PC sales had been in decline for a decade, and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. PC sales skyrocketed in 2020 as the world adjusted to a new reality, and the 2021 figures show the trend continues. Recent reports from Canalys, IDC, Y Gardener show double-digit growth last year, and analysts now believe the bloated PC market will last at least a few more years regardless of what happens to COVID-19.
The main driver of the PC resurgence is undoubtedly the pandemic. More people than ever are working and attending classes from home, and the demand for PCs has continued even as businesses and schools try to reopen. There was concern among analysts that PC growth would fall off a cliff after a big spike in 2020, but all three reports point to big numbers. Canalys says PC shipments jumped 14.6 percent last year, and IDC is in the same ballpark with 14.8 percent. Gartner is more conservative than the others, reporting a 9.9 percent increase for 2021.
No matter who is right, any of these numbers would be good news for PC vendors. 2021 is shaping up to be the best year for PCs since 2013, which was early in the long, slow slide. In those days, people were buying more phones and tablets, and today consumers are more likely to keep the same phone for several years. At the same time, even a powerful tablet like the iPad isn’t flexible enough to get through a full day’s work.
The pandemic also fueled Chromebook shipments – they’re often the cheapest way to get a capable laptop with a keyboard and trackpad. However, Gartner says Chromebook shipments have been falling. In fact, the fourth quarter of 2021 had weaker numbers overall compared to the rest of the year (all three reports realized this). Chromebook demand may be the first to decline as people begin to return to offices, a trend that will eventually affect other PCs as well. However, it probably won’t be right away. Gartner predicts that it will take 2 to 3 years for PC demand to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The decline in late 2021 may also be due to ongoing chip shortages. There is almost no excess inventory, which is good for the bottom line, but the industry is leaving money on the table. Analysts note that chip supply problems are reducing growth potential, and that could continue until 2022.