PC shipments post biggest upswing in a decade

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The pandemic-induced rush to work at home also helped drive up PC sales at the fastest rate in 10 years. But will that buying surge last?

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14 January 2021 | 0

The PC market rebounded last year, sporting the highest growth rate in a decade, industry analysts said this week, pinning credit (or blame) on the coronavirus pandemic.

Research firm IDC pegged 2020’s global shipments of personal computers at 302.6 million devices, a 13% increase over the year prior, which represented the largest annual gain since 2010. The shipment volume was the largest since 2014, said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager with IDC’s mobile device trackers team, in an interview.

The turnaround was striking: Of the past 10 years, six saw year-over-year declines while one had been flat.

 

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Gartner Research, an IDC rival, also claimed a notable boost in PC shipments. Even though Gartner’s numbers for 2020 differed from IDC’s – the former firm said last year’s increase was just under 5%, less than half IDC’s – it agreed that that growth was the highest measured since 2010.

The difference between IDC’s and Gartner’s total shipments for the year – 302 million and 275 million, respectively – was largely due to the former counting Chromebooks as personal computers, while the latter did not.

“A lot of volume early in the year was because companies had people working at home,” said Ubrani, reflecting on the spring months, when businesses worldwide first shuttered, then asked employees to work from home. Enterprises, Ubrani said, purchased large numbers of laptops to equip those suddenly-remote workers, the sales volume at times sufficient to completely throttle the component supply chain.

A third group – families with school-aged children – joined in on the rush-to-PCs, adding machines to the household when school districts did not (or simply could not) step in.

“Beyond the enterprise and educational [markets], there has been a lot of strength in the consumer market,” said Ubrani, citing not only the desire of families to give each child their own notebook but also an increase in interest in gaming-centric PCs. Hunkered down at home for long stretches of lockdowns and quarantine, families needed entertainment distractions; some solved that by buying not only PC gaming rigs but also spending more on game titles.

Consumers also rediscovered PCs in the past nine months, Ubrani said. “Many of them had gone years since buying a PC,” he noted, and as at-home orders lengthened – or returned – realised their old machines didn’t cut it in gaming, crafts or other projects. “They found they needed a new device.”

Macs on the march, Chromebook shipments skyrocket

Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple and Acer booked the largest PC shipment numbers for 2020 (and in that order), IDC reported. Gartner’s numbers were preliminaries, like IDC’s, and ranked the vendors in the same order, albeit with different year-end tallies.

Apple easily took honors as the Big 5 vendor with the highest year-on-year growth rate in 2020, posting a 29% gain by IDC’s data and a 23% increase in Gartner’s estimate. IDC pegged Apple’s shipments at 23.1 million for the year; Gartner tapped it as 22.5 million.

Chromebooks, the label applied to laptops powered by Google’s Chrome browser-based operating system (Chrome OS), also surged in 2020, analysts said.

Gartner said that the December 2020 quarter witnessed a 200% year-over-year increase in Chromebook shipments, reaching 11.7 million units. Over the course of the full year, Chromebook shipments grew by more than 80%, totally nearly 30 million.

IDC put Chromebook laptop shipments at 19.6 million through the end of the September quarter, or analogous to Gartner’s count for the same nine-month stretch. (Numbers were still being tabulated for the December 2020 quarter, Ubrani said.)

“Demand is pushing the PC market forward and all signs indicate this surge still has a way to go,” said Ryan Reith of IDC, who leads the firm’s mobile device trackers group, in a statement. “In retrospect, the pandemic not only fueled PC market demand but also created opportunities that resulted in a market expansion.”

Ubrani agreed. Although he expects a slight slowdown in shipments to businesses during 2021, consumer shipments are projected to increase through 2024. “We’ll see a lot of demand in 2021 because some of that went unfulfilled [in 2020]. Those orders slipped from the end of 2020 into early 2021,” Ubrani said.

IDG News Service


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