Microsoft Surface Book 3

PC market sees proportionate response to Covid-19

The decline in desktop PC sales is a direct consequence of the move to home working, says Billy MacInnes
Microsoft Surface Book 3

4 December 2020

The shift to notebooks in the PC industry is nothing new. They’ve been outselling desktops for quite some time. As Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi, told me back in August, the proportion of desktops sold to notebooks worldwide “has been fairly stable for the past few years at 3:7”.

The big story now is that the balance is tilting even more in favour of notebooks. As Doshi put it over three months ago, “we now see a shift towards notebooks with the proportion of desktops being 1:4 in Q2 2020”.

That’s a 170% increase from 2.33 notebooks for every desktop sold to 4:1. The latest predictions from IDC for Q4 2020 and the whole of 2021 reinforce that view, with expectations of notebooks outselling desktops by just under 3:1 in 2020.




According to IDC, notebook sales will increase by 26.4% this quarter while desktops will decline by 17.3%. For the whole of 2021, IDC expects notebooks to grow by 3.2% but the decline in PC sales will continue.

It’s interesting that IDC predicts steady sales of around 150 million notebooks and PCs a year into the commercial sector up until the end of 2024. Given the big shift to remote workforces during the Covid-19 pandemic and the desire of many workers to continue working from home when it ends, there must be a suspicion that notebooks could outsell desktops by an even greater margin.


According to IDC, the ratio will climb from 2.86:1 in favour of notebooks in 2020 to 3.11:1 in 2024. I wonder if it might end up being higher. If remote working becomes a way of life for many employees, won’t it be make sense for businesses to replace many desktop PCs in their offices with notebooks that workers can use on the days they are onsite and at home?

The recent Techbeat and eir survey showed there was genuine enthusiasm among employees for some level of home working. As many as 46% of respondents said they would like to work from home for three or more days a week, compared to 42% for one or two days a week. Only 11% did not wish to work from home at all.

With so much anticipation of home working becoming a significant part of the working week, there’s something to be said for familiarity breeding content when it comes to the PCs they will end up using. If people become accustomed to working on notebooks at home, they will probably be happier to carry on using the same device when they go into work rather than have to adapt to something different.

And with home shipments increasing “as households inch towards one PC per person,” as IDC research manager Jitesh Ubrani puts it, isn’t it likely this will cause a corresponding shift away from desktops towards notebooks? After all, how many desktop PCs do you have room for in the house? While there’s an argument for one central desktop in the home, it’s hard to see how any other PCs would not be notebooks.

One last point, notebook sales were already outstripping desktop PCs before the rush to home working this year, so why would anyone think they won’t outsell desktops in higher numbers now that home working is here to stay?

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