As the PC market turns, touchscreens start to take over

As the PC market turns, touchscreens start to take over

Summary: Samsung's Chromebook has been at the top of Amazon's list of bestselling notebooks for several months. But a closer look at the rest of that list reveals some interesting facts about an industry in transition. Most notably, touchscreens are finally starting to take off.

TOPICS: PCs, Apple, Google, Microsoft

Google’s Chrome OS isn’t exactly setting the online universe on fire, according to the latest numbers from NetMarketShare. In fact, Chromebooks are so lightly used that they don't even appear on the latest reports from the web metrics company.

When I wrote that news earlier this week, I heard two reactions, for the most part. The first was, "This surprises you?" The second was: "But that can’t be. The Samsung Chromebook has been at the top of Amazon’s bestselling laptops list for months!"

Indeed it has. That apparent contradiction surprised me, too, so I decided to take a much closer look at that Amazon list. I came away with a plausible explanation for Samsung’s success and some insights into the PC market as we head into midyear.


First, a little background. As a book author, I know a thing or two about Amazon’s bestseller lists. They’re based on complex (and highly secretive) algorithms that blend long-term sales with short-term momentum. So a product that sees a spike in sales in a single day can move impressively up the charts for a day or two, and then drop quickly back to its normal slot. But the products that stay atop the charts are those that sell steadily over time.

By that measure, there’s reason to congratulate Samsung for the Chromebook’s performance. Its tenure at the top means it has been selling consistently over time. So what’s the secret of its success?

Let’s start with the most obvious attribute: its price. At $249, the Samsung Chromebook is the second-cheapest device on the Amazon list. In fact, when I copied the list into a spreadsheet and sorted by price, lowest prices first, Chromebooks magically rose to the top.


Two of the top five notebooks are dirt-cheap Chromebooks. When you sort the 100 laptops on the list by price, only one Windows-based machine, the Acer Aspire One, managed to sneak into the bargain basement. With the Samsung getting excellent reviews for its build quality, at a price of $249, it passed the “What the hell?” threshold for many gadget buyers.

But I found the rest of the list much more enlightening. Here’s the short version:

  • Apple’s MacBooks are very popular indeed.
  • Touchscreens are making inroads into the mainstream.
  • Cheap PCs are still the no-profit lifeblood of the industry.

Let’s dig in.

For starters, there really aren’t 100 discrete devices in the Amazon top 100 list. I threw out 10 of the entries on the list that were available only from third-party sellers, not fulfilled by Amazon. This group included three ancient Apple iBooks powered by G4 CPUs. It also included listings for five equally antique refurbished Dell machines. After excluding those listings, we end up with a total of 90 entries in the Formerly Top 100 list.

And there are a lot of duplicates on that list. The Samsung Chromebook comes in a single configuration, but many of the other entries on the list represent the same device with a different CPU or memory, in a different color, or with a slightly different model number.

One could, in fact, make a plausible case that ASUS deserves the top spot on the list with its amazingly inexpensive low-end touchscreen notebook powered by an Intel i3. The ASUS X202E appears in the #10 spot on the list, but its siblings, the silver and pink units with the same model number and the identical device sold as the Q200E, appear on the list as well. All told, this machine appears five times. If those sales were consolidated, it would certainly move up the charts - perhaps all the way to the top.

I found a total of six Apple MacBooks in the top 100. They paint a picture of Apple’s amazingly successful sales strategy. Create a manageable number of models, build them very well, slap a premium price on each one, and collect the greenbacks.


If you sort the list by price in reverse order, MacBooks float to the top of the list. All of the 12 Mac models on the bestseller list were among the 20 most expensive laptops you can buy at Amazon. Only one had an actual selling price of (barely) under $1000. Collectively, they represent only six models: the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs, and the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros, with and without Retina displays.

And then there’s the incredibly diverse Windows laptop lineup.

When I combined all the duplicate entries, I found a total of 46 Windows-powered devices on the bestseller list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Only 2 were running Windows 7
  • 32 were running Windows 8 on conventional notebook form factors
  • 12 were running Windows 8 with touchscreens

That middle group is basically the strip mall of PCs: ho-hum, mostly heavy lookalike devices at price points that make you wonder how the OEMs can make a dime of profit. Of that group, 56 percent were priced at $500 or less and 88 percent were $700 or less.

But if you’re looking for signs of life, look at the list of touchscreen devices, most of them fairly recent additions to the bestseller list.

  • Acer: Aspire V5
  • ASUS: Taichi Convertible Ultrabook; VivoBook S400CA and VivoBook S500CA; Q200E/VivoBook X202E
  • HP: Envy X2 convertible
  • Lenovo: IdeaPad Yoga 13; Thinkpad Twist; ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
  • Samsung: ATIV Smart PC 500T; ATIV Smart PC Pro XE700T
  • Sony: VAIO T Series

On average, the touchscreen devices sold for $802 each. By contrast, the non-touchscreen devices sold for $515. Part of that is the current premium price for touch-enabled displays. But as volumes go up, that component price should go down, making touchscreens more popular.

What I found most fascinating about this list were the Lenovo entries. In the recent dismal Q1, Lenovo nearly hit the top of the worldwide PC sales charts. And it’s not doing it with just cheap PCs. The Yoga 13, ThinkPad Twist, and X1 Carbon Touch are genuinely innovative designs, sold at premium prices.

We are in a time of transition in the PC industry. By the end of the year, I predict this list will look very different indeed.

Topics: PCs, Apple, Google, Microsoft

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  • If touchscreens start to take over

    Then I guess that would be good news for Windows 8. That would mean that Microsoft's huge gamble also paid off and that would be a real success for the company. Already there was a 23% increase in the Windows division in Microsoft's recent earnings report. We'll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.
    • As the PC market turns, touchscreens start to take over

      hope we are seeing a paradigm shift starting to get traction in traditional mobile computing a wee bit sooner ...
      • Pricing, pricing, pricing

        The touchscreens are taking over when they land on cheap Windows laptops. Windows is the 'Chevrolet' of computing. Less then $500, sure, people will buy them when their PCs die.

        What's interesting was Intel's comment about $200 and $300 touchscreen laptops. Windows is too much money at that price point (MS and Intel both killed netbooks for that reason), so apparently Intel wants to grab the low end with Google products.

        Career advice for Mr Bott: Learn Chromium and Android. If Intel thinks they are the future of PCs, then they're probably the future.
        • @anonymous

          Windows? Chevrolet of computing???

          If less than $500 is chevrolet, what about less than $300?

          and AMD will be happy if Intel thinks Chromium and Android are the future :-)
    • Be careful of your hands!!

      You may grow guerrilla arms!

      A wise man said a few months back.
      • And Ed...

        ...fantasizing a new rise of Redmond? That's all in vain. He should understand that M$ is in slow but inevitable death spiral: we don't need Microsoft just like we don't need new Soviet Union.
        • "As the PC market turns, touchscreens start to take over"

          Please, doesn't it ever get old?
          • Touch device

            I have bought a Surface RT on day 1. I got used to Windows 8 on a touch device and I really like it. I didn't want it on my home PC however and certainly not on my Laptop or my Office computer. My iMac's screen decided to quit a week ago. I’m a fan of the iMac’s hardware but I pretty much always run Windows on it. But now it’s dead since replacing the screen is very expensive and then, ounce fixed I will still be using a 3 year old computer. I have decided to buy an HP Envy23 this past Thursday. I now have to deal with Windows 8 on my home PC. I learned Win 8 on a touch device and I can testify how much Win 8 is primarily designed for a touch device and not very well adapted for a keyboard/mouse controlled environment. I often end up using my finger on the screen to access the charm for search or an app setting. I hope Blue will fix that.

