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08 January 2013

Windows 8 Sales Sluggish: NPD Group

Despite Windows 8's high-profile launch, The NPD Group claims the new OS isn't helping actual Windows device sales.

While Microsoft claims it’s sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the month since launch—a more rapid pace than Windows 7—new data from research firm The NPD Group suggests that isn’t helping sales of actual Windows devices, which, in its estimation, are down 21 percent from last year.

Desktops dropped 9 percent year-over-year, while notebooks fell 24 percent. “After just four weeks on the market, it’s still early to place blame on Windows 8 for the ongoing weakness in the PC market,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group.  “We still have the whole holiday selling season ahead of us, but clearly Windows 8 did not prove to be the impetus for a sales turnaround some had hoped for.”

The NPD Group claims that 58 percent of Windows devices sold in the last month are running Windows 8, comparing it to “the 83 percent [of devices] Windows 7 accounted for four weeks after that launch.” Despite Windows 8’s tablet-optimized Start screen, which features colorful tiles linked to applications (the better to tap with a finger, rather than click with a mouse), tablets running the operating system represent a mere 1 percent of sales to date. The operating system also offers the “traditional” desktop interface, accessible via one of those Start screen tiles.

The average selling price (ASP) of a Windows machine has also jumped “significantly” this year, in the firm’s estimation, from $433 to $477. That could be due in part to touch-screen laptops, which generally retail at a premium to their non-touch siblings.

“The strong performance of Windows 8 notebooks with touchscreens, where Windows 8 truly shines, offers some reason for optimism,” Baker wrote. “These products accounted for 6 percent of Windows 8 notebook sales at an average price of $867 helping to re-establish a premium segment to the Windows consumer notebook market.”

Microsoft is depending on Windows 8 to help maintain its dominance of traditional operating systems while making inroads into the tablet market, which is dominated in large part by Apple’s iPad and various Google Android devices. However, the dual interface has attracted criticism from some quarters, including noted usability experts.

Windows 8 is out and the reviews are in. But is the operating system proving a success with users?

Paul Thurrott claimed a “trusted” source within Microsoft had told him Windows 8 was off to a “weak start.” That source cited PC makers’ “inability to deliver” fantastic Windows 8 devices as a key reason behind the soft sales.

Pondering reasons behind a possible weakness in Windows 8 sales, Thurrott postulated some theories of his own, including a sluggish economy and “lingering questions” around the departure of former Windows division president Steven Sinofsky. But subsequent re-posters and pundits have focused on one idea in particular: the confusion inherent in Windows 8’s design. As Thurrott wrote:

“Microsoft’s new whatever-the-F-it-is operating system is a confusing, Frankenstein’s monster mix of old and new that hides a great desktop upgrade under a crazy Metro front-end. It’s touch-first, as Microsoft says, but really it’s touch whether you want it or not (or have it or not), and the firm’s inability to give its own customers the choice to pick which UI they want is what really makes Windows 8 confounding to users.”

Windows 8 offers the user a Start screen of colorful tiles linked to applications; the desktop, while still available, is accessible only by tapping or clicking a particular tile. Microsoft made this radical change so that Windows 8 could operate on both traditional PCs and touch-enabled devices such as tablets.

That new user interface has attracted some praise from reviewers. But one noted usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, recently slammed the dual interfaces as unintuitive at best, and a case of total cognitive overload at worst.

“From a traditional Gates-driven GUI style that emphasized powerful commands to the point of featuritis, Microsoft has gone soft and now smothers usability with big colorful tiles while hiding needed features,” he wrote. “The new design is obviously optimized for touchscreen use (where big targets are helpful), but Microsoft is also imposing this style on its traditional PC users because all of Windows 8 is permeated by the tablet sensibility.”

His comments don’t exactly get any more upbeat from there.

Of course, none of the experts’ comments about usability will really matter if Windows 8 turns into an enduring hit. But if Thurrott’s source is correct, and Windows 8 sales are starting off weaker than expected, it could be an indicator that a significant portion of users finds something disagreeable about the operating system’s design. With Microsoft itself still largely tight-lipped about sales numbers, it will be some time before anyone knows for sure.

http://slashdot.org/


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