April 12, 2013 -- The PC is in trouble. Big trouble, if you believe research firm IDC's new data, which shows that shipments of PCs plunged 14 percent in the first quarter of this year. That's the sharpest decline in sales of personal computers since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994.
Since the numbers have been released, technology experts and pundits have hypothesized about the causes of the ailing personal computer market. IDC, specifically, cited Windows 8, Microsoft's new computer and tablet operating system, as one of the main reasons people turned away from buying computers.
That's certainly a possibility, but one possibility out of a few others. Here are five possibilities of why the PC business is hurting so badly right now. Feel free to let us know in the comments which one you believe is the biggest contributor to the dying PC.
1. The iPad and other tablets are eating into the PC market.
Post-PC world is right. And Steve Jobs might have been right too -- PCs are like trucks, and tablets are like cars. The late Apple CEO said that PCs were like trucks that were used when the U.S. was an agrarian nation and we needed trucks to get around. Then cars took over. "They're still going to be around, they're still going to have a lot of value, but they're going to be used by one out of X people," Jobs said about PCs.
Many argue that tablets, or more specifically the iPad, have started to fulfill the tasks of those truck PCs. The result is that those tablets are eating into what used to be the PC's lunch.
2. Windows 8 is a confusing, unfamiliar and scary place.
IDC cites Windows 8 as the main reason for the decline. "At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," Bob O'Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays, said in a statement. Microsoft launched Windows 8 on Oct. 26.
Of course, you can see how Windows 8 is related to the first point. Windows 8 was Microsoft's answer to the iPad. The software was designed to run on all types of computers, including tablets, laptops, desktops and all sorts of tablet / laptop hybrids. It was supposed to be about "no-compromises." But Windows 8, IDC and others have said, was confusing for people and wasn't a great solution for laptops and other computers. (The IDC numbers don't include Windows 8 tablets or tablet-hybrid devices; it just focuses on laptops and desktops.) IDC cites that people are put off by the changes to the interface and the removal of the familiar Start button.
3. Windows 8 hardware is flawed.
There's the Windows 8 software and then there is the hardware that came out with it. Some experts argue that Windows 8's no-compromise software features led to very compromised and uninteresting hardware designs.
"We got a flood of almost the same exact laptops these companies have been selling for years, just with touch screen bolted onto some of them, plus some awkward attempts to merge a laptop and tablet," Dan Ackerman, a senior editor at CNET, told ABC News. "But that attempt at a no-compromise experience led to hybrid devices that were either second-rate tablets, second-rate laptops, or both. It felt like there wasn't enough usability testing done on a lot of these touchscreen Windows devices."
Some industry experts say Intel's forthcoming chip called Haswell, which promises better performance and good battery life at the same time, will improve that. But ultimately, Ackerman feels there just wasn't a "must-have" Windows 8 product because of an assortment of hardware limitations.
4. Where are the netbooks? PCs are too expensive now.
But there is more to that theory, and it focuses on the cost of that hardware. The Windows 8 computers options simply cost too much and there are no longer those lower-cost netbooks to choose from. Windows computer buyers got used to those low $299 or $399 prices and that's just not an option anymore since most Windows 8 computers come with touch screens. It's something we pointed out a couple of months ago and IDC points to it too. "Fading Mini Notebook shipments have taken a big chunk out of the low-end market while tablets and smartphones continue to divert consumer spending," IDC wrote on its site.
"Microsoft bet big that touchscreen prices would come down, but there is still a significant premium associated with them," Ross Rubin, principal analyst of Reticle Research, told ABC News. "Of course you can get it without the touch, but Windows 8 is optimized for a touchscreen experience."
5. People are just not upgrading that much anymore.
Some have said that people are just not upgrading their computers that much anymore because they are already as fast as they want them to be. Simon Bisson argues in a piece on ZDNet that we are already in an era of "good enough computing." "Why do you need to buy a new PC when you can get better performance with a software upgrade on your old hardware?" Bisson writes.
Time Magazine's Harry McCracken makes a similar point. "Folks aren't going to stop purchasing conventional computers altogether, of course; the PC industry isn't the PDA industry," he says. "But maybe it's turning into the TV market — one in which a typical household buys the best product it can afford, then holds on to it until it breaks or a true great leap forward (like HDTV) comes along."
It's an interesting argument, but Rubin says that might be all tied back to argument number one: tablets. "I would say if they are postponing, it is that upgrade dollars are going to other devices like tablets and smartphones. So, really, it is back to reason one," Rubin said. Post-PC world is right.