Shipments of personal computers fell nearly 11 percent last quarter, to the shock of almost no one. Sales have been declining for so long — 14 consecutive quarters — that it is becoming harder to remember a time when PCs ruled the tech world.
The prolonged slump helps explain why so many of the leading PC makers are scrambling to continue remaking themselves in a world dominated by mobile devices operated with touch, rather than mouse clicks.
Adding to that stew of uncertainty is Microsoft, the technology powerhouse that provides the software for the vast majority of PCs. In recent years, Microsoft has taken the once-unthinkable step of competing with its hardware partners, like Dell and HP, by making its own computers, starting with its Surface tablet. This week, Microsoft dived even further into the business with a laptop device, the Surface Book.
Yet despite all that movement — or maybe because of it — something curious has emerged in recent months: optimism.
“Initiatives like Surface and Surface Book have helped the industry wake up and say, ‘We’ve got to make the industry cool and sexy again,’ ” said Frank Azor, executive director and general manager of Dell’s XPS line of PCs.
The stated reason that Microsoft got into the PC hardware business three years ago, with the original Surface, was not to put PC companies out of business. The company said the goal was to better illustrate the capabilities of its software, providing devices that would inspire PC makers to be more innovative.
Analysts and industry executives say the strategy may be starting to work. Dell, which still sells millions of PCs, announced on Thursday several new machines that run Windows 10, a new Microsoft operating system. One of them, the XPS 12, is similar to Microsoft’s Surface Book, a “two-in-one” device that combines the keyboard of a traditional laptop with a touch-sensing screen that can be detached for use as a tablet.