The PC was supposed to die 10 years ago, but it’s just experienced its first big growth in a decade. Market research firm Canalys reports that PC shipments reached 297 million units in 2020, up an impressive 11 percent from 2019. IDC puts the year at 302 million shipments, up 13.1 percent year over year. Either way, it’s clear 2020 was a big year for PCs and the biggest growth we’ve seen since 2010.
PC shipments are up thanks to demand related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Supply constraints made it difficult to buy a new laptop halfway through the year, and demand continued throughout 2020. “Demand is pushing the PC market forward and all signs indicate this surge still has a way to go,” says IDC’s Ryan Reith. While home working and remote learning have been big drivers, people are also turning to PCs and laptops for entertainment.
“The obvious drivers for last year’s growth centered around work from home and remote learning needs, but the strength of the consumer market should not be overlooked,” says Reith. “We continue to see gaming PCs and monitor sales at all-time highs and Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market.”
There were other signs throughout 2020 that PC shipments were surging. Microsoft declared “the PC is back” at the beginning of the pandemic, and the company also saw a big jump in Windows usage after reporting 1 billion Windows 10 users. Microsoft also adjusted its Windows 10X plans as a result of the pandemic and increased PC demand. 10X was originally supposed to launch on dual-screen devices, but Microsoft is now planning to launch the OS variant on single-screen laptop devices first.
PCs were central to how companies quickly went digital or allowed workers to continue remotely in 2020. “The digital transformation the world has undertaken over the past year is unparalleled, and PCs were at the heart of this change,” says Canalys research director Rushabh Doshi. “It is going to be extremely difficult to write off the PC as some of us did a few years ago. PCs are here to stay.”
I’ve long argued that there’s no such thing as a “post-PC” era, and 2020 certainly proved how valuable laptops and PCs are.
Canalys and IDC both agree that Lenovo was the top PC vendor in 2020, followed by HP in second place, and Dell in third. Apple also saw impressive growth with its shipments up 17 percent, according to Canalys, or as high as 29 percent based on IDC’s estimates.
Apple has also impressed reviewers and industry experts with its new Arm-based M1 chip. It puts the MacBook Air back at the top of laptop recommendations and will set the stage for a battle of laptop processors for years to come.