Windows 8 tablets are trickling into the UK channel but demand is still barely outstripping supply, distributors have reported.
OEMs have taken a conservative attitude to their inventory position this Christmas, ignoring bullish calls from retailers and web shops for more kit - it seems the experiences of 2011's stock mountain are fresh in the memory.
"Most will launch their full Windows 8 range at CES next year," said one source at a wholesaler giant. "They are all a bit nervous about how Windows 8 will be adopted."
"Product coming into the channel is not free-flowing and the available range from manufacturers has been very light. It would hurt vendors if they had to reposition products in January to sell through, so all have been cautious."
Analysts have already written off any hope for decent growth in the UK for Q4, and sales have been in freefall for most of 2012.
The launch of Microsoft's Surface RT upset some OEMs and resellers (it is being sold direct) and PC vendors Samsung, Lenovo, Dell and Asus are forecasting slim global shipments, believed to be around 50,000 each.
Toshiba has launched an RT model but only in Japan, though a slider product is due to arrive soon in Europe.
But sources in the PC supply chain claim the margins on RT are "naturally lower" due to its price point, and "there is an active effort from vendors to make sure RT doesn't stick".
"RT is undercutting the profits that vendors hoped to make by switching from Android to Windows. There is pressure on resellers to hold out for the full Windows Pro version," said the analyst source.
Earlier this week, channel analyst Context reported that Windows 8 PC unit sales had helped to drive up the market by 7.8 per cent in the weeks surrounding the launch - but was unable to specify what types of machines these were.
Distributors are not able to meet demand "but I wouldn't say that everyone is screaming out for them," said one. "They [resellers] want product information and seeding units."
Dave Wood, commercial director at Ebuyer, said: "There is not a huge amount of product in the marketplace. We are not seeing availability push through to the retail market at the moment."
He said it was difficult to gauge how many sales Ebuyer was losing because it does not have a physical store and no face-to-face feedback, but said the etailer wasn't getting volumes of emails requesting the products.
Windows 8 tablets of the RT and Pro variety were expected to help lift PC sales, which have suffered since Q3 2010 as consumers spent spare cash on tablets or smartphones or kept the cash in their back pocket.
The traditional PC sector is forecast to decline this year and anyone hoping for a slight rebound next year will have seen those hopes shot down in flames this week by Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes.
He lowered the PC sector's 2012 to 2016 forecasts due the crappy economy, cannibalisation by slablets and extending replacement cycles, expecting 75 million fewer PCs will be shipped in that period.
Reitzes added: "Windows 8 and Ultrabooks are creating confusion within the PC ecosystem, which has hampered execution and worsened the downturn." ®