PC sales finally saw big growth in 2020 after years of steady decline

A promotional shot for Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga laptop, one of the new 2021 laptops meant to capitalize on growing traditional PC sales.
Enlarge / A promotional shot for Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga laptop, one of the new 2021 laptops meant to capitalize on growing traditional PC sales.

During the Consumer Electronics Show this week, research firm IDC released a report on worldwide traditional PC sales in 2020, and it tells a rosier story than we’ve been used to in recent years. In the fourth quarter of 2020, PC shipments grew 26.1 percent over the same period last year.

That means 13.1 percent year-over-year growth overall, and the best year and month for PC sales in quite some time. In total, 91.6 million traditional PCs were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2020. “Traditional PCs” in IDC’s report include systems like desktops, laptops, and work stations. For years, sales of these kinds of computers were declining at worst or growing negligibly at best even as other, newer computing gadget categories like smartphones, smart speakers, and tablets grew relatively rapidly.

IDC notes that the last time the market saw this kind of growth was way back in 2010, when modern multitouch smartphones were still building momentum and Apple’s very first iPad had only just launched.

The growth was unsurprisingly largely “centered around work from home and remote learning needs,” according to the report. But it also notes that segments unrelated to that, like gaming PCs and monitors, also saw significant growth over the course of the year. The overall growth is also partly due to the fact that “Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market,” according to IDC Vice President Ryan Reith.

The firm predicts that the surge is not yet complete and says that sales are expected to continue to grow for a while still.

There’s also the market share story. The top five companies in terms of worldwide PC shipments in 2020, from top to bottom, were Lenovo (24 percent market share), HP (22.4 percent), Dell (16.6 percent), Apple (7.6 percent) and Acer (6.9 percent). These market share numbers were not dramatically different in 2020 than they were in the prior year. Apple and Acer saw the most substantial growth year over year, while HP and Dell posted somewhat more modest growth numbers. Market leader Lenovo fell in the middle of the pack in terms of year-over-year growth.

For those following the industry in 2020, the overall big growth for traditional PCs in 2020 only comes as a surprise in the context of overall hits to the economy and job losses. It’s no surprise at all that people have been spending more on heavy-duty machines for doing creative work or highly immersive entertainment as opposed to other kinds of devices that aren’t as useful when users are stuck at home during a pandemic.

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