Pandemic Fuels a PC Boom

Article By : George Leopold

Hybrid work, blended learning combine to fuel 'tremendous refresh potential' for personal computers.

The reopening of U.S. schools after more than a year of virtual classes along with hybrid work arrangements are creating “massive refresh potential” for PC makers.

According to figures released this week by market analyst Canalys, the U.S. PC market grew a healthy 16.6 percent on an annual basis during the second quarter. Shipments of desktops, notebooks, tablets and workstations topped 36.8 million units.

Notebook computers were the top category, with second quarter shipments increasing 27 percent over the same period in 2020.

The momentum generated by virtual schooling during the pandemic is expected to persist, the market tracker predicted.

“It is clear now that pandemic-related use cases will extend well into the future,” said Brian Lynch, a research analyst at Canalys.

“The commercial and education segments have exploded, triggering tremendous refresh potential,” Lynch added. “The U.S. economy has bounced back well from its pandemic woes and small businesses are recovering, which will lead to a wave of purchasing from the segment.”

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A key factor driving PC replacement is the U.S. resurgence of Covid-19 via the Delta variant that has upended return-to-office plans. Canalys reckons that many large companies will adopt permanent hybrid work arrangements, further tying employees to home devices. That shift will fuel “commercial refresh opportunities” for PC makers, it predicted.

For now, U.S. schools are expected to continue in-person classes as post-secondary education shifts toward blended learning, online courses and hybrid teaching. “Education is now transitioning to a replacement market for PCs in the U.S., and the mass procurement seen in 2020 and 2021 is expected to begin its refresh cycle in 2023,” Canalys said.

Those fundamental shifts in education and work are good news for the PC industry that looked anemic before the pandemic struck. So far, the biggest gainer in the U.S. PC market is Samsung, which saw its annual shipments jump a whopping 51.4 percent during the second quarter of 2021.

Oddly, the only PC and tablet vendor registering negative annual growth was Apple, which saw computer shipments decline by 2.8 percent. Still, Canalys said Apple fared better than competitors in navigating component shortages for products like its iPad.

In May, International Data Corp. (IDC) downplayed concerns over chip shortages, forecasting that global PC shipments will grow more than 18 percent this year, topping 357 million units.

“It is important to peel back the onion because there is a lot happening underneath the PC supply chain,” said IDC’s Ryan Reith. “We don’t debate that the overall semiconductor market is constrained right now, but for the overall PC market it is a very different narrative than the years leading up to the pandemic.”

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Pre-pandemic, for example, PC vendors faced shortages of CPUs along with tight memory and display supplies. “Now the focus is around lower-priced components like notebook panel driver ICs, audio codecs, sensors and power management ICs,” Reith noted.

Continuing components shortages may lead some consumers to opt for desktops over scarce notebooks. Either way, IDC said, PC demand will remain strong.

“The consumer refresh cycle is also expected to be pulled in slightly as the pandemic has raised the profile of PCs and consumers continue to spend more time and dollars on PC gaming and content consumption,” added IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

George Leopold has written about science and technology from Washington, D.C., since 1986. Besides EE Times, Leopold’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, and other publications. He resides in Reston, Va.


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