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How the remote work trend may have saved the PC market from collapse

How the remote work trend may have saved the PC market from collapse

Gartner estimates that the PC market is expected to see a decline of just 10.5 per cent in 2020, a markedly smaller fall than that of the devices market as a whole

Credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Global personal computer (PC) shipments are expected to decline this year, but perhaps not as badly as initially feared, with the work from home trend prompted by measures implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus resulting in an influx of sales.

This is according to a new report by industry analyst firm Gartner, which suggests that global shipments of devices — that is, PCs, tablets and mobile phones — are on pace to decline by 13.6 per cent in 2020, totaling 1.9 billion units.

However, breaking out PC shipments alone, Gartner estimates that the PC market is expected to see a decline of just 10.5 per cent in 2020, a markedly smaller fall than that of the devices market as a whole. 

Delving deeper into the PC category, Gartner reckons that shipments of notebooks, tablets and Chromebooks, specifically, are forecast to decline more slowly again than the PC market overall in 2020.

According to Gartner senior research director Ranjit Atwal, the PC market has been spared the worst of the shipment hit caused by COVID-19 largely thanks to the rapid, if temporary, rise of remote working across the globe.

“The forecasted decline in the PC market in particular could have been much worse,” Atwal said. “However, government lockdowns due to COVID-19 forced businesses and schools to enable millions of people to work from home and increase spending on new notebooks, Chromebooks and tablets for those workers. 

“Education and government establishments also increased spending on those devices to facilitate e-learning,” Atwal added.

Gartner’s Forecast: PCs, Ultramobiles and Mobile Phones, Worldwide, 2018-2024, April 2020 Update report also suggests that the work from home trend is likely to have a more lasting effect on the PC market by fuelling ongoing demand for more versatile laptops.

According to Gartner’s research, 48 per cent of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 30 per cent pre-pandemic. 

Overall, the work from home trend is likely to make IT departments shift to more notebooks, tablets and Chrome devices for work, the analyst firm suggested.

“This trend, combined with businesses required to create flexible business continuity plans, will make business notebooks displace desk-based PCs through 2021 and 2022,” Atwal said.

While the effects of COVID-19 may not turn out to be as devastating for PC manufacturers and resellers as original thought, it could cause more lasting disruption for the mobile device market, extending typical device lifecycles to 2.7 years in 2020.

“While users have increased the use of their mobile phones to communicate with colleagues, work partners, friends and families during lockdowns, reduced disposable income will result in fewer consumers upgrading their phones. As a result, phone lifetimes will extend from 2.5 years in 2018 to 2.7 years in 2020,” Atwal said.

Overall, shipments of total mobile phones are forecast to decline 14.6 per cent in 2020, according to Gartner, while smartphone shipments will achieve a slightly slower decline of 13.7 per cent year-over-year, to an estimated 1.3 billion units in 2020.

Turning to the emerging market for 5G phones, the outlook is dim, with Gartner suggesting that, although affordable 5G phones were previously expected to be the catalyst to increase phone replacements this year, this is no longer the case. 

Indeed, 5G phones are now forecast to represent only 11 per cent of total mobile phone shipments in 2020.

“The delayed delivery of some 5G flagship phones is an ongoing issue,” Gartner research vice president Annette Zimmermann said. “Moreover, the lack of 5G geographical coverage along with the increasing cost of the 5G phone contract will impact the choice of a 5G phone.”


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