emerging market for wearable gadgets, two reports from market researchers at IDC pointed to a very grim future for the PC market, which still matters for Microsoft.

In one report, it predicted that, based on prevailing trends, worldwide PC shipments were likely to fall by nearly 8 per cent his year, against an earlier estimate of 1.3 per cent. In the other, it said that, as PC shipments decline, tablet shipments are expected to spiral by nearly 60 per cent in 2013. By 2015, tablet shipments are expected to outpace the entire PC market.

While Apple remains a significant player in the tablet market, IDC noted the expansion of machines powered by Android, Google’s alternative operating system.

All this could spell some serious trouble for Microsoft, which had hoped to deliver a shot to the PC market with its new Windows 8 operating system, which is tailored to work with  devices such as touch-enabled PCs and laptops. In fact, the opposite appears to have happened although, it should be noted, that much still has to do with the shift in computing habits, as users switch to tablets.

In April, IDC published a report on PC shipments over the first quarter. They were down nearly 14 per cent compared to the same quarter of 2012, and well off the forecast fall of 7.7 per cent. At the time, IDC’s analyst Bob O’Donnell noted “the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market”.

What happened? Here’s  Mr O’Donnell again: “The radical changes to the user interface, 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 appears to have woken up to the message from users, announcing an update to the software this week that will introduce a button much like the start button in past versions of Windows. The update will also boast an improved search function not too unlike the spotlight feature that’s been a mainstay of Macs for sometime now.

Only time will tell if the ploy works, but there’s no way to hide the fact that the signs don’t look promising. Although the company said earlier in May that it has been selling Windows 8 licences at a similar pace to the one it saw with Windows 7 in the first six months, it should be remembered that “sold” here also means copies of Windows 8 that have been installed on a device, so it doesn’t necessarily give us an accurate reading of how many people are actually using the software.

Meanwhile, the company has been trying to shift its tablet offerings. IDC estimates that Microsoft shipped 900,000 of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets during the first quarter, which doesn’t sound too bad. But because the company arrived at the party so late, it’s many miles from being a serious rival to the more serious players in the tablet space. Apple shipped nearly 20 million of its tablets, while Samsung managed almost 9 million over the period, according to the market researcher, which also noted that Microsoft had struggled to gain traction with its Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets.

It’s worth noting here that it didn’t have to be this way. After all, it was Bill Gates, not Steve Jobs, who first mooted the idea of tablets.

Here’s a reminder, from a Microsoft press release dated November 2000, about Mr Gates’s appearance at a computer expo: “Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp, unveiled a new direction in PC technology during his keynote address when he demonstrated a working prototype of a Tablet PC.”

The machine was very different to the tablets we’re familiar with today, using a pen-based input as opposed to today’s touch-sensitive devices. But the business was clearly heading in the right direction.

Today, Microsoft remains a solid enterprise. But the trends do not bode well. And it makes you wonder why, when Wall Street is spending so much time picking on Mr Cook at Apple, it seems to have forgotten about Mr Ballmer.  Mr Cook’s primary sin seems to have been that in the almost two years since he took over at Apple he hasn’t launched a whizzy new follow-up to the iPhone or the iPad (the mini-version doesn’t count, as it was just a version of an existing device). And for that, he has had to deal with a tanking share price.

In comparison, Microsoft has been fairly resilient, and save for the occasional grumble here and there, little is said about Mr Ballmer. No doubt much of that has to do with the fact that Apple has been front and centre in the technology world over the past few years in a way that Microsoft has not. But shouldn’t Mr Ballmer be held responsible for that?

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

CTO / Chief Technology Officer

£100 - 125k: Guru Careers: A CTO / Chief Technology Officer is needed to join ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker