Microsoft, Intel, Lenovo, Dell, and HP CMOs think you are an idiot

Updated: “PC does Whaaat?!” campaign us underhanded, unethical, and well backed

PC Does Whaaat?! webcast logo smallMicrosoft, Intel, Lenovo, Dell, and HP think their customer base are rank idiots. That and the fact that they are clueless on how to stop the PC market imploding are the key takeaways from their new ad campaign.

Insulting, unethical group behavior for profit:

After watching the rather painful webcast for the new PC industry ‘educational’ campaign called, “PC does whaaat?!” a few things are clear. First is that the companies involved, that would be Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Lenovo, and HP, think you people are all idiots. Second is that the CMOs of these five industry titians have no idea how to stop the precipitous slide the PC market is in, their incompetence is quite clear. Next up is that there is actually no reason to upgrade your PC, the 800 pound gorilla in the room that none of them will go near much less address. Then there is the small issue of unethical marketing practices that these marketers directly state they will use, and use in abundance. Last is that all of the parties involved have no interest in fixing the deep and crippling problems facing the industry. Lets look at these one by one.

In a webcast last week on the pretty awful and technically incompetent Livestream service, the PC industry group put out their latest message. (Note: The replay is OK, the stream was utterly broken, laggy, and painful. Livestream help took a day and a half to answer a basic question, and didn’t actually answer it. The quality of their service seems in sync with the message from the PC braintrust, basically crap.) Take a look at it here but be forewarned you will lose IQ points from this rank idiocy, especially the TV commercials that start at ~4:20. We will wait while you watch it. Sorry, really, but we had to multiple times for this article.

Heads should roll but promotions are more likely:

The short version is that SemiAccurate feels that anyone involved in this painful IQ sapping pabulum should be fired immediately. Then they should be blacklisted from the industry as a starting point for its recovery, nothing will get better until these unethical morons are gone. Yes I know I just called the CMOs of the five largest tech giants out there idiots and unethical morons, go watch these ‘educational’ commercials and then see if you can disagree with a straight face. I am embarrassed to be associated with them through just my criticism. Really, CEOs out there, fire them now along with any staffer involved too.

Innovation in messaging only is the new norm:

The rest of the talk is so stupid, so vapid, and so simply idiotic that it almost defies words. They keep talking about how people with older, 4-5 year old, PCs would not recognize a new one because of all the new innovation in PCs. What these ‘brilliant’ marketers don’t actually do is list any innovation that the users would actually want. About as close as they get is claiming 18 hour battery life without explanation of how it was achieved, something that is clearly impossible with their PCs. If Apple was involved in this campaign, I might buy half that, but real world PCs aren’t close. Stop with the borderline lies people, it doesn’t help your moribund industry.

They also talked about facial recognition/passwords, the gesture recognition of the current day. You remember how two years ago they all said gesture recognition would solve password problems, be a great UI, and make your teeth whiter? Is that still supported on current PCs? I know everyone I talked to thoroughly enjoyed interpretive dancing their spreadsheets in a cube farm, not to mention waving their arms around like the really mad people on the bus next to them. Facial recognition has a place but like gesture recognition, it is a niche not the general case. Gesture recognition is dead, face recognition will follow it in a year or two for all but a few verticals. Before it goes it will solve everything amiss in the PC space, right? Idiots.

Then comes the great one, PCs have 30x better graphics. The question going through your mind right now is probably, “than what?”. I mean, “than whaaat?!”. Seriously though they are probably comparing it to older PCs and technically it is true if you count MIPS. The cost of those additional cycles is agonizing, go price a Crystalwell SKU if you want your eyes to water, that chip costs more than most laptops at retail. Add in the PC graphics driver on the Intel side have regressed since Broadwell to the point where they are simply broken on 3D and you have a net loss. Don’t advertise PC graphics until they actually work right guys, it doesn’t help your cause to tout numbers from broken hardware. Make no mistake though, your cause does need help, desperately.

There were other talking points like best CPU ever, that would be the Skylake line that brings almost nothing but a price hike to the table. This was followed by the claim of the best OS ever, you know the one Microsoft feels they can’t charge users for this time around. A lot of people say Windows X, err Windows 10 is better than it’s predecessors, but that isn’t a high hurdle. Most PC users would have to think about a choice between using Windows 8 and Ebola, the final tally could go either way. In that light, Windows 10 is quite the revelation but not to many people actually ‘want’ it.

