Higher prices and a perceived lack of innovation has caused Americans to be less happy with their personal computers. That drop in satisfaction has contributed to less demand for laptops, desktops, and tablets, according to a new study from American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
"The problem with PC demand is actually quite simple, and it's reflected in weak customer satisfaction," said ACSI Chairman Claes Fornell in a press release. "Computers have become a cash cow, so manufacturers aren't investing enough in innovation."
What do the numbers say?
Customer satisfaction with personal computers, a category that includes desktops, laptops, and tablets, dropped by 1.3% in 2017 to a 77 on ACSI's 100-point scale. To put that number in perspective, it's still historically reasonably high for the category. Since 1997, computers have scored a 78 four times, a 79 once (2013), and a category high of 80 a single time (2012). In that 20-year span, there were also two other years (2006 and 2015) that scored a 77.
Although the ACSI number is generally strong, sales trends for PCs have been bleak. U.S. shipments fell by 5.7% year over year in Q2 and have reached the industry's lowest volume since 2007, according to the report.
Fornell believes the reasons for the drop are clear.
"Compared to smartphones, there is very little advancement in technology to speak of," he said. "Functionality is basically the same as it was a few years ago. That's not a formula for creating satisfied customers, and provides no reason for people to replace their old model with a new one."
Which companies are favorites?
Lack of innovation and consumers using smartphones more are not the only reasons customer satisfaction with PCs has fallen, according to ACSI. Pricing increases driven by the global shortage of NAND flash memory have also contributed, but those negatives have been partially offset by improvements in customer service.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) remains the top individual company, with a score of 83, but that's down from an 84 in 2016. The technology leader was hurt by declining tablet sales and less interest in its iPad line. However, Apple did see a spike in notebook sales thanks to its refreshed 12-inch MacBook.
Only one PC maker, Asus (OTC:ASUU.Y), posted a gain over last year, jumping 3% from a 78 to an 80. HP (NYSE:HPQ) and Lenovo (OTC:LNVG.Y) were flat year over year while all other named companies dropped.
What does this mean?
In many ways, the consumer complaints with the PC industry are similar to how many people have talked about the last few iPhone models. The difference is that with phones, most consumers have a mindset of upgrading either every year or at least every other year.
That's not the case in the PC industry, and since today's laptop or tablet looks pretty much like the ones from three or four years ago, that removes excitement and a reason to upgrade. For the laptop, desktop, and tablet market, that means consumers only upgrade when the old one wears out or become truly obsolete.
In many ways, the quality of desktops, laptops, and tablets has worked against the industry. Year-over-year improvements don't affect most users, and tweaked speeds or higher amounts of memory aren't enough to drive sales.
These numbers suggest that sales could bounce back -- as could customer satisfaction if Apple or one of its rivals truly did something new. It's certainly possible as new technologies -- like augmented reality -- work their way across various platforms.