On May 5, 1907, The New York Times published a column written that same morning by Mark Twain on the news of his death the day before. "You can assure my Virginia friends," said Twain, "that I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public." The event led to the oft-misquoted phrase: "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
Everyone it seems, loves a good untimely death
So much so, the Wikipedia maintains a list of 219 famous erroneous death reports. Paul McCartney was reported dead on a radio show in 1966, with fans convinced he'd been replaced by an impostor. Pope John Paul II is on the list with the distinction of being the only known triple recipient of early death news reports. And the US House of Representatives cemented its reputation as the best comedy show in town when news of Bob Hope's death was reported on the floor and broadcast on C-SPAN…five years too early. And so it goes with taking news at face value.
I guess I'm no different in proffering bold headlines of untimely deaths, but I do think it's important not to take any data at face value. This week, the newswires are blazing with the news that PC shipments dropped 14% year-over-year. You'd think the zombie apocalypse was upon us (yes, there's a list of false apocalypses too). But when I look at the fine print, I draw a different conclusion. Note that tablets – including the ones with detachable keyboards – are *not* included in the PC shipments figure.
Don't sound the alarm with only half of the story
Well, duh! Isn't that Microsoft's intent – to shift PC sales to tablets? Could it be that Microsoft's strategy is beginning to work, and we're seeing Windows 8 & Windows RT tablets starting to take hold? We know that enterprise interest in proactively adopting Windows 8 is muted, but our Q3 2012 Workforce Employee Survey data is remarkably promising for Windows 8's prospects for BYOD in the enterprise, with a full 20% of information workers reporting that they want Windows 8 on their next tablet, vs. 26% for iOS. Not bad considering that Windows 8 wasn't quite shipping yet when we fielded the survey.
Without tablet sales data, any conclusions about Windows PC sales are meaningless
We'll know more in a couple of weeks if interest is increasing several months after Windows 8's release or not when our Q2 Employee Survey data comes back, but for anyone to compare Q1 2013 sales estimates with Q1 2012 and make the assertion that PC sales are declining much more than expected year-over-year, seems either disingenuous or just incomplete analysis of the data. We know that the primary investment strategy for Microsoft with Windows 8 is tablets, and so unless the news is accompanied by Windows 8 tablet sales data, any conclusions are meaningless.
A more accurate assessment: tablets are killing laptop and desktop sales
What else do we know? A lot, actually. My colleague Ted Schadler makes a well-informed case that there is no Post-PC era, and J.P. Gownder explains how the 21% of information workers who use tablets for work are actually using them. But there's more at work here too. Apple reported last quarter that they see a lot of cannibalization of Mac sales with iPads, so what's changing is a shift in spending away from traditional form factors to tablets. And like Ted, I argue that this is temporary.
Major changes like this take time to root
This will take some time to manifest, but turning over an installed-base this big doesn't happen overnight. Indeed, the report of Windows' death was an exaggeration. No doubt Mark Twain would be laughing if he could see us now.