            Microsoft, here’s how you can fix some of it.
            1.Right click on the left of the screen : display the running apps
            2.From that panel, closing a running app should be easier done. Why do we need to right click? Why not simply show a Close
            3.Right click on the right of the screen: Display the charms in a way that they don’t disappear the second you pull out the mouse pointer.
            4.Why is it that every single icons of a newly Windows apps end up on the start screen? It's gets clogged and ugly real quick. Office adds a dozen of tiles on the start screen for all sorts of stuff no one needs. Why not create a Tile group for any new Windows application install? And then, pop the question on which icon should appear on the start screen.
            5.Speaking of that. The start screen which is not completely a bad idea needs a better way to handle the hundreds of tiles that will be the results of a few year of usage of one computer. Tile Pages? Tile groups that can be minimized? A start screen that can scroll also vertically? I don’t know what the right answer is but I know that the way it is right now is not enough.

            Windows 8 has a compromised Interface and Microsoft tried something that Apple didn’t even think of trying. It’s not perfect. Until it is… a touch enabled computer you will need.
          • Think about the medical implications of using a touchscreen in productivity



            --From an actual MD.
          • Or, would allow your kids to use a touch screen computer 8 hours a day?

    • It would be good news for all operating systems

      It's an opportunity to stand out of the crowd.
      Michael Kelly
    • I will never

      Use a touch screen interface with a PC thats what i have a tablet for.
      • I will never...

        ... write run-on sentences. That's what I have punctuation for. ;)
        • Grammar nazis

          You need to get a life if, all, you, have, is, correcting, peoples, english, on the, internet or, lack of punctuation or spelling or improper use, of conjunctions or aren't not happy with, double negatives or people that use more better double positives than you. Does it make you feel superior? good about yourself? full of brilliance? money well spent on your english degree? Ask yourself was the idea conveyed? yes? then communication was successful end of story. here is some extra punctuation for you ,,....;;;''''' to save you from uselessly commenting in the future.
          • How about you ....

            (and many others here) just taking a bit more pride in what you produce? If your presentation is sloppy, it is very likely that the underlying logic and support for your views and opinions are also sloppy and not worthy of being read.

            You are being judged by what you write here, and that includes your command of English. If you do not want bad English to be noticed, stop using bad English. Sloppy work is sloppy work. Getting angry about someone pointing it out just makes you look worse. Why don't you just accept the feedback and try to do better next time?

            Non-native English speakers may be excused, but run on sentences are pretty bad from ANY poster.
          • This is a blog forum

            People on this forum aren't writing dissertations. Pointing out grammar errors is petty.
      • What do you think your tablet is?

        It may not be running Windows, but it is a computer.
        • Interesting comment...

          ...because now when Android is dominating smartphones (70%) and taking the lead of tablets (~45%) great deal of Windows fanboyz have claimed that those mobiles "are not real computers". Of course these devices are computers. But we must understand how painful it is for fanboyz to admit that there OS is now just one of the many other OS.

          Goldman Sachs (new devices of 2012)

          1. Android Linux 42%
          2. Apple OS 24%
          3. Windows 20%
          4. Other operation systems including other Linux distributions 14%

          This is a hard time for people who are mentally still living in 1990's and Kingdom of Bill Gates. I recommend facing facts and growing adults.
          • @MacBroderick

            Interesting. Even though I do not put smartphones/tablets into computers. If you go by the formal definition of computer, saying a device programmed to carry out a set of arithmetic and logic operations, you have to add toys, routers, switches, mp3 players, walkmans, ATMs, radio, television, washing machines, mixer, grinder, fridge, ovens, etc as computers.

            Not to mention, no one advertises Android as Linux. Also, even if Android sells 42%, the maker Google is benefited only after sales and even it is indirectly. Even if Windows is at 20%, MS is benefited from the sales. Not to mention Apple being a beneficiary throughout the life cycle.

            One more point being there is no Linux OS. Linux is a kernel which is used by the Android OS. In most cases, you call Ubuntu, Redhat, Fedora, CentOS, Debian. If you want, you can append Linux at their name. But the OS name is mentioned above.

            Anyway, MS was at the peak for 2 decades. As per your post, it's time for Google. Then it might be Apple. Then some one else. So stop telling others to grow up and instead you grow up.
      • I'm curious

        Why have a tablet but not a touchscreen PC (or vice-versa) when you can have both by buying a convertible tablet/laptop hybrid?