Windows 8.1 Does Little to Boost Holiday 2013 Sales

Patrick Moorhead / July 2nd, 2013

Last week, I tuned into Microsoft’s Channel 9 to listen to keynotes and developer lectures for MS BUILD, Microsoft’s developer conference. BUILD attracts Microsoft devotees from its developer community for PCs, phones, servers and even XBOX.

The biggest item on everyone’s mind was Windows 8.1 and how Microsoft planned to breathe developer life into the platform. 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. Ironically, the hardware could make a difference. Let’s start with what 8.1 brings to the table.

Windows 8.1 was about two things- making Windows 8 more comfortable for traditional Windows desktop users and completing the base Windows tablet experience. Here is a list of the top features making it easier for desktop users:

  • Adding back the Start menu: While in the desktop app, clicking on the white Windows flag takes you back to the start screen in Metro. Right-clicking the flag let’s you shut down the system and access key desktop settings.
  • Boot to Desktop: Windows 8.1 let’s you boot to the desktop app, which is essentially the Windows 7 experience .
  • Remove Charms: Allows users to disable charms when you place your cursor in the top right or bottom right corner of the display.
  • Jump to All Apps: Upon pressing the Windows flag in desktop, this can take you to the All Apps page. If selected in settings, this means users will never have to see a Live Tile unless they want to.

So literally, if you don’t want to see much of anything that Windows 8 brings over Windows 7, Windows 8.1 will let you do that. Let’s move to the Windows 8.1 features that signify completion of the base Windows 8 tablet experience:

  • 8″ tablets: Windows 8.1 supports 8″ tablets, the volume driver in its category.
  • System-wide search: Instead of choosing between searching for apps, settings or files, the new search searches everything. This reminds me of Windows 7 and of OS X, but is arguably a better search than 8.
  • Basic photo and video editing: Windows 8 had no photo or video editing, obviously a feature left on the cutting room floor given every major OS has this already, including Windows 7. Windows 8.1 brings some basic and touch-optimized tools to the table. I really like the dials in photo editing.
  • Improved App Snapping: Windows 8 limited users to simultaneously display two apps, one occupying 75% of the display and one occupying the other 25% of the display. This limited the amount and kind of apps users could run. 8.1 adds up to 4 windows of varying sizes. This is a big step but I find it still difficult to get the windows in the right place.
  • Miracast: This enables 8.1 devices to wirelessly share their display when connected to a Miracast-certified devices listed here. This really helps plug the AirPlay hole. I have yet to test this feature pervasively, but I hope it is nearly as solid as AirPlay or it won’t be widely adopted.
  • Tile customization: Tiles can be 4 different sizes and similar apps can be assembled together with header names. This isn’t as clear as folders but extends the platform and makes it simpler than before.

All of these improvements to the desktop and tablet mode are a real step forward, but unfortunately won’t make a big difference on sales in holiday 2013.

Why? You first have to understand what’s holding Windows 8 back in the consumer marketplace.

As I have been very consistent on, I am a believer that the closer the PC gets to the tablet, consumers will be more likely to buy a new PC. It won’t be one watershed event, but a long term evolution of the PC into the simple, always on, always updated, snappy, thin, light, reliable, with many apps, and 10+ hour battery life device. Many users appreciate this today in the the iPad, Nexus, Galaxy, Kindle Fire, etc.

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. Either that or they were expensive if you couldn’t use them as a “2 in 1” device (some usage models yes, but not all). What problems does Windows 8.1 help solve? Let me give 8.1 credit where it is due- 8.1 is simpler and more robust than 8. For the other consumer issues outlined above, 8.1 doesn’t improve a whole lot of anything. While I was initially excited about the prospect of an 8″ tablet, it was squelched by the awful reviews of Acer’s 8″ tablet. I didn’t sense confidence after listening to BUILD that tier 1 and 2 apps will grow in numbers, even though I was excited about Facebook coming to the platform.

Does this mean the industry should pack it in for holiday 2013 and go home? Absolutely not, as hardware could help turn the tide for Holiday 2013. Between Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, Nvidia and their OEMs, they have the ability to bring the required touch-based snappiness, always-on, always-connected, thin, light, with 10+ hours battery life to tablets and convertibles, all at a decent price. Think of the irony for a second; hardware helping save software. Sad, but true nonetheless. This isn’t to say Microsoft’s efforts won’t make a different for the holidays, because they will. But I believe their latest retail strategy will make a much bigger impact than they made with the improvements made in Windows 8.1.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • def4

    The improvements in hardware, especially power management are indeed extremely important for the Wintel ecosystem.
    I think the changes and additions in 8.1 are also very welcome and have the potential to help adoption quite a bit. The point is to try to stop the iPad from taking over the enterprise.

