This year, global shipments of computing devices will reach 2.16 billion units – a 0.9% improvement on last year, predicts research from tech analyst firm Gartner, although last year also marked the lowest shipments in almost ten years.
For Gartner the term "devices" encompasses PCs, smartphones and tablets; and as a result, the overall estimate in fact hides several contrasting trends. To put it simply: smartphone demand will jump, while PC manufacturers won't have it so good.
The main driver of Gartner's forecast is the mobile phone market, which analysts believe is set to grow by 1.7% in 2020. And demand will keep increasing through the years as phones become better; by 2022, Gartner expects that 5G models will account for almost half of mobile phone shipments.
But Gartner estimates that 80% of PCs in use have now migrated to the new OS, and that replacement purchases will significantly decline in the future. What's more, Microsoft has promised that Windows 10 will be "the last Windows".
"Historically, there is a clear relationship of hardware sales increasing as we move into a new OS," said Atwal. "So it raises the question of: what will drive PC hardware adoption in the future?"
He makes the assumption that, similarly to smartphones, PCs will follow waves: as Windows 10 gets updated, PCs will need to be reasonably new in order to run it, and older ones will get replaced. In this scenario, said Atwal, there will be at least three years of decline before the PC market starts recovering again.
"The PC market's future is unpredictable because there will not be a Windows 11. Instead, Windows 10 will be upgraded systematically through regular updates," said Atwal. "As a result, peaks in PC hardware upgrade cycles driven by an entire Windows OS upgrade will end."
It might be too early, he said, to predict that this marks the end of the PC. With an estimated 1.2 billion Windows PCs in use around the world, the market is still huge. "The only difference is now, with smartphones and tablets, we get more choice," he concluded. "But PCs will continue to exist."