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Thursday, April 11, 2013

PC Sales Still in a Slump, Despite New Offerings

PC Sales Still in a Slump, Despite New Offerings

It should be one of the most exciting periods in years for people looking to buy new PCs, with a new version of Windows on sale and shelves full of slick touch-screen devices to run it.

Trying out a Dell computer at an electronics store in Miami.

But not only have the new offerings failed to stop the downward slide in PC shipments that has been going on for the last year, they appear to have made it worse.

On Wednesday, the research firm IDC reported that worldwide PC shipments declined 13.9 percent during the first three months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier.

To put those numbers into perspective, that is the most severe decline in the PC market since IDC began tracking the business almost two decades ago and almost double the rate of decline that the firm was expecting for the quarter.

Gartner, another research firm, had estimates that were only slightly better, showing an 11.2 percent decline in PC shipments for the first quarter.

This is the fourth consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines in shipments for the PC.

Many of the challenges facing the PC business have not changed during the last year. Smartphones and tablets, while not perfect substitutes for PCs, are pulling dollars out of consumers’ wallets that might have otherwise gone to laptop or desktop computers. People are simply more excited about those mobile technologies, with their touch-screens, than they are about buying conventional computers.

In this environment, Microsoft introduced Windows 8 last October. The software, a bold redesign of the company’s flagship operating system, is tailored to run on tablets, traditional keyboard-and-mouse computers and hybrid devices that combine elements of both. But it seems that the changes Microsoft made with Windows were so extreme that they scared off buyers.

“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,” Bob O’Donnell, program vice president for clients and displays at IDC, said in a statement. He said that “radical changes” to elements like the user interface and higher costs had made PCs less attractive compared with tablets and other devices.

“Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market,” Mr. O’Donnell added.

The severity of the decline in the market is further evidence that the “post-PC era” heralded several years ago by Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s former chief executive, was not an empty slogan. Mr. Jobs, who died in 2011, predicted that PCs would endure, but that smartphones and tablets would become the devices people favored for most of their computing needs.

That shift has big implications for the balance of power in the tech business. Last week, Gartner estimated that by 2017, the dominant operating system for all computing devices, including smartphones, computers and tablets, would be Google’s Android, with software from Microsoft and Apple far behind.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 11, 2013, on page B5 of the New York edition with the headline: PC Sales Still in a Slump, Despite New Offerings.