If you don’t have it, lie with ‘native content’:

The words awesome and innovation were tossed around a lot but never defined. Users would just love the new PCs and instantly upgrade if they only “knew”, but the brain trust on the webcast would not say what they need to know. The commercials didn’t help either, they just made claims that are borderline lies and insult the intelligence of even the slowest viewers.

Luckily the troika+2 are going to do paid placement/content with sites of questionable ethics so it may fool some until they try it. This is called “native content” and is is an abhorrent practice where the company makes a borderline false article, video, or other content and pays a site to run it. The unethical part is that the sites either do not reveal that it is paid third-party, and not necessarily factual content, or they go to great lengths to hide it.

Before you think that native content is not a sleazy, unethical, morally and intellectually questionable, and thoroughly underhanded way of, well basically lying, look at this. Intel has done it before and probably quite a few times since, as have the others involved in this ‘educational’ campaign. If you actually have a good message to deliver, have a good product to sell, and have something that people would buy if they only knew about it, you advertise. If you don’t, you rely on native content. Intel, Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell, and HP all are pushing native content as the main thrust of, “PC does Whaaat?!” so you can see how confident they are in their honest messaging. I feel dirty just thinking about it. Long term this is only going to hurt the industry, but playing the short game is the least of these CMOs problems.

Users really do know, that is the real problem:

It was also intoned that new form factors and things like touch would change users’ minds when they saw them. Touch has failed badly, it adds ~$50-100 to the BoM of a PC, greatly reduces battery life, makes average use harder, and forces OS paradigms that can be literally painful to utilize. Apple does not offer a touch screen PC for a reason, no gesture recognition, no facial recognition, and oddly enough users actually seem to like their offerings. The PC CMOs can’t seem to grasp that forcing an awful but expensive feature on users who don’t want it is not a way to increase sales or win the proverbial hearts and minds. Like I said, three plus years into this idiotic force-feeding of touch and other useless ‘features’, the people behind it are still ignorant idiots pretending to be confused about why their self-proclaimed awesome tech is still failing. No one else wonders.

Same goes for form factors. When Ultrabooks were released, SemiAccurate called them shiny things for the stupid. Intel people privately berated us for not understanding the glory that was the technical regression they were shoveling. They claimed it would sell 40M units in the first year alone. It never came close despite massive subsidies and MDF levels that became painful enough that it had to be abandoned. Ultrabooks were a bad idea for bad reasons forced upon the market in a bad way. They failed even if Intel wouldn’t admit it publicly.

Innovation is what we have to sell, please ignore the last one:

Then it was on to 2-in-1s, detachables, or even 360 degree hinged thingies, that were sure to save the PC industry. These CMOs for some reason decided that Ultrabooks, a form factor that utterly failed in the market, could be improved upon with expensive hinges, removable keyboards that forced even more radical form factor stupidity, and ‘tent’ form factors. Please note that these things are all very expensive BoM adders but have the flip side of all being ‘features’ that no consumer actually wants.

They may say they like it in a survey but sales speak louder than self-serving skewed questionnaires. Microsoft and Intel desperately needed Wall Street to view them as relevant in the tablet space though, so 2-in-1s, hinges, and detachables were forced upon markets and traditional form factors that people wanted were excluded through MDF games and similar back room deals. Sales tanked and even more curiously, these CMOs kept their jobs, we can explain the former but not the latter point.

Many unethical companies are OK because everyone’s doing it:

Getting back to the point of the whole campaign, we are seeing a very fundamental change in the PC space with these five players, Microsoft, Intel, Lenovo, Dell, and HP, all cooperating on an ad campaign. They are claiming that it is meant to both drive sales and educate consumers, the success of the program will be measured on both fronts. While SemiAccurate feels that actually putting information out instead of annoying consumers with “Whaaat?!” said in, oh go listen to it and be afraid, would have more impact, this group of deep thinkers is footing the bill. Given how they are all open about paid but hidden placement and other underhanded forms of advertising, it is unlikely that any of their ‘facts’ will hold up to actual scrutiny.

