Global PC demand surges to highest level in a decade

Global PC demand surges to highest level in a decade

COVID-19 sparks 10-year high in PC sales

Credit: Dreamstime

Annual growth in the global PC market has hit a 10-year high, driven by consumer demand stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. 

This is according to claims from research firms IDC, Gartner and Canalys, with all three claiming that the coronavirus pandemic created an environment that generated strong consumer demand for PC devices.

Between the analysts, shipment numbers reached between 267.7 million units to 297 million units, representing annual growth from nearly 5 per cent to over 13 per cent. Regardless of the range of the figures, the firms were unanimous in claiming that the PC market experienced its best year over the last decade.

The top five vendors were also unanimous for the year as well as the fourth quarter of 2020, with Lenovo in first place, followed by HP, Dell, Apple and Acer. 

IDC stated that traditional PC shipments, which it considers to be desktops, notebooks and workstations but not tablets or x86 servers, grew 13.1 per cent year-over-year during 2020, to 267.7 million units. This figure is the highest the research firm has seen for 10 years, coming close to the annual growth it captured in 2010 — 13.7 per cent. 

IDC pointed to the rise in working from home and remote learning, as well as restored consumer demand, for reasons behind the surge. 

“Demand is pushing the PC market forward and all signs indicate this surge still has a way to go," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. "The obvious drivers for last year's growth centred around work from home and remote learning needs, but the strength of the consumer market should not be overlooked.

"We continue to see gaming PCs and monitor sales at all-time highs and Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market. In retrospect, the pandemic not only fuelled PC market demand but also created opportunities that resulted in a market expansion." 

This somewhat resembles figures and comments from Canalys, which claimed that the PC market, which it counts as desktops, notebooks, Chromebooks and workstations but not tablets, grew by 11 per cent, to 297 million units.  

Like IDC’s analysis, Canalys claimed this was the highest full-year growth since 2010. 

Rushabh Doshi, Canalys’ research director, went as far to say that the digital transformation that occurred during the pandemic contributed to the strong performance of the PC market, and without it, the global response to the pandemic may have looked drastically different. 

“We would be in a very different position had it not been for the commitment of the PC industry, including the vendors, the supply chain and the distribution channel, to make sure that every bit of market demand was met," he said.  

“As the world readies itself to get vaccinated and overcome the COVID-19 virus, it is important to remember that PCs have played a vital role at every stage of this fight, from understanding the virus and synthesizing the vaccine, to social monitoring and vaccine roll-out.  

“It is going to be extremely difficult to write off the PC as some of us did a few years ago. PCs are here to stay.” 

Similarly, Gartner’s research found PC shipments reached 275 million units in 2020, which it counted as growth of 4.8 per cent. While this wasn’t double digits like the other two firms, this was still Garnter’s highest growth for the market recorded in the last 10 years. 

In Gartner’s analysis, it counted the PC market as including desk-based PCs, notebook PCs and ultramobile premium devicess, like Microsoft Surface, but not Chromebooks or iPads. 

Much like IDC’s conclusion, the combination of COVID-19 and consumer demand was cited as the reason for the strong demand, according to Mikako Kitagawa, research director at Gartner. 

“Despite some supply chain issues at the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 coupled with consistent consumer demand created tremendous growth opportunities for PCs throughout the year,” she said. “This momentum is likely to continue through at least the first half of 2021, but it remains to be seen if it will sustain in the post-pandemic era as it will depend on the permanency of the changes driving demand.  

“For instance, online education may continue even after schools open, consumers may still buy groceries online, and some businesses may continue full- or part-time remote work. If these scenarios persist, then PCs will return to consumers’ daily lives as an essential device.” 

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