Remote working may have caused many people to value their laptop and desktops a lot more, but the PC industry is likely to struggle as companies and consumers cut back on spending.
PCs may have been viewed as yesterday's news thanks to the rise of smaller form factors like smartphones, tablets and wearables, but trusty laptops and desktops (and variations on them like Chromebooks and even Raspberry Pis) have proven their worth during lockdown for workers and kids doing home schooling.
But that utility doesn't imply future sales: Canalys forecasts that global PC and tablet shipments will fall 7% from 396 million devices in 2019 to 368 million in 2020. According to the analyst firm, the global PC market will remain flat in 2021 and return to growth, at 2%, in 2022.
Demand for notebooks has surged in the short term, leaving vendors scrambling, said Ishan Dutt, analyst at Canalys. This is likely to continue as businesses that have been forced into home working are now choosing to implement it on a larger scale, and are investing in devices to give them flexibility. Schools will also be switching to laptops as they invest in remote learning.
But desktop refresh rates will suffer as businesses remain uncertain about the scope of their operations and their office space needs, Dutt said.
The rush to remote working has emphasised the continuing importance of the PC. "Despite the progress that smartphones and tablets have made in recent years, the need for a high-performance mobile computing device has never been more pronounced," said Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi, who added that PC sales may actually creep up slightly next year.
Canalys said that the PC market has been rattled by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the rest of the year will see further year-on-year shipment declines, although smaller than in the first quarter. That's largely down to the recovery of the supply chain and manufacturing base for PCs in China, which will allow manufacturers to service the pent-up demand for businesses looking to support remote working and education.
However, the analyst firm warned that the likely recessionary impact of the coronavirus will see consumers, businesses and governments focus on other spending ahead of PC refresh when times get tough.
By region, Canalys forecasts that PC and tablet shipments will fall only 3% in 2020 and will post growth of 4% in 2021 in China, and fall 1% year on year in 2020 in Asia Pacific, where market recovery will start in 2021. Total PC and tablet shipments in North America will drop 6% year on year in 2020 and only start to recover in 2022, the analyst firm said.
In Europe, with the bulk of commercial PC refresh having occurred last year, and businesses and consumers being forced to tighten their purse strings, the second half of 2020 will see sharp declines, with PC and tablet shipments to EMEA set to fall 10% in 2020 before posting growth of 1% in 2021. In Latin America, Canalys expects shipments to fall 16% year on year.