Analytics firms like IDC and Canalys have released their sales projections for the PC market for both Q4 2020 and the full year. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has driven a huge increase in PC sales over the past 12 months. While these impacts were initially expected to be limited to Q1 – Q2, the ongoing nature of the pandemic has kept sales elevated throughout the entire year.
PC sales rose ~26 percent in Q4 2020 and were up roughly 13.1 percent in the entire year, according to IDC (Canalys reports 11 percent). This is easily the largest growth the PC market has shown in the past decade. Once the iPad shipped, the PC market began to consistently contract — the global market grew 2.7 percent in 2019 compared with 2018. In 2020, the PC market grew ~13 percent, with Q4 2020 sales up roughly 26 percent compared with 2019. The image below only runs through 2018, but it gives perspective on how the market has behaved:
Total shipments in 2020 are estimated at 302.65M units, which puts sales midway between 2014 and 2015. The boom of 2020, however, wasn’t evenly distributed. Canalys’ data shows that laptop market share has boomed, while desktop market share has taken a heavy hit.
It would be interesting to know if sales of desktops declined in every segment, or if there was an uplift in the high-end market as gamers and professional users refreshed, built, and bought new systems in response to the pandemic. It wouldn’t surprise me if low-end desktop sales dropped due to strong preferences for laptops more generally, but there might have been more signs of life in the upper market where the demand for horsepower generally outweighs mobile form factors.
IDC reports that Apple has been the big winner this year, with market share growth of 29.1 percent. The surge in sales is such that every vendor increased its absolute number of units sold, even as some of them still lost relative market share. IDC shows that Apple and Acer are the only two companies that increased both their actual unit shipments and their market share, and that Apple was the largest beneficiary of both trends.
There is no specific evidence that the M1 drove the huge boost in Apple’s Q4 sales, though it certainly can’t have hurt anything. While Apple enjoyed a large boost in unit shipments in Q4 2020 compared with Q4 2019 (up 1.49x in Q4, versus 1.29x year-on-year), Dell and Lenovo show a similar pattern distribution. Dell’s Q4 2020 sales were up 26.8 percent, but full-year growth was just 8.1 percent. Lenovo’s Q4 2020 sales were up 29 percent, but its full-year growth was just 12 percent. Apple’s Q4 2020 sales grew by 49.2 percent, and its full-year growth was 29 percent. The huge amount of interest around the M1 suggests that these systems likely sold well, but Apple’s Mac sales were good before it launched and they clearly remained strong through the quarter.
IDC doesn’t offer any predictions for how much of this growth will continue into 2021, beyond saying that they don’t expect the trend to weaken immediately. There’s currently a lot of uncertainty in tech about what to project for the back half of the year, due to questions regarding vaccination schedules and the future progress of the pandemic. Late spring / early summer are the current estimates for when life might start getting back to normal, but how this will impact computer and video console sales is unknown. We might see a sharp drop-off as people return to other activities, or sustained higher demand for PCs over the long term if usage patterns change in a more enduring way.
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