An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...
Holiday PC Sales Fell Year Over Year for First Time in 5 Years
IDC confirmed what I’ve been writing about for the past few weeks on the SuperSite for Windows, which is that the Windows 8 launched didn’t just not help the PC market, it triggered a slowdown in PC sales. IDC this week said that PC sales fell 5 percent during the holiday sales season year-over-year. This marks the first time that a consumer-oriented version of Windows launched before or during the holiday sales season didn’t manage to bump PC sales in the slightest, and it reorients Microsoft’s increasingly shrill everything-is-OK messaging around license sales back to the real conversation: Windows 8 is off to a slow start. If you’re looking for the real reason that Windows 8 has failed to trigger a sales uptick, look no further than "Explaining Windows 8 PC Sales Over the Holidays." Done and done.
Wait, It Gets Worse: PC Sales Fell for Calendar Year 2012, Too
PC makers sold 352 million units in calendar year 2012, IDC says—a 3.2 percent drop-off from 2011, and the first time since 2001 that PC sales fell year-over-year. (And that year, we could at least blame 9/11. Please hold while I scan the newswire for the first clueless blogger to compare Windows 8 to 9/11.) Now, ~350 million units is still pretty good, of course, but I keep coming back to the number that Microsoft kept kicking around last year, which was 400 million. Granted, the company was using IDC predictions to come up with this figure, but Microsoft claimed (again and again and again) that the potential market for Windows 8 upgrades in year one was 400 million units, because that was how many PCs would be sold in that time period. That Microsoft was off by 50 million units should concern anyone reading this. It was clearly untrue as the company was saying it. And now Microsoft just looks silly.
Nokia’s “Surge” in Perspective
You can tell when a company is really in trouble by the irrational response to even the smallest bit of good news. Nokia reported this week that it sold 86.3 million handsets in Q4 2012, including 15.9 million smartphones, triggering happy reactions everywhere and claims that maybe, just maybe, the firm had pulled itself out of the drain. Not so fast, folks. Of those 86.3 million handsets and almost 16 million smartphones, only 4.4 million of them were Lumia smartphones, most based on Windows Phone 8, and you have to think that Q4 2012 represents the high-water market for sales over the year, since that was the launch period. So in a quarter in which Samsung sold 62 million smartphones and Apple sold 45 million iPhones … Nokia sold 4.4 million Lumias. And that was considered a huge success, and was in fact a big improvement over the previous two quarters. Nokia, meet woods. You’re not out yet.
Stepping Back from the Messenger Server Shutdown Cliff
Microsoft announced last fall that it would be “retiring” its Windows Live Messenger instant messaging (IM) application for Windows and replacing it with Skype. But then this week, the firm started emailing users and noting that it was in fact retiring the “the existing Messenger service globally (except for mainland China where Messenger will continue to be available)” as well, and would do so on March 15. This announcement triggered angst everywhere. (Well, everywhere there’s a Messenger users, I guess.) I wrote about this news in the inventively titled "Microsoft to Kill Messenger on March 15." But as it turns out, the shutdown won’t be that immediate, thankfully: Peter Bright at Ars Technica asked Microsoft about the shutdown and was told that although Windows Live Messenger (the desktop application) is indeed being retired immediately, the back-end Messenger service will be retired over the next year to give the various other platforms that use it—Windows 8/Windows RT, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, and so on—time to be updated. Windows Live Messenger will stop working on March 15, forcing users to upgrade to Skype. Third-party clients that use the Messenger back-end are getting locked out in October 2013. And then the entire Messenger network, sans China, will go dark in March 2014. That makes a lot more sense than the original communication.
Downtime Issues Plague Hotmail and Outlook.com
Speaking of Microsoft services that aren’t right in the head, it’s been a tough week for Microsoft’s two consumer-oriented email web services, Hotmail and Outlook.com. Users have been complaining all week about problems getting mail on their mobile devices, an issue Microsoft blamed on its Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol. “Microsoft is investigating an issue affecting a small percentage of mobile users’ access to Hotmail and Outlook.com, and we are working to restore full access to the service as quickly as possible,” the firm noted in a statement. “For the latest information, we encourage users to visit the Hotmail and Outlook.com status page.” This page has shown all green lights for me all week, but based on my email and Twitter feedback, that’s certainly not the case for everyone. But as of now, supposedly, it’s back up and working. As a reminder, the web version of the service has never gone down this week, so that’s a good backup.
Samsung Shelves Plans for a Windows RT Tablet
Samsung is the world’s best-selling maker of smartphones, but the company has strong and rising positions in tablets and PCs, too. So it should be concerning that the firm confirmed this week that it has opted not to support Windows RT, Microsoft’s curiously pointless port of Windows 8 to the ARM platform. Samsung’s Mike Abary, who heads up the company’s US PC and tablet business, told CNET that Windows RT just doesn’t make any sense at all. “There wasn't really a very clear positioning of what Windows RT meant in the marketplace, what it stood for relative to Windows 8, that was being done in an effective manner to the consumer,” he said. “When we did some tests and studies on how we could go to market with a Windows RT device, we determined there was a lot of heavy lifting we still needed to do to educate the customer on what Windows RT was. And that heavy lifting was going to require pretty heavy investment. When we added those two things up … plus the modest feedback that we got regarding how successful could this be at retail from our retail partners, we decided maybe we ought to wait … It's still a viable option for us in the future, but now might not be the right time.”
Xbox 360 Has Been the Number-One Console in the United States for 2 Years Straight
Microsoft announced this week that the Xbox 360 was the number-one selling video game console in December, meaning it’s been number one for 24 months in a row. I'd normally add the caveat that this milestone is slightly less impressive when you consider how far the market has fallen in this time, but I will say this instead: The fact that the Xbox 360 has retained its title during the time period in which one-time market leader Nintendo launched a new-generation console, the Wii U, is pretty amazing. Microsoft sold just 1.4 million Xbox 360 consoles in December, so it’s not like the company has discovered the next iPad or anything. But it might have discovered the fountain of youth, at least in this diminished market.
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