Have we reached peak Chromebook? Sales set to decline after massive demand this year

IDC's outlook for Chromebooks is for a return to flat or declining growth after big demand.

The pandemic spurred massive growth in Chromebook shipments through 2020 and 2021, but analyst firm IDC is predicting 2022 and beyond will see year-on-year declines in shipments. 

According to IDC, Chromebook shipments are expected to grow 33.5% year-on-year in 2021 and reach 43.4 million units. But looking forward, IDC is predicting that growth will vanish in 2022 and, in fact, decline in growth until 2025. 

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Rival analyst Canalys in May reported worldwide Q1 2021 Chromebook shipments grew a massive 275% in a market led by HP, Lenovo, Acer, Samsung, and Dell. It noted that HP had 595,000 Chromebook shipments in Q1 2020 and grew to 4.36 million in the same quarter of 2021.

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Laptop sales in general have grown rapidly during the pandemic for remote work and schooling; Chromebooks in particular have proved popular for their relatively lower prices and because they're mostly used at home, where they're always connected to broadband. 

IDC reports that in Q1 2020, Microsoft Windows PCs accounted for 87.5% of PCs, while Apple macOS and Chrome OS were 5.8% and 5.3%, respectively. In Q2, Windows share fell to 81.7%, macOS grew to 7.6%, and Chrome OS shot up to 10.0%.  

IDC's prediction is in line with doubts that Chromebook sales can continue growing at the same clip as the past two years. 

The company says tablets are expected to grow 1.8% in 2021 to reach 166.5 million units, with consumer demand remaining high. 

IDC's tablet figures include slate tablets and detachable tablets. Its Chromebook figures include notebook PCs running Chrome OS.

"While 2021 will serve as a peak year for both tablets and Chromebooks there are still plenty of opportunities for each device category," said Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager with IDC Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers. 

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Chromebooks found a sweet spot in the education market, in particular in the US, but Ubrani noted that they are also becoming useful within workplaces. 

"While [Chromebooks] will not supplant Windows and Mac in these settings, they are expected to provide competition, particularly in job functions where high performance and legacy support isn't a priority. On the tablet side, detachable tablets will remain a bright spot as these devices are more PC-like than ever, both from a hardware and a software perspective," he said. 

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