You can write that on your 18-hour battery life notebook with 30x better graphics with your finger on the touch screen if you don’t believe me, then try to repeat the claims in the real world. Consumers will catch on quick and likely never buy another PC after getting burned. Like we said, this is a destructive version of playing the short game.

CMO’s know the truth but won’t say it:

The fundamental change this campaign brings is that these competitors are working together to try to bolster the PC industry. If you ask the questions, it is vibrant, healthy, and better than it ever was, I wouldn’t be scathingly sarcastic in the face of this level of insipid marketing, honest. The Dell CMO said during the webcast that, “an industry that sells a couple hundred million PCs a year is not a dying industry“. Wow that sounds good until you consider two minor facts. First no one mentioned that the PC industry was dying, or even asked about it until she brought it up. Think there was a bit of a Freudian slip there? Considering all of the marketing people SemiAcccurate talks to in private say it is dying and their biggest job is to try to find a way to counter the trend, I think so too.

Also more significant is the number of she used, a couple of hundred million PCs a year, or more specifically 2-2.99M units per annum. Why is this significant? Because until very recently the PC market was in the high 300M units a year. According to the numbers Dell’s CMO just gave out, the PC has lost somewhere around 25-30% of their market in the last few years. If that is vibrant I want to know what drugs this whole crew is on, they said that this level of loss, tens to a hundred million units a year is healthy! In private everyone agrees the market is dire. In public they talk about the vibrancy and potential of the industry, driven by innovation, new form factors, technology, and new use cases. And they still have jobs. Wow.

The PC really is dead, Wintel killed it:

For once SemiAccurate agrees with the public spin of the PC markteers, the market is being driven by innovation, new form factors, technology, and new use cases although I would put quotes around innovation. All of these new things being forced down the throat of buyers have driven industry sales into the ground, make no mistake about it, it is solidly for cause. People don’t want what is being forced into the market, they want what was driven out for it.

The PC market has been completely unable to innovate on the software side, Microsoft will ‘Gateway’ anyone who dares innovate. With the software side locked down, the hardware side has been increasingly gutted by integration. There are still three x86 CPU makers on the market and each has effectively one line of products. Each has one chipset with it, and the form factors not coincidentally driven by Intel have almost excluded additional external chips like GPUs. They still exist but they are getting harder and harder to find in a model type that most consumers would like. The attach rate is plummeting by design, pun intended. Your silicon choices now are to pick the fuses you don’t want artificially blown to remove features you need, and how painfully you are willing to get gouged to do so.

Update Oct 22, 2015@12:45pm: Updated two x86 CPU makers to three, sorry we forgot to mention VIA, they still make x86 CPUs suitable for PC use. Go buy a few.

It’s not just the hardware though, free is still too expensive:

Toss in an OS that OEMs can’t modify which has been getting worse and worse with each respective iteration and you have a near perfect storm of hardware and software awfulness. Windows 8 dropped PC sales 15% for the first full quarter after release, and barring Microsoft’s XP extortion scheme sales blip, it is hard to find a real increase in PC sales in the last five or so years. The market is tanking and about the only one calling it accurately are all the big analyst houses. They have been quite consistent in saying the PC market will recover strongly next year, and for the past several years that has been dead accurate, this year ends up awful, but next year….

Things have gotten so bad that Microsoft has taken to giving away their OS. What used to be a $99 upgrade is now free. If you take the 110M activation count they just released at face value, that is over $10B in revenue lost. They were so afraid of users not upgrading in ways which would mirror the mass Windows 8.x avoidance that they have given up $10+B so far. In spite of this you might want to think about the market, there are literally billions of PCs out there that could easily and without cost be upgraded to Windows 10.

110M out of several billion is not a large percentage. This is desperation in it’s most basic form. People don’t want Windows, aren’t willing to pay for it, and don’t see the advances as worth paying for. Actually tf the numbers Microsoft released are true, they don’t think it is worth upgrading for free either, the ‘advances’ being offered are not worth the price, free. People just don’t want the crap they are shoveling, it may be necessary for some things but unlike phones and tablets but consumers don’t want it. When you have a market of potential customers unwilling to expend the effort needed to click on an icon for free, not to mention shelling out money, your company is in deep trouble.

