The world stocked up on laptops and desktop computers in 2020 at levels not seen since the iPhone debut in 2007, and manufacturers are still months away from fulfilling pending orders, executives and analysts said the hardware industry.
Remote learning and working revitalized the computer market during the coronavirus pandemic, dampened smartphone sales, and sparked interest in larger devices that had become after-thoughts for iPhones and Androids over the past decade.
“The entire supply chain was tense as never before,” said Gregg Prendergast, Pan America President at hardware manufacturer Acer.
Annual worldwide shipments of PCs, the industry’s collective term for laptops and desktops, peaked at around 300 million in 2008 and recently declined to 250 million. Few expected a resurgence.
However, some analysts assume that 2020 will close with around 300 million shipments, an increase of around 15 percent over the previous year. Tablets are growing even faster.
By the end of 2021, installed PCs and tablets will reach 1.77 billion, up from 1.64 billion in 2019, according to research company Canalys. The virus pushed families to expand from one PC for the home to one for each student, video player, or home worker.
To meet the sudden demand, the world’s few big PC vendors added suppliers, sped up shipping, and teased better models to hit the market over the next year. It wasn’t enough.
According to Prendergast, Acer has paid for the direct flight from laptops to its education customers and dumped boats and trains overboard to save a month on shipping. However, some customers have to wait four months for deliveries to complete.
According to analysts, components like screens and processors are hard to come by, even in many factories that have been long after viruses have shut down. They added that sales projections for 2021 would be higher without the delivery issues.
Ishan Dutt, a Canalys analyst, recalled a customer who told a salesperson in April that any device with a keyboard would do as long as the shipments arrive in a week. That urgent need has subsided, but people now want to upgrade to keep the pressure on the industry, Dutt said.
Additional government stimulus programs for schools and businesses in several countries could compound the crisis through 2022, said Ryan Reith, vice president of analyst firm IDC.
Some computers that will be launched in the next few months meet new requirements. According to analysts, they have better cameras and speakers for video conferencing. Other models will have a cellular chip that will help users access 4G or 5G cellular signals, but not traditional WiFi.
Sam Burd, president of PC maker Dell Technologies Inc, said this month the industry’s “renaissance” will soon bring devices with artificial intelligence software to make things like turning cameras on and off easier.
Dell’s online consumer orders in the third quarter rose 62 percent year over year. On Black Friday, teams that normally ring bells at Dell’s Texas headquarters gathered to celebrate big sales, like many other people in 2020 – via zoom from home PCs.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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