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In the Zone

Research roundup: PC sales – Q4:21 and looking ahead

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 01/14/2022
Blog Category: devices

While much about Covid-19 is subject to debate, one thing about the pandemic surely isn’t: It’s been really good for the PC business.

With so many people working from home, studying from home, or just stuck at home, new desktops, laptops, workstations and Chromebooks have been flying off the shelves.

The new question is whether strong demand for PCs will continue. With the pandemic approaching the 2-year mark, doesn’t everyone who needed a new PC have one by now?

Full year was strong 

First, let’s look back. Last year was another strong year for PC sales. For the full year 2021, global shipments rose by either 10% or 15%, depending on who you ask and how you count.

Analyst firm Gartner says the year’s PC shipments increased 9.9%, for a global total of 339.8 million units. But in that count, Gartner includes Chromebooks.

Market watcher IDC, which does not include Chromebooks in its tally, says full-year 2021 PC shipments rose by a much higher 14.8%, for a total of 348.8 million units worldwide.

Either way, that’s strong.

Over at analyst company Canalys, senior analyst Ishan Dutt called 2021 a “watershed year in the history of the PC market.”

Mainly, that’s because instead of just replacing older PCs, the industry shipped new PCs to people who previously didn’t use them. These customers included students and remote workers.

Q4:21 tells a different story

However, look at last year’s fourth quarter, and the story shifts. Both IDC and Canalys agree that shipments rose a mild 1%. Gartner, again including Chromebooks, says global Q4 shipments actually fell, and by a rapid 5%.

Gartner’s inclusion of Chromebooks appears to be a deciding factor. Schools, the biggest customers for Chromebooks, appear to have had their fill. Gartner says demand for Chromebooks in Q4:21 “collapsed.”

Combine that with supply-chain issues, and you’ve got what Gartner research director Mikako Kitagawa calls “the end of massive growth in PC demand triggered by the pandemic.”

U.S. market saw demand fall

Even market watchers who say PC shipments in Q4 rose globally concede that U.S. sales tanked. Gartner goes as far as calling it a “sharp decline.”

Market watchers agree the U.S. downturn was caused by a combination of supply-chain issues, the aforementioned drop in Chromebook demand, and weak consumer demand over the holidays.

How bad was it? According to Gartner, pretty bad. It says PC shipments in the U.S. during Q4:21 fell 24% from the year-earlier quarter.

Lenovo really felt it. The company’s global PC shipments dropped nearly 12% in Q4, due mainly to weak U.S. demand, according to Gartner. Similarly, HP’s Q4 shipments of PCs fell 4% worldwide.

Dell snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Its Q4:21 shipments of PCs worldwide rose nearly 8%.

And in the U.S., Dell secured the top spot in Q4 with a 28.5% market share of unit shipments, according to Gartner. Number 2 in the U.S. was HP (25.9% share), followed by Lenovo (15%) and Apple (13%).

Looking ahead

How’s the PC future look? Again, it depends on who you ask.

Gartner expects PC demand to drop for at least the next 2 years.

By contrast, Canalys believes 2022 will be a year of “digital acceleration.” That means spending will shift to premium PCs, monitor and other work-from-anywhere tech.

IDC has a mixed outlook. On the one hand, it acknowledges that both education and consumer demand for PCs is tapering. But the market watcher also believes the PC market has essentially “reset” itself, and at a much higher level than before the pandemic.


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