In a nutshell that is the PC’s problem, people don’t want them. The CPU advances have been minimal at best, 5% a year is not worth upgrading for even if you have a 4-5 year old PC. That is what these nitwits are targeting with the “PC does whaaat?!” campaign, people with 25% slower PCs. The OS Microsoft is foisting is garbage and everyone knows it, there isn’t anything you can do on Windows 10 that you can’t do on Windows 7 or even XP. Barely any faster, significantly worse software, forced ads, forced insecurity, and forced patches that often brick systems. No one on the receiving end of the campaign wonders why people are not upgrading in droves, they are too busy researching phones to buy instead.

On the graphics front, 30x better than laughably awful is an improvement but the graphics Intel is flogging don’t have functional 3D drivers so is there a point? Even if the drivers worked the SKUs that have (barely) powerful enough graphics to game on are painfully expensive. Intel is asking more than the retail cost of the majority of the laptop market for those parts, but they are technically faster. Your choice, unfordable or painfully slow, correct functionality is not an option in either case.

Then there are those new features. Gesture recognition, touch screens, biometric add ons, and so on and so forth. For years now people have not been asking for these ‘features’, have not been buying PCs with similarly enticing new ‘features’ in them by the tens of millions, they just don’t like the PCs that are on offer. The hardware and software companies in the PC market all have agendas that do not meet or even come close to that of the buyers but simply will not change their path. The PCs people may actually want are not on sale no matter how much you pay.

Garbage in, tablets and phones out:

PCs suck. PCs suck for a good reason. Everyone in PC design, sales, and marketing knows what those reasons are. Everyone in PC design, sales, and marketing refuses to do anything about it for reasons that they feel would benefit their company. Potential PC buyers see a PC with marginally better battery life, no discernible speed improvement at all from a user perspective, graphics that still don’t work, an OS that is teeth-grindingly miserable to work with, an OS that is still insecurable and malware infested, and all of this for a significantly higher price than the ones they would want. Surprisingly enough they aren’t buying. It isn’t because they are unaware of the benefits of a new PC, it is because they ARE aware of the ‘benefits’ of a new PC.

Before you bring it up, while the PC market has lost a hundred million or so units a year in sales, the phone and tablet market is booming. There is a significant overlap in price between phones/tablets and PCs, especially in the meat of the volume market. It isn’t macroeconomic trends, it isn’t regional preferences, and it isn’t a lack of education either. Phones and tablets are nice to use, they do what people want, they are desirable. PCs just suck. And they are getting worse with every new ‘feature’, you all want to spend an extra $100 for 3D cameras that enable facial recognition right?. People know “Whaaat?!” they do too, they are not the idiots the CMOs think they are, sales number make this quite clear.

In the end that is the key to all of this, PCs suck, people know it, and they really do know why. The industry is unwilling to publicly acknowledge this point, they just pay the press to tout their talking points, proclaim victory publicly, and release internal memos about their massive failures. And the market tanks. Instead of changing course, they are doubling down and making the PC significantly more expensive but worse to use every year. No one wants them. No one is buying them for the same reason they are buying expensive phones and tablets.

PCs suck, people know why, and insipid marketing drones are only making things worse by insulting their customer base. If any CEOs of Microsoft, Intel, HP, Lenovo, and Dell are reading this, fire these idiots now, then change course immediately, Make PCs that do the job well, have the features people, not marketers ask for, and do it at a reasonable price. It is already too late but this might slow the acceleration in the decline a bit. Don’t feel offended if I don’t hold my breath waiting.

So what would actually fix the problem? End rant, begin analysis:

On a serious note, what can be done to fix the PC and thus the PC market? That part is easy but unfortunately it is a path Microsoft, Intel, Lenovo, Dell, and HP are unwilling to even acknowledge much less take. Some of the fixes may sound a little nuanced on paper but the effect is anything but. Lets go into detail here on the fixes.

Part 2 will follow tomorrow and will talk about the serious side of things. What are the actual problems with the PC that are destroying the market, and what can be done to fix it. It will also look at the forces involved in keeping the downward market spiral going down, and why. Last it will go into what a PC that will sell looks like.

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate