Windows 8: Deterred potential PC buyers, says IDC.

Windows 8: Deterred potential PC buyers, says IDC. Photo: Reuters

Microsoft's Windows 8 appears to be driving buyers away from PCs and toward smartphones and tablets, according to research firm IDC.

That's leading to the fastest drop in PC sales the firm has ever seen.

Global shipments of PCs fell 14 per cent in the first three months this year, IDC said. That's the sharpest plunge since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994.

The report comes after a year of bad news for the PC. Consumers, especially in wealthy countries such as the US, are steering their dollars toward tablets and smartphones rather than upgrading their home PCs. It's the biggest challenge to the personal computer since the IBM PC was released in 1981.

In an attempt to keep the PC relevant, Microsoft released a radical new version of Windows on October 26. Windows 8 has a completely new look and forces users to learn new ways to control their machines.

"Unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only didn't provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," IDC vice president Bob O'Donnell said.

The newest version of Windows is designed to work well with touch-sensitive screens, but the displays add to the cost of a PC. Together, the changes and higher prices "have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices", O'Donnell said.

Representatives of Microsoft were not immediately available for comment.

In its tally, IDC excludes tablets, even if they run PC-style software. It also excludes any device that has a detachable keyboard.

With the release of Windows 8, PC makers have been reviving their experiments with tablet-laptop hybrids, some of which have detachable keyboards. Consumers are likely to have shifted some of their buying away from traditional laptops and toward these new devices, which means that the total sales decline of Windows-based devices may not be quite as drastic as IDC's numbers suggest.

Another research firm, Gartner, counts any devices running PC-style software, including some tablets, as PCs. It reported an 11 per cent decline in PC shipments in the quarter. That, too, is the sharpest decline it's seen since it started tracking the market in 2001.

Hewlett-Packard, the world's largest maker of PCs, saw a 24 per cent drop in shipments in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago. The industry's No. 2, China's Lenovo, is benefiting from sales to first-time buyers in China and other developing countries. As a result, it held sales steady, alone among the world's top 5 PC makers, according to IDC's figures.

Dell, roiled by plans to go private, along with rivals Acer and Asustek, all saw double-digit declines in PC sales.

Apple was not immune from the decline, as some sales of its own Macs appeared to be displaced by iPads. Its US PC sales fell 7.5 per cent in the quarter, but it held on to its spot as No. 3 US PC manufacturer, behind HP and Dell.

Gartner noted one bright spot: businesses are buying more PCs, and account for about half of the market.

In total, IDC put the global PC shipments at 76.3 million in the quarter, while Gartner put the figure at 79.2 million. The shipments are still higher than they were four years ago, during the recession.

Both firms track shipments of PCs from the manufacturer rather than retail sales. Shipments correlate closely with sales. The figures include shipments of Apple's Macs, which account for about 5 per cent of the worldwide market.

AP