Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Microsoft
Microsoft Windows chief Panos Panay tells Axios that the pandemic has not only boosted long-term PC sales, but also helped revitalize the PC as a critical tool for communication.
Why does it matter: Sales of new PCs have slowed significantly in recent months, but usage remains at record levels.
By the numbers: In making his case, Panay shared several statistics that he says outline the broader role Windows plays for everyone from workers to families.
- More people are using Windows than ever before — a 20% monthly increase versus pre-pandemic.
- More time spent on Windows PCs: On average, people spend 10% more time on each computer versus pre-pandemic.
- Customer satisfaction for Windows 11 is higher than any other previous version of Windows.
Yes but: The buying spree of computing pandemics looks more and more like a blip rather than a sustainable boost to annual sales.
- Just last week, AMD issued an earnings warning, blaming a weaker-than-expected PC market.
- And a recent IDC report says PC sales fell 15% year over year in the third quarter, though they remain above pre-pandemic levels.
“I’m not saying there aren’t headwinds,” Panay acknowledged.
The big picture: Who makes the computer and what operating system it uses has become less critical for many workers, students and consumers, with most key software running in the browser and from the cloud, or available across Macs and PCs.
- Windows still dominates the market for computer operating systems, but Apple has gained significant ground. Beyond taking a larger share of the consumer market, Macs are now either standard or optional at many startups and a growing number of large companies as well.
- Chrome OS has also become a major player – especially in education.
Gaming remains the key exceptionwith Windows dominating when it comes to PC gaming.
- Microsoft faces more competition there from dedicated consoles than from the likes of Google or Apple.
- Although gaming overall has begun to level off or decline from pandemic peaks, Panay said time spent gaming on computers remains at an all-time high, at a level set during the height of the pandemic.
Between the lines: While Apple and Google have a core group of customers who are all-in on their services, Panay says part of what makes Microsoft’s PC operating system popular is that it plays well with all the major apps and services.
- “Anyone else have a leg up?” Panay said in an interview. “I don’t think they’re doing it by choice, and I think choice is important to all of us.”
Zoom in: Panay, whose official title is chief product officer, rose to prominence at Microsoft by leading Surface, the company’s high-end hardware, from its inception. Panay says Surface’s role has evolved beyond the convertible tablet it debuted with more than a decade ago, but the product line still fulfills three big roles:
- Bridging the “seam” between Windows hardware and software that arose historically because Microsoft controlled the software but various manufacturers developed the machines.
- Expanding other PC makers’ horizons about what’s possible with Windows.
- Giving Windows a line of high-end devices to compete directly with Apple.
What follows: Microsoft is expected to introduce a crop of new Surface hardware at an event on Wednesday. Panay said there won’t be a new Surface Duo for the holidays, but said the company isn’t abandoning its Android-based phone effort.
- “We continue to innovate in the Duo space,” Panay said, without offering further details.
Go deeper: Microsoft’s product manager sees PC revival as durable