PC market enjoys best Q1 for almost 20 years

Market analysis from Canalys and IDC reveals that the start of the year has been solid for those in the channel selling PC hardware

Canalys has noted the highest first-quarter PC shipment number for almost 20 years as demand for hardware continues to be a feature of the market.

The analyst firm reported a 55% growth in the global PC market in Q1 of this year, with 82.7 million shipments – the best first-quarter performance since 2012.

Laptops continued to be the form factor in most demand, with the industry still working its way through backlogs of orders placed last year. But there are also signs that as SMEs start to recover, they are also driving demand for products.

The desktop has suffered from more patchy sales during the pandemic but even there, Q1 saw declines in shipments easing, with volumes of desktops and workstations falling by only 5% to 14.8 million units.

From a vendor perspective, the start of the year delivered double-digit growth for all the top five – Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple and Acer – which collectively accounted for 78.5% of all shipments in the first quarter.

As well as dealing with the pandemic, the PC industry has had to cope with component shortages, but those have not necessarily had the negative impact that might have been expected, according to Rushabh Doshi, research director at Canalys.

“The supply chain issue plaguing the industry is a good problem to have,” said Doshi. “As average prices rise due to the scarcity of internal hardware, innovation in design is triggering long-term changes to the way PC vendors approach supply and demand. Chipmakers to are now bullish about personal computing and have increased their planned future investments to capitalise on the long-term opportunity.

“While the pandemic is not over just yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is also spurring SME investments in computing, which halted abruptly in 2020.”

The Canalys numbers come just a few days after IDC gave its view of the PC world in the first quarter.

The firm came out with an almost identical growth figure of 55.2% for Q1, also noting that pent-up demand was continuing to fuel purchases.

IDC said several factors had driven the growth in the market, including the need for higher-performance products for enterprise users, educational users turning to products with touchscreen functionality, and gamers looking for top-end notebooks.

Although some of the current demand is reacting to short-term market conditions – component shortages and backlogs – there was a sense at IDC that the PC market had turned a corner over the pandemic.

“The ongoing shortages in the semiconductor space only further prolong the ability for vendors to refill inventory and fulfil orders to customers,” said Ryan Reith, program vice-president for IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “We believe a fundamental shift has occurred around the PC, which will result in a more positive outlook for years to follow.

“All three segments – business, education and consumer – are experiencing demand that we didn’t expect to happen, regardless of many countries beginning their ‘opening up’ process. Component shortages will likely be a topic of conversation for the majority of 2021, but the more important question should be what PC demand will look like in two to three years.”

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