Apple breezes to PC sales' top spot as Windows share decays

U.K. research firm lumps tablets with desktops and notebooks, says Windows PCs accounted for record-low share of total sales

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Microsoft will release its next operating system, Windows 8, and the for-tablets offshoot Windows RT, in late October. But Canalys doesn't expect that the Redmond, Wash. developer's moves, particularly its decision to design and sell its own tablet line, will appreciably move the Windows meter.

"We expect the Surface pads to have a similar impact on the PC industry as the Zune did in portable music players," said Tim Coulling, another Canalys analyst, in a statement today.

Evans elaborated on his colleague's comment.

"Surface pricing is going to be high, too high to be competitive," predicted Evans, who doubted that the Surface equipped with Windows RT will feature a price tag lower than Apple's entry-level iPad, which lists at $499. "Pricing is a very, very important part of tablet [sales]," he said. "Microsoft has to convince consumers to pay more for the Surface, which will be very difficult."

Microsoft unveiled the Surface tablets -- a second, more expensive model will rely on Windows 8 Pro, and so be able to run traditional Windows software -- six weeks ago. Although it has not yet announced prices, it has said the Windows RT model will be "competitive with a comparable ARM tablet," and that the Windows 8 Pro Surface would cost about the same amount as "an Intel ultrabook-class PC."

Those rough guidelines led analysts to estimate that the Surface RT will range from a low of $400 to a high of $700, and the Surface Pro could cost anywhere from $800 to above $1,000. Many bet on the latter as the likeliest target.

"At those prices, the Surface will just not be competitive enough," said Evans, explaining Canalys' low expectations.

"Canalys does not expect the launch of Windows 8 to arrest Microsoft's market share decline until Q3 2013 at the earliest," the company said in its statement. "The Windows 8 launch budget guarantees attention during Q4, but users will only benefit fully from the new OS if they buy PCs with touch screens, which will significantly increase the purchase price."

Microsoft will launch Windows 8 and its Surface RT tablet on Oct. 26. OEMs will have PCs and tablets for sale at the same time.

Canalys urged Microsoft to subsidize its partners to the tune of $50 to $100 per PC for touch-enabled screens to lower prices of Windows 8 hardware, but held little hope its recommendation would be entertained. "Intel pledged to invest $300 million in ultrabook ecosystem players, but there is no indication, as yet, that Microsoft is prepared to make a comparable commitment to the PC supply chain," the company said.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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