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PC shipment gains continue as students, workers remain remote

Personal computer shipments continued their brisk-as-all-get-out pace in the first quarter, with year-over-year increases from 32% to 52%, a pair of research firms said last week.

Analysts disagreed over whether these increases were tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting work-at-home orders, the latter responsible for driving buying sprees globally in 2020. Instead, analysts credited carry-overs from last year for the robust numbers early this year, saying that the disruption of supply chains 12 months ago sustained a year-long domino effect.

“Unfulfilled demand from the past year has carried forward into the first quarter, and additional demand brought on by the pandemic has also continued to drive volume,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s mobile device trackers team, splitting the difference in assigning responsibility for the shipment numbers.

“There is no question when entering 2021 the backlog for PCs was extensive across business, consumer and education,” added Ryan Reith, IDC program vice president, also in a statement.

IDC estimated the year-over-year shipment increase for the March quarter at 52%, with Apple’s gain of 112% the greatest by far of the top five personal computer manufacturers.

Gartner Research agreed that this year’s first-quarter increase was at least partly due to the poor numbers of the same period of 2020. “Without the shipment chaos in early 2020, this quarter’s growth may have been lower,” explained Mikako Kitagawa, a Gartner research director, in a separate statement. The comparison with what Gartner called “a pandemic-constrained market” of last year meant that this year’s March quarter looked unusually good — at 32%, it was the fastest-growing quarter since the firm began tracking PC shipments at the turn of the century, Kitagawa said.

Analysts chalked up the boost in PC shipments during 2020 to work-at-home mandates and to remote schooling initiatives instituted by public and private schools as well as by colleges and universities throughout the developed world. Families which had relied on a single shared personal computer prior to the pandemic, even those where every member had their own smartphone, discovered that they needed more machines, one per child for schooling, others for the adults to work remotely.

The shipment number upswell through the March quarter may soon end, the analysts added, because of component shortages, notably in silicon. “Semiconductor shortages are now adversely affecting the supply chain once again, with shipment lead times for some PCs extending to as long as four months,” wrote Kitagawa of Gartner.

Meanwhile, IDC noted that a combination of parts shortages and global shipping issues has triggered an increase in the average selling price, or ASP, of personal computers.

Others have pointed out the resurgence in consumer PC shipments. In its earnings call for the December 2020 quarter, Microsoft said revenue from its “non-Pro” segment of Windows — which represented sales of Windows 10 Home to computer makers — was up 24% year over year.

Of the top five computer makers — Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, and Acer — Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple was the winner in the increase sweepstakes for the March quarter, IDC and Gartner both asserted. Gartner said Apple increased shipments by nearly 49% while IDC estimated Apple’s rise was, at 112%, more than double that.

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