    I’m amazed people can talk about Wintel tablets in the consumer market with a straight face and without cringing. That is so far out of their league right now it’s emabarrassing to even bring it up.

    • Patrick Moorhead

      I have to say, I was expecting more from the Acer W3. Reviews and anecdotes from people I trust say the new “showcase” device isn’t good.

      • def4

        Being good enough is very different in the consumer and enterprise market.
        For consumers, the competition needs to be either much better or much cheaper than iPad.
        For enterprises, Microsoft just needs to deliver something adequate enough for IT to have enough to point to justify avoiding iPads.
        The difference is huge.

        • Shameer Mulji

          “For enterprises, Microsoft just needs to deliver something adequate enough for IT to have enough to point to justify avoiding iPads.”

          MS does have something – it’s called Office, which is still by far the most widely-used piece of software in the enterprise. Not to mention, the Office 365 subscription-based service is selling very well.

          • def4

            Office is a suite of desktop applications.
            We’re talking about tablets.

  • FalKirk

    “Windows 8.1 was about two things- making Windows 8 more comfortable for traditional Windows desktop users and completing the base Windows tablet experience.

    Everything Microsoft does to make Windows 8 more comfortable for traditional Windows desktop users defeats their initial purpose which was to use Windows 8 to train desktop users to be tablet users.

    Now Microsoft cannot leverage their huge desktop customer base and they will have to compete on an equal footing with Apple and Android. Windows 8 is a fine tablet operating system, but Windows Phone 8 is a fine phone operating system too and it hasn’t bought Microsoft significant market share. It’s unlikely that Windows 8 will convert many Apple or Android table users either.

    Microsoft made a bold bet with Windows 8. And they lost that bet.

    • Rich

      Additionally I don’t see how adding more outlets at a retailer with low customer satisfaction ratings (Best Buy) will help much.

      • Patrick Moorhead

        Microsoft will own the experience inside Best Buy and it will be more similar to their own stores, a much better experience. I will withhold complete judgement until I’ve experienced the new stores.

        • Rich

          Saying Microsoft will own the experience inside Best Buy is kind of like saying a car that doesn’t run very well has nice seats.

          Microsoft could have chosen any number of retailers that are well thought of, but they picked one with a poor rep, probably because they got it cheap. I don’t think it’s likely to have a good outcome.

    • I don’t think it’s too late. “If” MS can fill in the app catalog, “if” Intel executes on Baytrail and sub-7 watt Core and “if” the device manufacturers can execute, I think we will see a marked change.

    • Patrick Moorhead

      I don’t think it’s too late. “If” MS can fill in the app catalog, “if” Intel executes on Baytrail and sub-7 watt Core and “if” the device manufacturers can execute, I think we will see a marked change.

      • RedButtdAmericanMale

        that’s a lot if if’s…

      • qka

        And “if” pigs had wings, they’d fly.

        • Hosni

          … like penguins and ostriches.

  • James King

    My guess is that if Windows 8/8.1 were subjected to a battery of objective tests related to its usability, it would show that the OS was grossly unintuitive and inefficient. The science of the UI is simply wrong. Almost all of the actionable elements of it are “discoverable” rather than apparent. The metaphors are mixed. And LiveTiles show way too little information to make them useful. Apple choose to beef up its notifications rather than use widgets, likely because widgets don’t give enough information relative to screen space. A nice idea but not tremendously useful in the real world.

    Windows 8 is what happens when you let engineers design an OS. I understand Microsoft has quite a few usability experts on its staff but you wouldn’t know it with Win 8. Microsoft is capable of great UI work (Xbox 360, Windows Phone). Windows 8 needs a major overhaul.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “if Windows 8/8.1 were subjected to a battery of objective tests related
      to its usability, it would show that the OS was grossly unintuitive and
      inefficient.”

      I think that’s been done, or something close to it.

  • NickA

    “Adding back the Start menu”

    They aren’t adding back the Start Menu, they added the Start Button. A big difference. Those looking for the Start Menu will be disappointed.

  • RedButtdAmericanMale

    They aren’t adding the start menu, only a start button which links you to that thing…. Metro…whatever…

    • steve_wildstrom

      Depending on your settings, the Start button (along with the Windows key and the Start charm) will either take you to the Start screen or the Apps list. I’ll have more detail on this in a post tomorrow morning. Personally, I’ve gotten over the lack of the Start menu. Or maybe its just that so many other things in Windows 8 bother me more.

      • RedButtdAmericanMale

        i’m having to get used to it, and the search functionality in windows is pretty darn good. It just drives me nuts that I have to deal with a touch environment on a desktop PC. Whatever, because I’m pretty sure MS isn’t listening to me… 🙁 Thanks for your reply.

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