Windows 8.1 goes partway towards fixing some of the biggest complaints about Windows 8, but analysts aren't convinced it will make much a difference in getting people to buy Windows 8 computers or tablets. They expect continuing sluggish PC sales and little takeup for tablets.
When it comes to PC sales, Windows 8.1 won't help because existing and planned hardware is slow, weighs too much, and doesn't take advantage of Windows 8's touch interface. At least, so argues Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. In a post last week to his Techpinions blog, he said that he was particularly discouraged about PC sales for the 2013 holiday season, after attending Microsoft's BUILD developer's conference. He wrote:
"The conference was set against a backdrop of flagging PC sales and a PC ecosystem that is one edge, anxious to decide where they should be making their future investments. When BUILD concluded and the smoke cleared, my takeaway was that Windows 8.1 is a step forward, but will do little to boost holiday 2013 sales."
He noted that Windows 8 PCs so far are underwhelming:
"The clear majority of Windows 8 PCs shipped up to this point, however, were quite different than the optimal. Most delivered three hours battery life, were heavy, difficult to use versus a tablet, weren't touch-based, weren’t always-on or always connected, a bit lethargic and didn't offer the consumer app library."
Analyst Sameer Singh who writes the Tech-Thoughts blog, agrees. He writes that based on what he sees in Windows 8.1. "I would have to stand by my earlier prediction of PC shipments dropping to the 65-75 million range by Q4 2013."
As for tablets, he doesn't see Windows 8.1 making much of a difference there, either. He wrote:
"Windows 8.1 should have no impact on the attractiveness of tablets based on the platform. While it does offer some improvements, tablet purchases are based on two primary factors: application availability and price."
Windows 8.1, he says, falls short in both categories, with Windows 8 tablets costing more than competing tablets, notably Android, and with Windows 8 app availability weak, particularly for Windows RT-based tablets, which can't run desktop apps.
Even before Windows 8.1 was released, analysts were warning it would not help juice lagging PC sales. Gartner, for example, recently released a report that said that traditional PC sales will plummet by 15.2% in 2014 compared to 2012, going from 341.3 million units in 2012 to 289.2 million in 2014.
I think that in general, the analysts are right. Windows 8.1 is a nice piece of work, but it's not going to single-handedly solve the problem of sagging Windows PC and tablet sales. Hardware makers have yet to find the right mix of features at the right price for Windows 8 machines that make them must-haves for consumers. And Windows 8 tablets remain too expensive compared to the competition to gain dramatic market share.
For a big turnaround, Microsoft may have to wait until Windows 9. But it's hard to know at this point whether what the company comes up with then will be too little, too late.