We now know what we've suspected for months: Windows 8 isn't selling very well. We've seen the pattern since Microsoft's big launch event in late October -- the mixed reviews, the cautionary words from hardware manufacturers, the desperate fast-tracking of plans to expand the retail availability of the Surface -- but now we've got numbers.
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According to the researchers at NPD, sales of Windows PCs dropped 13% year-over-year for the period between October and the first week December, a statistic first reported by the New York Times. Considering that's the exact time Windows 8 devices arrived on the market, it's pretty damning evidence the new operating system isn't catching on.
Certainly, some people are downloading Windows 8 for upgrades without buying new hardware, but let's get real: Windows 8 is all about the hardware. The new OS is tailor-made for touch screens, and touch-screen PCs -- the multi-finger kind that Windows 8 was designed to work with -- have only been available since Oct. 26. As we all know, Microsoft went so far as to build its own tablet to showcase the platform.
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Now one has to ask: Should it have bothered? For all its promise, Windows 8 doesn't seem to be winning over many buyers. To be sure, one report doesn't a failure make, but Microsoft worked meticulously to craft the OS to work with touch, the cloud and social networks -- the very needs of today's connected consumers and businesses. It's fair to ask why they didn't respond, especially since Windows 8 was marketed like crazy.
Windows 8's Stumbling Blocks
Windows 8 is a powerful operating system, but it's also perplexing to new users. The built-in tutorial is very brief, amounting to a few instructions on how to perform some basic actions with a mouse or finger. If you want to engage snap mode or scroll through apps running in the background, good luck figuring them out without someone holding your hand. Even finding the restart button is a little challenging. It all amounts to a pretty steep learning curve, even for longtime Windows users.
And in the end, what's the benefit? For all of the hype from Microsoft on launch day, there are scant few Windows 8 apps. The limited selection is holding back some of the OS's potentially groundbreaking features -- such as the hard-wired Share button -- since they're only as powerful as the apps on board the device.
Moreover, for what people tend to use PCs for -- which is to say, productivity-skewed tasks such as document creation, task management and email -- Windows 7 suits them fine. The big thing Windows 8 adds to the equation is "consumption" activities because now the same device can be your PC and your tablet.
However, tablets have gotten so cheap that it's hard to make a case that spending $500+ on a new Windows 8 machine is better than just keeping what you have and spending $200 on a cheap tablet. That goes double when the cheap tablet in question has hundreds of thousands more apps. Throw in an unfamiliar user interface, and you're basically telling people to please leave the Microsoft Store.
The iPad in the Room
Contrast the launch of Windows 8 with the initial iPad debut. When Apple first rolled out its tablet, there was a lot of skepticism, and probably even fewer apps. However, the iPad wasn't entirely unfamiliar -- the OS worked almost exactly like the iPhone's, so there was no learning curve.
At the same time, the iPad delivered on its promise of a better overall experience for some key tasks: reading, watching video, browsing photos and casual messaging. Have you tried to use a Windows 8 device such as the Lenovo Yoga or Dell XPS 12 as a tablet? Trust me, they're not iPads.
To be fair, those machines were designed to be laptops first and tablets as a supplementary function, but then we're back to: Why make the jump to Windows 8 when Windows 7 provides a good enough experience on that score? You can save money by just sticking with your current PC (or buying an ultra-cheap one) and buying, say, a $199 Google Nexus 7 if you want a tablet experience.
There's at least one Windows 8 product that provides an experience on par with the iPad's, and that's the Microsoft Surface. However, for what the Surface can do for you today, it's overpriced. Not only does it have far fewer apps than both the iPad and Android, but won't even run older Windows apps, negating a big reason for longtime PC owners to get one. With the Surface, you really do need a separate device for productivity, and you will for a long time.
Chairs Are Like Windows 8
Microsoft has a couple of aces up its sleeve to help boost Windows 8, but they're far from trump cards. Microsoft Office, the ultimate productivity app suite for many, comes free with the Surface (or any Windows RT device). However, as many have discovered over the past few years, there are many alternatives (such as QuickOffice) to Office on tablets. Far from making the Surface (and tablets like it) a "gateway drug" for business use, the presence of Office on Windows RT devices will only ensure enterprise customers don't completely ignore them.
There's also the Xbox 360, a bona fide Microsoft hardware success story if there ever was one. The Xbox is a great platform, but its ability to help goose Windows 8 penetration is limited. Gamers are only a subset of the larger Windows customer base and those who aren't a part of it generally have little interest. And the worst thing Xbox could do is wall itself in by tying itself more directly to Windows -- indeed, its recent moves with SmartGlass apps have taken the opposite approach, introducing apps for iOS and Android. That's good for Xbox, but it won't help Windows 8.
So where does that leave Windows 8? Inadvertently making Microsoft's "sophomore jinx" a reality -- that every other version of Windows is a success (95, XP and 7) and the others, not so much (98, Vista and now 8) -- though for different reasons.
Before anyone declares Windows 8 a flop, however, let's pause for a second to remember the tale of the Aeron chair. Yes, different industry, different time, different everything, but the analogy is apt: Company launches product that doesn't sell well at first but goes on to redefine an entire category because there was nothing else like it. People didn't "get" the Aeron when it first debuted, but it was too good to not be influential.
Is Windows 8 the Aeron chair of a new digital age? Perhaps. But consider that the Aeron was an eventual success because the product was exceptional -- it met the needs of office workers far better than anything that came before. Windows 8 has some powerful features, but will they ever win over the buying public?
You tell us. Did you buy or consider buying a Windows 8 machine in the past two months? Tell us why you made your decision in the comments.
Image by Mashable
BONUS: A Tour of Windows 8
Windows 8, Fully Formed
The new Windows is here. Windows 8 is a dramatic departure from Windows 7, blowing up the Start menu into a vibrant Start Screen that's electric with activity and well suited for touch devices like tablets. Despite some inconsistencies (particularly with the traditional desktop, which still exists), the new interface is powerful, fast and convenient.
This story originally published on Mashable here.