Distance learning and work reversed the computer market during the coronavirus pandemic, denying smartphone sales while increasing interest in larger devices, which have become conceived for the iPhone and Android over the past decade.
“The entire supply chain is strained like never before,” said Gregg Prendergast, president of Pan-America at hardware maker Acer Inc.
Annual global computer shipments, a common term for laptops and desktops, exceeded about 300 million in 2008, and recently sank to 250 million. Few expected growth again.
But some analysts now expect it to close at around 300 million shipments in 2020, roughly 15% more than a year ago. The tablets are growing even faster.
By the end of 2021, installed computers and tablets will reach 1.77 billion, compared to 1.64 billion in 2019, according to research company Canalys. The virus has forced families to expand from one home computer to one for each student, video player or house worker.
To meet the sudden demand, a handful of large computer vendors have added vendors, accelerated delivery and teased the better models launched next year. It wasn’t enough.
Prendergast said Acer bears the cost of flying laptops directly to its educational customers, dismissing ships and trains to cut deliveries by a month. Still, with production lines behind, some customers have to wait four months to get shipments.
Components, including displays and processors, are hard to come by even with many factories that have long since stopped viruses, analysts said. They added that sales forecasts for 2021 will be higher if it is not about supply issues.
Ishan Dutt, an analyst at Canalys, recalled a customer who told the supplier in April that any keyboard device would suffice as long as shipments arrived in a week. That urgent need has subsided, but people now want to upgrade, maintaining pressure on the industry, Dutt said.
Additional government incentive money for schools and businesses in several countries could increase the crisis by 2022, said Ryan Reith, vice president of analytics firm IDC.
Some computers that appear on the market in the next few months meet new needs. They have better cameras and speakers for video conferencing, analysts said. More models will have a mobile chip that helps users who can access 4G or 5G mobile signals but not traditional Wi-Fi.
Sam Burd, president of computer maker Dell Technologies Inc., said this month that the Renaissance industry would soon bring in devices with artificial intelligence software to simplify tasks like logging in and off cameras.
Dell’s online orders from consumers rose 62% in the third quarter from a year earlier. During Black Friday, teams that would normally ring at the Dell company headquarters in Texas to celebrate big sales gathered like many other people in 2020 – through zooming in from computers at home.