Microsoft Executive Vice President of Marketing Tami Reller appeared at the Intel Developer Forum 2013 on Wednesday to tout the coming release of Windows 8.1, which will power new Intel-based PCs and devices shipping this fall. However, although both firms have a lot of new products to talk about, both also share the discomforting possibility that the coming holiday selling season will work out no better than last year.
Here we go again.
Last year, Microsoft shipped Windows 8 and Windows RT, as well as Surface Pro and Surface RT, and partnered with Intel and various PC makers to deliver a first generation of touch Ultrabooks and so-called hybrid PCs. This year, Microsoft is shipping Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1, and Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2, and is partnering with Intel and various PC makers to deliver a second generation of touch Ultrabooks and so-called hybrid PCs.
Albert Einstein is widely quoted as saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And the past year has been a bloodbath for the PC industry, with the worst year-over-year sales dropoff in the history of the industry. Where analysts were once expecting PC makers to hit annual sales of 400 million units, total sales in 2013 will be just above 300 million units.
Microsoft has been mum about Windows 8's performance in the market and has continued reiterating the "100 million licenses sold" figure that dates back to May. That figure doesn't, of course, represent actual usage of the OS, although recent data suggests that Windows 8 is indeed in use on more than 100 million PCs around the world about 10 months after its release. That sounds like a big number until you realize that PC makers have sold about 250 million PCs in that time frame.
And that might sound like a big number, except that tablets are now expected to outsell PCs as soon as the fourth quarter of 2013. And device makers will almost certainly sell more than 1 billion smartphones this year alone. These are two markets in which Windows is not a credible competitor. And both are or soon will be bigger than the market for PCs.
Reller didn't address any of that. Instead, she said that Windows 8 had its highest level of "activations" yet in August, an interesting comment given that the firm has never discussed such a thing publicly before and has always communicated licenses sold instead. She also said that more than 2 million people have downloaded the final version of Windows 8.1 from TechNet and MSDN since its release on Monday. The OS will be made available to the public in October.
Intel, meanwhile, is pushing its next-generation chipsets as well as the next-generation PCs and devices that utilize them. On the low end, the firm is shipping a new-generation Atom processor, code-named Bay Trail, which it says offers twice the performance of the previous-generation Clover Trail chips. Bay Trail is Intel's latest attempt to push back the success of rival ARM, although to be fair, ARM has never taken off in the PC space.
Intel is also in the middle of releasing its fourth-generation Core processors, code-named Haswell. These chips provide for roughly 30 percent better battery life than previous-generation designs, which can make a big difference for certain PCs. The first-generation Surface Pro, for example, utilized a third-generation Intel Core processor and achieved only about 4.5 hours of battery life. But the next version, running Haswell, will see up to 7 hours of battery life, basically enough for an entire day of work. Other Haswell-based systems see even better battery life.
But Intel, like the PC makers, is no longer putting all its eggs in the one Windows basket. Haswell chips will power a new generation of Chromebooks based on Google's Chrome OS. And Google has signed up more PC makers to make these devices, too: Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba are all shipping, or will soon be shipping, Chromebooks.
That's right: Six of the world's biggest Windows PC makers are selling competitors to Windows. You know, maybe this year isn't anything like last year.