Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Look Ahead at Computing Sales in the 2013 Holiday Season

Following in the tradition of my 5th most popular post: Watching Computers and Tablets Sales in the 2012 Holiday Season, I spent an hour last Saturday at my local Best Buy, observing what the current state of computer sales is.

First and foremost, Windows 8 sales are breathtakingly bad. The store has 13 all-in-one computer models, 11 of which have touch screens. There was not a single finger mark on the screens. No one but me even got near the section. This was in stark contrast to the two sets of people taking a serious look at iMacs. Over a third of the Windows laptops had touch screens. Again almost pristine screens, except for 2 at the front of the computer section (a heavy traffic area). There was one serious browser of Windows laptops. Oddly, she was looking at touch enabled models, but never once actually touched the screen. I was not sure of what to make of that. All of the laptops looked at by 3 sets of browsers were sub-$600. Really, there was only one place where there was much traffic: iPad minis. Android tablets (judging from finger marks and 3 browsers while I was there) were largely untouched except for Samsung tablets. iPad minis had totally smudged screens and 6 different people took a serious look at them while I was there. The 10 inch iPads (4 and 2) had no finger marks. Microsoft Surfaces, despite their good placement at the front of the computer section, had seen no traffic at all. As the Chromebooks at Best Buy are not touch enabled I really cannot say how much they had been looked at. I did notice that there is now a huge "Google" sign, implying a move by Google to have a "Google" mini-store. Amazon currently lists the ARM-based Samsung Chromebook as its #1 bestselling laptop. It has been #1 on the list for over 200 days. Amazon also currently lists the Samsung Chromebox as its #9 bestselling desktop. Amazon is also showing good Samsung Android tablet and Apple iPad mini, Mac mini, and iMac sales. Both Best Buy and Amazon seemed to not be selling MacBooks as well as they had been, I attribute this to people waiting for the Haswell-based line to arrive.

Taking a guess at what Best Buy will look like during the holiday shopping season

I'm seeing a lot of articles these days like this one:

Can a tablet replace your laptop? We used an iPad for three months to find out

The simple truth of the matter is that many people miss their laptops and would like to have a cheap device that gives them the convenience of a tablet, but with a real keyboard and mouse and reasonable productivity apps. I had expected Apple to have added mouse support to iOS 7, but it appears they have missed the boat again. Thus, I think we will see devices like this:

become big sellers this holiday season. That one is Tegra 4 based, but I'm sure there will be Bay Trail ones as well. Intel's Bay Trail chips support virtualization, so I am hoping we will see Android Apps that let you run Linux at near native speeds, as apps like VMWare and Virtual Box do for Windows and MacOS.

Chromebooks were amazingly popular last year, and this year I expect that to increase to the point they are serious rivals to Windows laptops. Numerous new models of various sizes, power and prices are in the works. Google is expected to release a native Office Suite for Chromebooks by then. Also, third-parties are beginning to make native apps for Chromebooks. These native apps can also run under Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS and Android. For details:

I expect these to reach Mac levels of popularity this season and possibly overtake Windows (for consumers and small business) in 2014.

I think there is a reasonable chance that Android and ChomeOS based all-in-ones may make a dent in the market.

Microsoft has a huge push planned for Windows 8:

I believe this will be a huge failure. First of all, even though Windows 8.1 may be out by then, it really does very little to fix the dual-interface issues that plague Windows 8. Microsoft still has users forced to continually switch between the two UI environments. Secondly, Microsoft now has a huge amount of control over placement and other aspects of the "Windows" store... this will cause a lot of tension with Windows OEMs, giving them yet another reason to back Android and Chromebooks/boxes.

Apple will loose serious ground in both tablet and phone space. Quite simply, iOS 7 is a problem. It is a superficial upgrade that tries to put a pretty face on an aging, under-powered operating system. Sadly, the pretty face could only be loved by a designer. Mr. and Mrs. Upper Middle Class and Grandma and Grandpa, that makes up the bulk of iOS's user base, will not be pleased with the interface. This, combined with Apple's lack of understanding the need for a well integrated (yet removable) keyboard and mouse, will mean that iOS sales will dwindle. Apple also failed to add to iOS 7 a way to make dynamic interfaces that allow for different screen sizes and resolutions... this greatly limits Apple in its ability to create new devices. I know many iOS users, not one of them is genuinely happy with the current state of affairs.

Ironically, MacOS may shine. I still believe them to be overpriced, but if you need a high-end notebook or all-in-one, then Apple offerings seem infinitely preferable to Windows 8 ones. The new Haswell-based Macbook Airs offer amazing battery life. No doubt a refreshed line of MacBook Pros will have similar characteristics. Eventually, I expect MacOS will eventually fall to Android and ChromeOS based machines (and no doubt other competitors such as FireFox OS or Tizen), but growth is likely in 2013.

Blackberry seems to be dying... this holiday season is likely make or break for them.

Wild cards for this holiday season:

Linux... I am surprised that OEMs have not taken a distribution like Linux Mint, cleaned it up a bit for mass usage, and put out a laptop.

Linux... I'm surprised there have not been Kickstarter projects for cheap Linux laptops. Linux is difficult to put on stock laptops - there are almost always driver issues. But for a limited set of hardware, it should be as easy to do as Android. Surely a Tegra 4 or Bay Trail based Linux laptop would sell well.

There are a large number of Android gaming consoles coming out. It will be interesting to watch how these interact with Xbox and PS/2's (yes, Nintendo, I left you out... so does everyone else, get used to it).

Windows Phone. These run a different OS than Windows 8 and actually have a significant user base. They seem to be picking up a fair number of Blackberry users and have various hooks of interest to enterprises. If they could break 10% market share (a big if at this point, they are around 5%) they could become a serious contender. The problem is again Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 is considered subordinate to Windows 8.

There are 4 up and coming Mobile OSs: Tizen, Firefox OS, Ubuntu, and Jolla. For details see:

Ubuntu and Jolla require proprietary development environments for commercial apps, so I am less hopeful about them. Tizen and Firefox OS on the other hand are at least as open as Android. They also are both quite flexible, being extensible beyond phone and tablet. We may see them start to make appearances this year.

Non-tablet, non-phone devices. Android for example has a number of game consoles shipping this year. Android has a lot of TV-sticks. Laptops and all-in-ones are already announced. Android showed up at CES in a large number of consumer devices (even refrigerators and washers). There are a number of Android watches available this year. These non-traditional usage devices may be a big growth area.

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