Is the personal computer (PC) dead or is it in decline? The industry, following a report by global market research firm IDC, which announced a 20 per cent decline in the global PC market, is obsessed with this question. The consensus among industry players appears to point in the direction of investing more, and substantially so, on mobility and touch technologies.
However, for software major Microsoft, which released its ‘game-changer’ operating system with a touch focus six months ago, the PC is as important.
It’s an important focus area for us, particularly in emerging markets such as India, says Amrish Goyal, Director of Windows Business Group, Microsoft India.
Following Microsoft’s global announcement that its new operating system, Windows 8, crossed 100 million licences globally over a six-month period, Mr. Goyal spoke to The Hindu about Microsoft’s plans for India, drew comparisons with markets in other developing countries such as China and Brazil, and reflected on the growth of the Microsoft apps platform in India.
Significantly, he confirmed that the company’s first major update for Windows 8, codenamed Windows Blue, will be released later this year.
At a tech conference earlier this week, Microsoft announced that Blue would be demoed in a public preview at a tech conference in July. There’s been a buzz around Blue and what it will offer, given that Windows 8 drew flak from users for being too focussed on touch, almost leaving the PC (or the non-touch user) in the lurch.
Little is known about what Windows Blue will actually offer. Tech trackers have speculated, based on screenshots leaked in March, that this will involve bringing back the ‘start’ button (sorely missed by Windows users) and allowing for newer formats on Tiles.
Though Mr. Goyal desisted from providing any details on Blue, he said that some of the promise of this update lies in some smart offerings such as increased battery life for devices (which means the OS will be energy efficient), allowing for certain resolutions that will enable it to work well with smaller form factors, and most significantly, will make things easier for those who use the operating system on the PC.
It appears that the new version has a two-pronged strategy: on the one hand, it will allow Microsoft to win over its currently disgruntled PC users (who find the new OS with its panel format tough to navigate), while on the other it will allow the company to compete in the tablet and PC segment where currently it lags behind players such as Android and iOS.
Mr. Goyal explained: “We’ve done these improvements on the basis of some elementary data we gathered from users and an evaluation of what they are struggling with. For instance, in the desktop mode people may not have been as comfortable. So, Blue will be a significant improvement over the older version.”
Over 100 million licences
Crossing the 100 million licences mark at the end of six months is significant for Windows 8, said Mr. Goyal. This performance, he said, is consistent with the growth of previous iterations such as Windows 7. He attributes this success to “early and big bets on mobile computing”. “Basically, we saw the trend, and before it happened we wanted to make sure that our operating system was geared to make a change. This also showed that Microsoft is serious about the future of computing, which is undoubtedly about mobiles,” he said.
On the decline of the PC market, which everyone is now talking about, Mr. Goyal said that though the PC market may be in decline, he was sure that it wasn’t about technology losing sheen.
“It’s about the form factors of computing changing. We’ve seen it change before from desktops to laptops. Today, for instance, 60 per cent of computers sold in India are laptops. And now, that trend is changing too. The good thing is that we have our eye on this.”
The decline in PC sales, he insists, is a limited part of the market. “Globally, out of 2 billion computing devices, the PC is only 250 to 350 million. We see the opportunity to be much bigger than the PC market that IDC keeps talking about,” he said.
What lies ahead?
So what lies ahead for Windows? What are its specific plans for India? Mr. Goyal says: “The first pillar of the plan is device innovation. For India, it’s about making sure that we have the right device for the Indian customer.” When asked if a significant focus of this innovation would be cost, critical in price-sensitive markets such as India, he said that Microsoft had been considering tying up with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) making cheaper devices, but had no news to offer on that front.
“But yes, price point for India is a significant focus: our OS is a small part of the price point. There’s definitely scope in tying up with the small players and that’s a line we’ll continue to investigate.”