It’s A Hard Time To Be A PC Maker — And That Spells Trouble For Microsoft

Steve Ballmer circle hand

[credit provider=”AP”]

Windows 8 could turn out to be a great tablet operating system.But without great hardware, it won’t make a dent in the tablet market.

That could be a real problem for Microsoft as PC makers struggle with the onslaught of the iPad (which has eaten about 11% of the PC market in a little more than a year) and a tough economy.

Today, Acer posted is first ever quarterly loss — $243 million — and said it would not be able to break even for the year. The loss is more than twice as much as analysts expected. Unit sales dropped about 10%, as Acer warned they would back in April.

Last week, HP said it was thinking about getting out of the business and noted that consumer PC revenue dropped 17%, while Dell’s consumer revenue was flat from last year and the company warned of a weak year.

Lenovo seems to be bucking the global PC trend, showing unit sales growth of 23% in its last quarter. Its reward for this great performance? About $100 million in earnings on nearly $6 billion in sales. (The PDF of its last earnings presentation is here.)

The fortunes of PC makers have always been fickle: Acer did great when netbooks were hot, and Dell had a nice run earlier this decade.

But in general, PC makers do best when they keep prices low — and that means a relentless focus on costs.

Not research and development. Not marketing. Not support.

So who’s going to step up and invest in the big way necessary to beat back Apple?

Microsoft and Intel can’t do it on their own.